A Palestinian who claimed that he was held and beaten for 30 hours at an Israel Defense Forces checkpoint now admits that it was actually the Palestinian security services who held him and beat him.
For four days, over and over, Afif Barghouti, 31, told family, friends and journalists of how Israeli soldiers had held him at the Qalandiyah checkpoint for some 30 hours, blindfolded and with his hands tied, and beat him. They did not even let him go to the bathroom, he said. He also told the story to an attorney friend, who hurried him to the hospital in Ramallah for a check-up. That was on Sunday, July 20, shortly after the soldiers had allegedly released him.
The Palestinian press ran prominent photos of his bruised and battered back, accompanied by his story. According to these reports, he had tried to pass through the checkpoint on his way to a plastering job in A-Ram. His identity card also contained his membership card in Fatah, and that, combined with the name Barghouti, was enough to make the soldiers decide to hold him and abuse him, he said. (Another Barghouti, Marwan, is a senior Fatah official currently on trial in Israel for alleged involvement in the murder of dozens of Israelis.)
There was certainly no doubt that Barghouti had been beaten. His back was red from the blows, his head bore a round burn mark where a lighted cigarette had been stubbed out on his skin. His hands were swollen, and he had trouble moving both his hands and his head.
Haaretz English Edition published his story yesterday ("Anyone who walked by, kicked,") along with the IDF Spokeswoman's response, in which the army said that it was looking into the allegations, and if they were found to be true, they would be "handled with the utmost severity." The IDF "views with severity any behavior that involves humiliation of or violence toward the Palestinian population," the spokesman added.
But army officials have now told Haaretz that their investigation has revealed the allegations to be false. They said that from the moment they first learned of the allegations - from the media - last Sunday, sector commanders had begun interrogating all soldiers and officers who could have been involved in the affair, even bringing soldiers on leave back to base for this purpose. They also made intensive efforts to locate Barghouti, so that he could attempt to identify the soldiers who had abused him and finally succeeded, thanks to the numerous interviews he granted, including to the Israeli media. For two days, he refused to meet with the IDF investigators, but finally agreed to come to Qalandiyah to reenact what had happened. There, the officials said, it became clear, "on the basis of the interrogation and the testimony he gave, that his initial version did not match the reality on the ground, and it is evident that the story was not true."
When confronted with the IDF's response, Afif Barghouti admitted to his lawyer friend that he had made the whole story up.
What really happened, he said, was that on Saturday, Palestinians he recognized as working for the Palestinian security services had seized him, held him for almost two days and beaten him. He said that they suspected him of being an Israeli collaborator, to which he responded: "I don't work with the Israelis and I don't work with the Palestinians."
His friend said that he cannot understand why Barghouti invented the Qalandiyah checkpoint story.
A senior official in the Preventive Security Service in Ramallah told Haaretz yesterday that the service has no record of Barghouti ever being suspected of collaborating with Israel. The service has no idea who beat him or why, he said, but it intends to summon him for questioning to find out.
Dr. Said Zeedani, director-general of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens' Rights, said that his organization investigates many complaints that Palestinian citizens were abused by the Palestinian security services, and will investigate Barghouti's claim as well. However, he stressed, the commission also investigates many complaints of abuse by Israeli soldiers that turn out to be true. "There are a few cases of people who make things up, but these cases cannot be allowed to divert attention from the humiliations and physical injuries that occur at Israeli army checkpoints," he said.
He said that people who do invent stories do so for a variety of reasons, including a desire for revenge, a desire to impress someone and a desire to remove suspicions of being a collaborator.
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