Were Palestinian Shepherds Arrested on False Pretenses? Army Promises Probe

Activist's footage shows settlement security coordinator telling soldiers to make arrests.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Amira Hass
Amira Hass

The Israeli army will launch an internal investigation into two cases in which soldiers allegedly arrested Palestinian shepherds on false pretexts, the IDF Spokesman's Office has told Haaretz.

The investigation, under the auspices of the Israel Defense Forces advocate general and the army’s criminal investigation division, will be studying allegations that troops from the Kfir Brigade arrested Palestinian shepherds near the village of A-Tuwani in the southern Hebron Hills, taking them away from their flocks and pastureland for hours.

In the first incident, as shown in a video taken by an international activist who was at the scene, the soldiers arrested a shepherd on the direct order of an Israeli man named Gedalia, who is the security coordinator of the settlement of Maon. In the second incident, a commanding officer claimed the grazing was forbidden because it was too close to the outpost of Mitzpeh Avigayil. The shepherd testified that the soldiers struck and abused him.

In the A-Tuwani region, international and Israeli activists escort the local farmers and shepherds to their fields because of constant attacks by the residents of the outposts and settlements. The army and police often send the farmers and shepherds away to prevent friction with the settlers. But this was the first time in local memory that shepherds were kept from their pastureland by arrests made on the orders of settlers.

On the morning of Tuesday, October 15, Maon security coordinator Gedalia arrived at Ghali Hill, where Mohammed Shawahin, 31, of the nearby village of Jawiya, was grazing his flocks. Shortly after Gedalia appeared, a military vehicle containing four soldiers, three men and a woman, arrived. Shawahin got the message and tried to leave. But the woman soldier shouted at him: “You’re not going anywhere. Don’t you hear me? I’ve got a gun. You stay here. Don’t you hear me? You stay here. I don’t care. You stay here. Right here.”

It was then the sheep began dispersing. The security coordinator told the soldiers, “He [the shepherd] isn’t carrying an identity card.” In the video documentation, the sergeant can be heard asking, in Hebrew, “What do you want us to do?” The security coordinator said, “He was here yesterday, too — the exact same thing. I want you to hold him, find out who this person is, find out who this terrorist is.”

Shawahin offered to return to his home, a few hundred meters away, and come back with his identity card. The international activist tried to tell the soldiers that two days before, different soldiers had appeared and confirmed that grazing in the area was permitted. But the commanding officer decided to arrest Shawahin anyway, and handcuffed him. Shawahin was taken by jeep to an army camp in the settlement of Sussia. Ninety minutes later he was taken to the settlement of Shim’a, about 17 kilometers southwest of where he was arrested. He returned home on foot about seven hours after he was arrested.

On the morning of October 16, the same jeep appeared, only with different soldiers this time, on the road near the wadi and the privately-owned land on which Nael Abu Aram, 26, of the village of Qawawis, was grazing his flock. Two teenage boys were with him. Abu Aram testified that one of the soldiers took the pipe one of the teenagers was carrying and began striking the sheep to disperse the flock. The soldiers insisted that Abu Aram answer them in Hebrew and refused to believe him when he said he did not speak Hebrew. For several seconds, he managed to film the commander of the troops (Duchifat Battalion soldiers who completed their training in March 2013) telling him: “You’re not allowed to be here, right? You’re not allowed to be here, because this is [the unauthorized outpost of] Mitzpeh Avigayil. You’re not allowed to be here. There’s a Jewish community here, and you’re not allowed near it.”

Abu Aram said that when he tried to use his cellphone to call for help, the commander held his hand strongly, twisting his fingers. “He almost broke them,” he said. The soldiers handcuffed him, blindfolded him and made him get into the jeep. He says he was held for two or three hours at the army base in Sussia, in one of the prefabricated buildings (which he managed to see when his blindfold was removed for a few minutes). There, he testified in a video recorded by activists of the Ta’ayush Arab-Jewish Partnership, the soldiers struck, abused and cursed him while he was still handcuffed and blindfolded. He said they struck him on the chest, back and legs, held a burning cigarette to his mouth and extinguished it on his face, near his mouth. Later on, he was taken to the area near Shim’a, about 15 kilometers from the place where he had been arrested. He returned home about six hours after his arrest. On the afternoon of the same day, the same commanding officer from the Duchifat Battalion tried to arrest another shepherd in the same area on the same pretext — being too close to the settlement — but the shepherd firmly refused to get into the jeep. Because several international activists were present, together with a Ta’ayush activist, the commanding officer backed down.

The IDF Spokesman’s Office responded: “Each of these two incidents will be investigated thoroughly by the relevant parties, including the military advocate general and the army’s criminal investigation division, to clarify the circumstances. We emphasize that IDF troops act on the orders of their commanding officers in the field and are not subject to the orders of security coordinators.”

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