Picking on Hamas-associated Na'alin demonstrators
Why Palestinian intelligence summons for investigation villagers active against the separation wall.
On Friday, at the weekly demonstration against the separation wall in the village of Na'alin, Mourad Amira was absent for the third successive time from the medical team that accompanies the demonstrators. Amira, 35, has been under arrest since June 22, not by Israel but by the Palestinian General Intelligence service (the Mukhabarat ).
Until now the family has not managed to find out from the Mukhabarat what he is suspected of, or as they put it "what they have on him," beyond the fact that as a volunteer medic with the Red Crescent he is regularly present at the demonstrations in order to offer first aid to the injured, that he is not a member of Fatah and that in the past he was active in Hamas. He was tried twice for this activity, and served two prison sentences in Israel - a total of nine years. About two years ago he was released, started a family and began to work in the aluminum industry. And something else: Two days before he received the summons to the Mukhabarat he was arrested by the Israel Defense Forces, along with four Red Crescent paramedics and a volunteer photographer with B'Tselem, also a Na'alin resident.
It was Friday, June 18. Soldiers entered via the gate in the separation wall to the orchard where the weekly demonstration is held, and is included in the "closed military area" declared by the IDF in order to deter the demonstrators from gathering. The demonstrators fled from the soldiers. Remaining at the site, next to the wall, were a volunteer B'Tselem photographer and the team of paramedics, including Amira, dressed in white vests and sporting the Red Crescent symbol.
As recorded by another camera held by a B'Tselem member who was standing about 200 meters away, the soldiers began to push the paramedics and one of them can be seen falling. The volunteer photographer was filming from a distance of about six to 10 meters. Soldiers swooped on him, punched him in the face and pushed him - as the tape shows. Amira, who speaks Hebrew, tried to calm things down and separate them, and then they were all arrested and transferred to the police station at Sha'ar Binyamin.
Amira and three of his friends were released a few hours later, after it turned out that there was no excuse for their arrest. The photographer and another paramedic were released a day later, when the tapes proved to the police investigators that they had not attacked a single soldier. Such arrests of a few hours and more have become routine at various sites of demonstrations against the separation fence/wall.
The IDF spokesman responded that the event will be investigated and the results of the investigation transferred to the military prosecutor for appraisal.
The following Sunday Amira returned to work, to routine, or so he thought. On Monday he received a summons to a meeting with the Mukhabarat, for Tuesday. Another six residents of the village received similar summonses. Together they represent the three largest extended families in Na'alin: Amira, Srour, Khawaja. Each family has representatives of all the various Palestinian political organizations. In each family there are some who work for the Palestinian Authority - including its security apparatus.
The village has lost 5,900 dunams (about 1,500 acres ) due to the separation wall that flanks it from the west and south, and the checkpoint that was built on the site. This in addition to about 1,960 dunams (500 acres ) that were confiscated over the years for the settlements in the area. Now the village has only about 6,950 dunams (1,750 acres ) left. Unfortunately for the extended Amira family, most of the land beyond the wall belongs to it. Mourad Amira's family lost about 300 dunams (750 acres ).
Nothing to prevent arrest
Last month the Palestinian General Intelligence service began to call in several village residents for questioning and investigations. To date 15 have been summoned. Many of them participate in activities and demonstrations against the separation wall that is built on their land. Of all the villages that regularly fight against the separation fence, only in Na'alin are there residents identified with Hamas, or who used to be Hamas members, taking an active part in this struggle: not only in the demonstrations but in consultation, planning and receiving solidarity delegations.
Meanwhile the methods of oppression adopted by Israel have done their job: Seven members of the committee organizing the activities are jailed in Israel because of "incitement." Nighttime raids, arrests, curfews, summons to the Shin Bet security service, cancellation of work permits in Israel for those who participate in the demonstrations - all these have exhausted the village, which has 5,000 residents. The weekly demonstrations are a collective effort to overcome this fatigue, and now come the summonses from the Mukhabarat.
Sometimes the summons does not come on an official form, with stamps and names and the logo of the investigating body, but simply a square piece of paper, handwritten, with the name of the person being summoned and the date and an almost indecipherable signature. The paper is brought by a member of the security apparatus - a resident of the village or a neighboring village, whose job is known. That is perhaps how to know that it's a real summons rather than a practical joke.
Some people are summoned repeatedly: They arrive in the morning at the Mukhabarat compound in the northeastern neighborhood of the city of El Bireh, are left to wait for several hours, questioned, released and told to report again the next day. Among them are men in their late 30s, parents of children. There are also young men. On June 22, a man who was about to get married was arrested along with Amira. He was released a few days later but was ordered to report again for questioning four days after his wedding. There are some who were wounded in demonstrations, some whose children or brothers have been wounded. Five village residents, from all the extended families, have been killed by Israeli security forces while demonstrating against the wall. One was a child.
At the General Intelligence compound in El Bireh two residential buildings were converted into the organization's offices and detention cells. After people wait for an hour or two at the entrance to the compound they are brought into a trailer crowded with others who were summoned. There, too, they wait for an hour or two. From there they are taken by car to a clinic in the Bitunia neighborhood, where a doctor asks whether they suffer from any illnesses: high sugar, blood pressure, cardiac problems, etc. That's when the doctor signs a paper that there is nothing to prevent arrest. One Na'alin resident, they say, was taken to hospital because he felt unwell.
From there they return to the General Intelligence building, not handcuffed, but castigated by armed escorts, someone said: Put your head down, don't talk, don't move.
Back in the building, a Na'alin resident told Haaretz, "They stood us against a wall, and from that moment I didn't know what was happening to the others. You hear some sounds, but no more. It's like that for about 15 minutes. And then they take you to the ground floor and put you straight into a cell. Solitary confinement - 190 centimeters long, about 90 centimeters wide, with only a mattress. Later they brought a blanket. You have to knock on the door so they'll take you to the bathroom. You're only allowed three times a day. There's a bottle of water. There isn't even a Koran."
Some said they spent several days in solitary confinement, without even being summoned for an interrogation. Some left after 24 hours or less, after a short interrogation that they said included questions like: How did you vote in the elections? Who demonstrates at the fence? Do you demonstrate at the fence? Why did you bring so-and-so to the demonstration? Why is your wife dressed in such-and-such a way? What are your connections with Hamas? In the village they speak bitterly about one young man who fled to Jordan: The Mukhabarat pressured him to become a collaborator of theirs, in other words to report to them on the behavior of people identified with Hamas. He refused, and moving to Jordan was the solution he found.
In the village they reject out of hand the possibility that anyone is suspected of military activity against Israel. The entire village is located in Areas B and C, which the IDF and Shin Bet enter freely; they make arrests whenever they please, summon people to interrogations in the Ofer Camp, question them. The home of Mourad Amira and his family, for example, is actually located in Area C - and they have already had a Shin Bet officer show up in their home to find out what Amira is doing after his release. If Amira was suspected of anything approaching military activity, his family is convinced, the IDF and the Shin Bet would not have used the services of Palestinian intelligence.
One Fatah activist is angry at the wave of summonses but believes there is no political motive behind them: Family quarrels, he says, lead to filing false reports against certain people, especially during preparations for the local elections (that have been postponed meanwhile ). Others doubt this theory but agree: There are false reports. The security services have many "peeping Toms" who report to them what's going on, and deliberately exaggerate their suspicions in order to inflate their importance in the eyes of the security apparatus. Some connect the summonses to pro-Hamas graffiti that was painted on village walls. Others explain the harassing summonses and short-term arrests as part of the game of ping-pong between the governments of Ramallah and Gaza: Each one arrests members of the opposing movement, and claims that it's a reaction to the arrest of its own members. Some say the arrests are in the context of the standard harassment of anyone who is not a Fatah loyalist. And some ask themselves: Is the Mukhabarat obeying an Israeli order to deter people from participating in activities against the separation wall?
According to Palestinian law, when a person is arrested he must be shown an indictment. If there isn't one, he may be arrested for 24 hours. Then the prosecutor general must approve the extension of the detention for another 24 hours, after which the accused must be brought before a judge. The judge has power to order a continuation of his arrest for another 15 days. Randa Siniora, executive director of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights, says that when it comes to arrests for political reasons, the security services usually don't honor the existing law at all.
Amira's family tried to find out from those close to the Mukhabarat in the village what is happening to their son. The family was not allowed to visit him. Nor did a lawyer see him. Once the family was asked to bring him clothes. Once someone said he had seen him in the clinic: Maybe his hand hurts, from the period of his arrests in Israel. Some people told them: "They have nothing on him, he'll soon be released." Another said, according to the family: "We're looking for ways to bring him home." Mourad's brother replied: "No problem, put him in a taxi."
When the days passed and he was not released, the family petitioned the Palestinian High Court of Justice. Last Sunday the proceedings took place in his absence. Judge Ayman Nasser al-Din acceded to the prosecutor general's request and authorized the extension of his arrest by another two weeks. If no indictment is served by then, Amira will be released.
Among those who have been summoned to the Mukhabarat are some who wonder whether it's worth their while to continue demonstrating against the separation wall. "It's our obligation to demonstrate. It's like a stone placed on your chest, and we'll do anything in order to roll it off," explained someone who has undergone many summonses and harassments. "But my children worry about me when I disappear for entire days, I can't permit myself to lose work days and my wife worries about my welfare."
Former and present Hamas supporters in the village, who are active today in the popular struggle against the separation wall, are convinced of the justness and effectiveness of this type of struggle, as compared to the use of weapons in general and targeting civilians in particular. The Palestinian Authority has warmly adopted the popular struggle, say village activists bitterly, and at the same time is signaling that the popular struggle is out of bonds for anyone who isn't "one of ours," anyone who isn't in Fatah.
Instead of encouraging more people from the entire political spectrum to mobilize for this struggle, it deters them, especially the young people, and is arousing even more hatred toward it and its security services.
The Palestinian Government Media Center issued the following reaction: "The arrests are made for two primary reasons: suspicion of activity linked to illegal money or illegal weapons. Arrests are not made according to political affiliation, including belonging to Hamas. The government encourages and supports, and its personnel participate in non-violent resistance. It has no policy of arresting people involved in non-violent protest, including those belonging to Hamas. Regarding Mourad Amira, we are making efforts to ensure that he is released soon if it is proved that he has no connection to illegal activities."