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On the phone, his voice sounded very young, like that of a high school student. But no; he's a soldier, serving somewhere in the West Bank. He identified himself by name, named his company, the unit, and the location of the base (and in a separate conversation named the base). He was bashful, hesitant, apologetic that he might be disturbing someone, but something was bothering him. Soldiers in his unit "beat bloody" two Palestinians whom they had arrested earlier that day and had brought to the base, he said. One was an Arab caught in the field with a gun. The second "was a detainee that the Shin Bet said did nothing and that he should be released." That was his conclusion from what he heard from one of the soldiers who had heard the officers. "`He didn't do anything. Take him and toss him out somewhere on the road,'" said that soldier.

But meanwhile, the soldier with the youthful voice said on the phone that the two detainees were being held at the base. Their hands were tied behind them; their eyes covered with a blindfold. One was lying curled up on the ground, the other sat on a chair. And the soldiers beat them. A lot of soldiers. Beating and kicking until the two began to weep, and continued to beat them until the two pleaded for their lives. It was difficult for him to describe the scene he saw. "It reminded me of the Ramallah lynch," he said. The officers weren't present when the soldiers - as the soldier said - beat up the two detainees. The officers were in a nearby room.

"I know that the right thing to do was report it to my officer. I didn't do my duty. Why not? Maybe because the atmosphere is 'why are you pitying them?' I feel the officers don't care, either. There's nobody to talk to. This is the first time I witnessed something like that. But I understood from the other soldiers that they go out to the villages and beat up Arabs. And I want to protect my ass. I want to finish my service in quiet."

Lawyers who represent Palestinian detainees, including detainees who have been formally released, say the beatings are a widespread phenomenon. The big fear isn't of an arrest, but of the stage between being captured by the soldiers and being placed in a detention camp. During that time, sometimes hours long, say the Palestinians, the detainees are exposed to the whims of the soldiers, irrespective of suspicions against them or their age. Four youths were taken from their homes in Silat al Hartiya in early February, and managed to tell their lawyers that they were beaten from the moment they were put in the jeep until they were taken to the Salam detention center. At least they weren't beaten in front of their families, they said, unlike a youth from Balata who was beaten in front of his mother when he was arrested in early February. A pupil from Bir Zeit was arrested in early January, taken by jeep to a base south of Ramallah, and beaten the entire day - then released at night.

Lawyers and Palestinian human rights organizations don't even bother keeping accurate records of all these complaints, let alone demand that they be investigated. Those arrested are not allowed to meet with lawyers immediately, and when they do get to meet them in the mass detention centers, the lawyers get very little time - 15 minutes per detainee. There's no time to take statements about abuse, and besides, the Palestinians are convinced that nobody in the army plans to seriously investigate the complaint. Those let out after a few days or even a few hours are also afraid that the complaint will lead to further abuse by soldiers.

Is it a phenomenon, or did the soldier and the Palestinians exaggerate? The Palestinians - whose newspapers each day are full of reports of civilians who were killed when a house was demolished or when a shell was fired into a refugee camp - feel it's almost a luxury to complain about beatings. In Israel, where there's practically no criticism of the quick-finger-on-the-trigger policy and where Palestinian civilian deaths are never investigated, it's hard to expect that anyone will seriously examine complaints of detainees being beaten by soldiers. Beatings? Our soldiers? For no reason? A phenomenon? It can't be.

The soldier's report, including the name of the company, unit and the location of the base (without naming it specifically), was given to the IDF Spokesman's Office 10 days ago. As of last night, the army had not responded.