Hamada Was Dragged From One Israeli Prison to Another and Freed Four Days Later Without Questioning

Israeli soldiers raided the home of Hamada Tamimi, confiscated phones and a camera, beat up his family and took him away. The army said his arrest was due to operational considerations

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Hamada Tamimim at his home in Nebi Saleh, September 2020.
Hamada Tamimim at his home in Nebi Saleh, September 2020.Credit: Bilal Tamimi
Amira Hass
Amira Hass
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Israel Defense Forces soldiers arrested Hamada (Mohammed) Tamimi in the early hours of Sunday, August 23, in his home in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh. He was released on Wednesday, August 26, in the evening: Nobody interrogated him, nobody told him why he had been detained, nobody apologized for the false arrest.

“Suddenly the warden came to the cell and told me to get dressed because they were releasing me,” recalls Tamimi, 21. “I had just washed the only shirt I had, and it was still wet when I put it on. I coudn’t believe it.” He smiled while he told this to us; his eyes smiled too. But those were four days of emotional and physical torture for him and his family – the routine kind which so many Palestinians experience, which is not told and not reported.

“If they make a film about every family in our village, they’ll close Bollywood,” says his mother Manal, describing the routine.

A family friend called me on the evening of Monday, August 24, explaining that almost two days had passed since Tamimi’s arrest, and his family didn’t know where he was. Maybe a question addressed to the relevant authorities would speed things up? On Tuesday morning the Shin Bet security services told Haaretz: He’s not with us, he’s in police detention.

Manal and her husband, Bilal, have had much experience with arrests: their own and that of their children and their relatives. After all, that’s part of the price of the popular struggle (which has been frozen for now) against the takeover of the land and natural spring of the villages of Nabi Saleh and Deir Nizam by the settlers of nearby Halamish.

Members of the Tamami family at their home in Nebi Saleh,(from the left) Halima, her daughter Nowal, son Bilal and his wife, Manal.Credit: Amira Hass

But the Tamimis don’t recall such a delay in being informed of the place of detention. They were particularly worried because on January 31, Hamada had been wounded by IDF fire. The bullet remained embedded near his left arm, near the aorta. It’s dangerous to remove it, the doctors said.

“If they hit him, the bullet is likely to move,” said Manal. “And recently he has also been experiencing pain.” A piece of another bullet, fired by an IDF soldier, was embedded and remained in her son’s left thigh in January 2015.

Haaretz has been closely following the Tamimis’ concern for their son. In January 2018, when a force from the Shin Bet and the police raided the prisoners’ cells in Ofer Prison, where he was serving a 20-month term for throwing stones at soldiers. The parents have been living in this dichotomy for years: determined not to remain silent – indeed, that’s how they educate their children – and yet afraid for their children.

Last Sunday the soldiers showed up on foot: Some came from the east, the others ascended from the wadi from the west. Hamada, who was awake and on the roof of his house, saw them when they were 25 meters away. He woke up his elder brother, Osama, and went to rouse their parents. Osama went up to the roof and saw the soldiers surrounding the house below, some of them entering the front yard.

He estimates that there were about 50 soldiers, with rifles. He went downstairs, saw soldiers behind the door preoccupied with something, and assumed that they were planning to break it down. One soldier saw him, stuck a gun through an opening in the door (whose glass was broken by his comrades long ago) and ordered him to open it – which was what Osama had planned to do in any case, so the door would not suffer further damage. When he opened it, the soldier again aimed the rifle at him, near his head.

Meanwhile, Hamada woke up his parents, who woke up Samer and Rand, the youngest children. It was 3 A.M. Next door lives Bilal’s mother, Halima, 74, her daughter Nawal and her granddaughter Jana. They woke up when one of the soldiers shook the screen on the window of their room. Meanwhile, several soldiers entered Bilal’s and Manal’s apartment and walked around. Only one was wearing a face mask.

One of the soldiers again asked Bilal for his ID card, and when he asked why they didn’t answer. He addressed them in English. They didn’t really answer. At one point, when they had gotten Hamada’s ID card, the soldiers ordered him to get dressed and join them, and to take his medication with him.

“In other words, they knew that he’s ill,” concluded Manal, adding: “Samer was crying all the time, out of fear for his brother.”

Immediately when the soldiers entered the house the family started to film what was happening. One clip was even aired live on Facebook. This small civil rebellion caught the soldiers unprepared and annoyed them. Manal shouted at them, refusing to accept the ease with which her son was taken from his home. One soldier became even angrier and sprayed pepper gas at Bilal and Manal.

A design in the shape of a map of Palestine on a Nebi Saleh fence in 2018.Credit: Alex Levac

“The family of the detained man behaved violently toward the military force and interfered with its mission," the IDF spokesperson said in response, adding that that had "forced" a soldier to respond with pepper spray.

The fan blew the gas directly at Halima who is currently under dialysis, and recently underwent heart surgery. A doctor told her that her health had deteriorated because of the large quantity of tear gas fired by soldiers in the village over the years. While Halima was having difficulty breathing, Manal shouted even louder. She tells us that she asked the IDF officer in Arabic, “Do you want to kill her?” She thinks he was a Druze.

According to her, he said, “Let her die” (the IDF spokesperson ignored this detail). All day long the family felt the sting of the pepper spray. The soldiers confiscated five cell phones and a video camera, and gave no receipt for them (the IDF spokesperson didn’t explain why none were given).

Afterward, when they were no longer being filmed, the soldiers “went crazy” according to Manal, beating and pushing them and grabbing their arms. The IDF spokesperson said there was "no indication that the force behaved improperly during the incident.” On the stairwell outside the flat the soldiers handcuffed Hamada behind his back and blindfolded him. “Don’t be afraid, my son,” said Manal – who was afraid.

Hamada didn’t understand what he was being arrested for, he only feared yet another saga of detention, courtrooms and lost time, after he had already found a new job at a bakery. He was led to the soldiers’ vehicle and made to sit on the floor, between the soldiers who were sitting on the seats. He felt every stone and bump on the way. One of the soldiers put a leg on his left shoulder. It hurt (the IDF spokesperson didn’t explain why Tamimi was put on the floor of the vehicle). The first stop was a military outpost at the entrance of the nearby village of Aboud, where an Israeli doctor saw Tamimi after the cuffs and blindfold were removed. She asked him about his health and filled out a questionnaire. Neither she nor the soldiers wore masks. Tamimi estimates now that he was held there for about four hours, among the soldiers, and once again handcuffed, this time in front. The blindfold slid down his nose a little, so when they placed him in the car and began to drive, he managed to see the sign “Petah Tikva.”

He was brought to a hospital (the IDF spokesperson wouldn’t say which one), administered a coronavirus test and transported to another military facility, at the entrance to the Rantis checkpoint. There he was put on a chair, handcuffed and blindfolded, alone with his thoughts, for about 10 hours. He was unable to fall asleep, despite his exhaustion. They gave him water, he says, but no food - the IDF says he refused it.

Ayalon Prison in Ramle, Israel, March 11, 2020.Credit: Ilan Assayag

Nobody hit Tamimi. He noticed that one soldier took a selfie with him. He still doesn’t know why he was arrested. Evening fell, and he was driven to the Shin Bet’s Ayalon Prison, to a cell that had only a mattress. His parents didn’t know where he was or how he was doing. He was held in that same cell for three days, in precautionary coronavirus quarantine, and was allowed to go out to the yard for a breather two hours a day. On Monday, August 24, his stomach was growling: He hadn’t received food regularly, only bottles of water. Fortunately, two detainees from Bethlehem who passed by his cell when they were out in the yard, managed to collect some food for him from other detainees and from a criminal detainee, in charge of distributing food. Tamimi didn’t know that his parents were still going crazy with worry.

On Tuesday he finally received three regular meals. That morning the Hamoked Center for the Defense of the Individual received the answer as to where he was, and reported to his parents (in the afternoon the IDF spokesperson informed Haaretz that he was in Ayalon Prison). That same day it was reported that Tamimi was being brought for an extension of his detention, at the military court in Ofer Prison. Bilal rushed to the site and was told that it was a mistake: The hearing wasn’t today. But they allowed him to see his son for 20 seconds by means of a video conversation, and to exchange a few words. What happiness.

On Wednesday Hamada’s parents knew that he would be brought for an extension of his detention before a judge, before the conclusion of the 96 hours since his arrest. Manal arrived at Ofer early in the morning. She waited. And waited. And waited. It was time for the judges’ lunch break. Afterward, the lawyer from the Al-Dameer Association for Human Rights said that Hamada wasn’t even on the list of detainees who’d continue to be kept in custody, and the police knew nothingAt about 5 P.M. the lawyer received a certificate of release from the Modi’in Ilit police.

In the evening Tamimi was transported handcuffed, his eyes uncovered, to the Maccabim checkpoint, and released there. Using the cellphone of two residents of the village of Beit Sira who were there, he called home. Within half an hour Bilal came to pick him up. Four of the family’s phones (not Hamada’s) and the camera were returned to Bilal on September 1. The IDF spokesperson told Haaretz Hamada “was arrested by order of the security forces and based on operational considerations.”

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