Twilight Zone A Night in Hebron

Soldiers seized a high-school student, held burning cigarettes to his forehead and hands and cut his cheek with a penknife.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

The scars speak for themselves: a scorched hole in the middle of his forehead, like a mark of Cain, two more burn holes on his right hand and one on his left arm. The scratches on his face and arm have already healed. That's what remains from the night on which soldiers decided to have a little fun with Salah Rajabi, a student in the 12th grade at the Tareq School in Hebron.

It's not the first time soldiers have beaten him up. There have been no fewer than 12 previous attacks. The most serious of them occurred in 2006, when soldiers broke the boy's shoulder and he was hospitalized. In December 2008, he was arrested with his two brothers on suspicion of stone throwing and released after 10 days. On another occasion he was arrested and released on bail of NIS 1,000. But this was the scariest attack of all, with the burning cigarettes on his flesh, the penknife that cut into his face and a mysterious pill the soldiers made him swallow by force, which frightened him more than anything else.

Another "Clockwork Orange" night in Hebron, in Israeli-controlled Area H2, which has been almost totally abandoned by the Palestinian residents for fear of the settlers and the Israel Defense Forces. Another display of wildness by soldiers, who thought that undercover of darkness they could do as they pleased. The IDF Spokesman made do this week with an appallingly laconic response: "The complaint that was filed with the police will be transmitted to the office of the military advocate general and after it is examined a decision will be made on how to proceed." Whatever.

Rajabi, 19, is trying to complete his matriculation exams. He comes from a poor family of 19 children, from two mothers. Every day after school he goes to his sweets stand, peddling cheap baklava in front of his house. He was there on June 14, too. There was no school that day, because of the exams. In the afternoon he went to his stand and by 10 P.M. he had sold all his wares. He then set out to visit his sister, who, like her husband, is deaf and mute.

He is a hefty young man, muscular but shy, his voice soft. His older brother, Kaad, sits next to him, to support him. His sister's home isn't far from where he lives. As he walked up the street, which is partially lit and partially dark, an IDF Jeep, coming from the direction of the stonemasons' industrial zone, suddenly pulled up next to him. The soldier sitting next to the driver opened the door and asked to see his ID card.

Salah RajabiCredit: Miki Kratsman

The driver recognized him immediately. "Is it you?" he asked. Maybe he's considered a troublemaker, though he has never been convicted of anything. Two other soldiers, who were sitting in the back seat, got out of the Jeep and moved toward him. They pushed him forcefully into the vehicle. Rajabi says he did not resist. He was frightened. They made him sit on the floor of the Jeep, in the back, but did not tie his hands or blindfold him, which is standard procedure in making an arrest.

The soldiers lit cigarettes: four soldiers and four cigarettes in one military Jeep with a Palestinian detainee on the floor, driving through the streets of Hebron, which overnight turned into Marlboro country. The Jeep kept moving, when suddenly one of the soldiers sitting in the back placed the burning cigarette against Rajabi's forehead. While Rajabi was trying to recover from the pain and shock, the soldier sitting next to the driver pulled Rajabi's arm forward and stuck his cigarette twice into the palm of the youth's right hand. Here are the holes. The soldiers cursed him; he's ashamed to repeat what they said. Then the other soldier in the back seat grabbed his left arm and jabbed his burning cigarette deep into it. Here is the hole. Only the driver puffed away tranquilly and did nothing.

Like all games, it's not over till it's over. Now the soldier in the back who was the first to brand Rajabi with a cigarette took out a penknife, one of those with which soldiers pierce the plastic handcuffs of their prisoners, and held it against Rajabi's right cheek. Rajabi was deathly afraid. The soldier cut his cheek across its whole length and then worked on his left arm as well. Not a very deep cut, but blood flowed from his face. He wiped it away with his shirt.

Throughout, the Jeep kept going. They reached a dark, empty lot in the Jebel Juhar area. The driver stopped and turned off the engine. The four soldiers got out and ordered their victim to kneel on the ground. He did as they commanded. They grabbed his head and forced his mouth open, Rajabi relates. One soldier took out a pill and stuffed it into Rajabi's mouth. They held his mouth open until they were certain he had swallowed the bitter pill. Then they threw him to the ground, got into the Jeep and sped off.

Rajabi lay there in the dark, exhausted and in a panic, blood on his face and arm. In a few minutes he pulled himself together, got up and made his way to the home of relatives about 300 meters from the empty lot. It was midnight. He knocked on the door. His shirt was dirty from the ground and stained with his blood. Opening the door in his pajamas, Ahmed Rajabi was appalled to see his distraught relative. He later testified that this was what happened to Musa Abu Hashhash, a fieldworker of B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.

"What happened to you?" Ahmed asked Salah Rajabi, and he told him how the soldiers had stopped him, burned him with cigarettes, cut him with a knife and forced him to swallow a pill. The two called Kaad, Salah's brother, who lives close by.

At this stage, Rajabi felt himself losing consciousness. He was certain it was because of the pill. Kaad arrived immediately and took his brother to Aliya Hospital in the city. On the way, he relates, his brother passed out. In the hospital his stomach was flushed, but the physicians told Kaad they did not have the equipment to determine what the pill was. When his brother woke up in the morning, Kaad relates, he began to attack everyone in sight in a fit of rage or fear.

Rajabi was injected with a tranquilizer and sent home. Since then he has not taken any more exams or returned to his baklava stand. Last week he filed a complaint with the Hebron police, complaint no. 230003/2010. The IDF, as we saw, is looking into it.



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