Mohammed Makbal was in prison this week. He was taken there directly from the hospital, a day after undergoing surgery on his jaw, which Israeli soldiers shattered with their rifle butts while arresting him on the street. In Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem, he was shackled to the bed, part of the time by the leg with an iron chain, part of the time with handcuffs. He also emerged from the operating room with his hands and legs shackled.
Makbal is a 16-year-old youth, in 10th grade at the boys’ high school in the Al-Arroub refugee camp; his father, Mounir, is deputy principal. Israeli soldiers thought Mohammed had thrown stones at them, and vented their rage on him. They arrested four other teens along with him, and beat them, too, but less severely. Eyewitnesses say the arrests were random; the soldiers grabbed whomever they could. There were many youngsters on the street to choose from.
The Makbals’ home is located on the eastern, more spacious side of the Al-Arroub camp, which is situated between Bethlehem and Hebron. We were there last week, too, after hearing of the arrest of another Palestinian minor, Basel Badawi, who had been snatched from his home by soldiers in the dead of night between November 15 and 16.
Two weeks later, on November 29, two Israel Defense Forces jeeps entered the main street of the crowded camp in the morning, though for what purpose is still not clear. Perhaps to demonstrate a presence – or just to provoke the schoolchildren, who naturally played their part and started to throw stones at the invading armored vehicles.
Mounir Makbal, 48, was in his office in the school at the time. In his youth Makbal, who today has five other children besides Mohammed, worked at a vegetable stall in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market and afterward in construction in Israel, until he was appointed the school’s deputy principal. He also studied administration at the university level while working. .
On that same morning Mohammed left the house around 7:20, as he did every day, to accompany his little sister, Lubav, to her primary school, which is some distance away. He then walked back to his school, which is closer to home, on the way stopping to buy falafel at a local place that his father calls “Shlomo’s Falafel,” because it reminds him of a similar eatery near Mahane Yehuda in Jerusalem. Shlomo’s Falafel, or maybe it was Shalom’s, he doesn’t remember.
In any event, as Mohammed went in to get a falafel, he later told his father, he suddenly saw dozens of children running down the street outside, leaving their bookbags behind on the ground so they could run faster: The army was in the camp and was firing tear-gas grenades.
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At about 8:30 A.M., a neighbor from the camp called Mounir to say that the army had taken his son. The father rushed to the camp’s entrance gate where he saw three children, two of Mohammed’s age and one younger, standing on the road, handcuffed and blindfolded, soldiers surrounding them. Mounir asked the soldiers where his son was. Another resident, at the scene, told him his son was under arrest in an army jeep inside the camp.
The jeep arrived a quarter of an hour later. Mounir saw two soldiers removing Mohammed from the vehicle. His son could barely stand; they dragged him, bound and blindfolded, a soldier on each side. A blood-stained coronavirus mask covered his face. To his father he looked as though he had been badly beaten.
“I was very worried about my son’s condition,” Mounir told us in the fluent Hebrew he hasn’t spoken in years, when we visited him this week.
Out of the jeep emerged a Shin Bet security service agent known locally as “Captain Karem,” a familiar figure in Al-Arroub, this time wearing an IDF uniform (locals say that when he’s involved in operational activities, he wears a uniform).
“What’s with Mohammed? My son is still a baby, how come you’re taking him?” Mounir recalls asking the captain. “What does he say to me? ‘I will take your son’s pants off and rape him here.’ I said to him, ‘I am sorry to hear the person in charge of security talking like that.’ When I heard those words, the pressure began to build up in me. Captain Karem told me, ‘Beat it, or I’ll take you down with tear gas.’”
Mounir moved away and lost sight of his son. After a short time, the proprietor of the kiosk at the entrance to the camp informed him that the troops had “loaded the children into a jeep.”
The next day, Mounir was in a meeting at the Palestinian Education Ministry in the town of Halhul, near Hebron, when he got a phone call from Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem. He was told that the army had brought his son in during the night and that he should get there quickly, because they were going to operate and needed parental authorization.
When Mounir explained that he did not have an entry permit for Israel, the hospital official promised to send him a letter that he could take to the District Coordination and Liaison Office, which would issue an entry permit. The letter, addressed to Dalia Basa, health coordinator in the Civil Administration, stated: “Person is a minor. Need urgent permit for the father!” The permit arrived within a few hours. Mounir went to checkpoint 300 outside Bethlehem and from there took a taxi to Hadassah.
He was directed to the oral and maxillofacial surgery department, where a physician told him his son had been brought in at 3 A.M. with fractures of the jaw that required surgery. The medical file stated that Mohammed was suffering from a left condylar fracture. “Brought to ER about 20 hours after being bruised during his arrest for throwing stones.” Bruised. But Mounir felt somewhat relieved: It was only the jaw. But then his ordeal began.
Mohammed was in room 217 in the ward, in the bed next to the door. As Mounir entered he was appalled to see his son chained to the bed with two soldiers guarding him. They asked Mounir who he was and when he identified himself, they ordered him to leave. “Get out, you’re not allowed to be here.” Mounir left.
“I couldn’t argue. It’s the IDF,” he says now.
Then the game of cat and mouse began. Mounir, in the corridor, would steal a look at his wounded son through the half-open door, occasionally snapping a photograph of him with his cellphone, sometimes shouting a word of encouragement to him – and the soldiers would chase him away. At some point, the soldiers moved Mohammed to a bed next to the window, making it impossible for Mounir to see him from the hall. Then they made him leave the corridor as well.
Yet another exemplary form of service in the IDF: being warders of a teenager wounded by the blows of one’s comrades and forcefully chasing away his father.
Mounir remained in the hospital, sleeping in a waiting room and looking for opportunities to see his son, even for a brief moment. The photographs he took show Mohammed lying on the bed and shackled to it, or standing up before being taken to prison, handcuffed.
On Wednesday, before he underwent his operation, a remand hearing was held via video conference at the hospital. The presiding judge was Lt. Col. Yair Lahan of the Military Court, Judea. Prosecutor: Lt. Betty Bershadsky; defendant: Mohammed Makbal. Suspicion: throwing stones at military vehicles and hurling a Molotov cocktail.
Mohammed was ordered to remain in custody for six days, a protocol that constitutes authorization for imprisonment. Judge Lahan added: “In view of the prosecution’s consent and because the investigation has concluded, I instruct those supervising the suspect in the hospital to allow the suspect’s father to see him, under the oversight of one of the supervisors, for a reasonable visiting time.” The operation could proceed.
Mounir immediately set off after his son, whose bed had meanwhile been taken down to floor minus 4, the surgery floor. Mounir was allowed to see him as he was being prepared for his operation and, for the first time, was permitted to embrace and kiss the youth. Again he photographed him chained to the bed. Mohammed told him about the events of Sunday morning; how he had escorted his sister, bought a falafel and saw the furor in the street.
Mounir says he’s certain his son doesn’t throw stones. “I know, because I keep him in the house.”
Mohammed related that initially, soldiers had struck him with rifle butts in the camp and then beat him again at Karmei Tzur, a settlement, to which he was taken. He was then moved to the Etzion base for interrogation. It’s not difficult to imagine the scene of the interrogation of a teenager who had never been arrested before and was undoubtedly suffering hellish pain from his fractured jaw.
“That’s the boy’s story,” his father says.
Mounir was appalled to see that the army accompanied his son even into the operating room. “A soldier enters the operating room with my baby!”
Mohammed was bound hand and foot when he emerged from the operation, which had been performed under full anesthesia. The soldiers allowed Mounir to be with him for 40 minutes.
“I remained with him for 40 minutes exactly,” he tells us. “For me it was tremendous. Forty minutes after not being able to go to him for three days. The most painful thing is not being allowed to be by the side of your wounded son. Only I was there, not his mother or his siblings; they were not given a permit. I was there until they got him ready to be transferred to prison, on Thursday.”
Before the soldiers took Mohammed to Megiddo Prison, they emptied his pockets and filmed the procedure in video. Mohammed had 3 shekels (about 90 cents) on him, which had been intended for the purchase of a falafel on that fateful morning. In the last photograph his father was able to take, Mohammed is seen standing in the corridor, hands bound and face covered with a surgical mask that concealed his wound.
The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit made the following statement to Haaretz: “On Sunday, November 29, 2020, a number of suspects threw stones and bottles of paint at Israeli vehicles and buses that were traveling adjacent to the Al-Arroub refugee camp, which is located in the area of the Etzion territorial brigade. As a result of the stone throwing, two passengers were injured and vehicles were damaged.
“An IDF force that arrived on the scene pursued a number of suspects in the area. During the pursuit the suspects threw more stones at the force. At the conclusion of the pursuit, five suspects were arrested and taken in for further interrogation by the security forces.
“During the arrest of the suspects, one tried to escape his arrest... and in response the force was sent into action to prevent his escape, which led to his being injured. His transfer for medical treatment took place after the relevant professional personnel examined the need for this, and subject to the coronavirus restrictions. During his stay in the hospital, the detainee was under supervision in accordance with orders.
“On December 2, 2020, around midday, the above-mentioned underwent surgery. Throughout the operation the soldiers guarding him waited outside the operating room.”
When we saw him this week, Mounir was worried about whether his son was taken from Megiddo to Hadassah for a follow-up examination that was scheduled for Monday of this week. “That is very important and very urgent, and I am very concerned,” he said.
According to the Israel Prison Service, “the hospital’s recommendations for follow-up were followed, but his medical confidentiality precludes our going into the details of his treatment.”
On Thursday, Mohammed Mounir was ordered to remain in custody until his next hearing, scheduled for December 24.