'I Felt Like I Was Going to Die': Arab Detainees Accuse Israeli Police of 'Brutal' Violence During Gaza War

A court has ordered several of the cases to be handed over to the police internal investigations unit after being shown images of bruises on the bodies of several of the detainees at a Nazareth police station

Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner
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Omaiyer Lawabne in Nazareth on Sunday
Omaiyer Lawabne in Nazareth on SundayCredit: Gil Eliahu
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

Nazareth residents who were arrested on suspicion of rioting during last month’s Gaza war are accusing the police of acting violently after they were brought to the local police station.

The suspects, all of them Arabs, said police officers ordered them to sit on the floor with their heads bowed and proceeded to beat them with various objects. They allege that several of them were kept in handcuffs and denied medical treatment.

A court has ordered several of the cases to be handed over to the police internal investigations unit after being shown images of bruises on the bodies of several of the detainees. On Monday, Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights, sent the unit eight affidavits from some of those arrested as well as lawyers and medics who said they witnessed the violence.

Omaiyer Lawabne, a 20-year-old arrested on May 12, the last day of Ramadan, said he had not participated in the demonstrations but had been on his way to an ATM to withdraw money ahead of the Eid al-Fitr holiday. When he got out of his car, he alleged that police threw stun grenades at him and beat him. “The cops started kicking me in the face as I was lying on the floor,” Lawabne said. “There were a few – I couldn’t count – they all kicked me. I felt like I was going to die.”

In his affidavit, Lawabne said he was brought to a police station several-hundred meters away from where he was again beaten. “When we arrived at the station, they tried to bang my head against the door,” he recounted. He was photographed and then put in a holding room with other detainees.

A demonstration in Nazareth

“Everyone was in handcuffs, sitting on the floor with their heads facing down. A masked officer told me to sit down. I was handcuffed from behind with my face facing down, and then he beat me from behind – I don’t know with what, but others told me it was an M-16. I started to bleed. The police beat the others, too, but I couldn’t see everything. I started to scream in pain,” Lawabne said. “They just wanted to humiliate us,” he told Haaretz.

Faiz Zbedeiat, a 21-year-old student at Haifa University, said that while he was organizing a protest with scores of others, police officers dragged him to the station and handcuffed him. “The police ordered us to sit on the floor. I said to my friends who were with me, ‘We’re not animals.’ Then more police came and ordered us to get on our knees facing the wall with our heads down.

“Later more detainees arrived and at that point the cops started beating us with batons and kicking us. A friend next to me began bleeding from his head onto the floor. The police kept warning us that whoever lifted their head would be beaten. One of the cops, in a mask, had an M-16 that he used to hit detainees,” Zbedeiat said.

“They beat us in the back, slapped us in the face and in the belly. Anyone who reacted or opposed them got more blows. The police teased us, laughed and said, ‘Pray that God will get you out of here.’”

The next day, Zbedeiat was brought to the Nazareth Magistrates Court on suspicion of arson, assaulting a police officer, rioting and disturbing the peace – all out of racist motives. Finding that the basis for charges was “very remote,” Judge Jasmine Kteily-Manni released him to house arrest.

Disturbances in Nazareth, last month

In a third case, Carlo Roshrosh, an attorney, alleged that he also suffered violence at the hands of the police when he was detained and brought to the police station on May 12. He said he saw other detainees forced to sit on the floor.

“Someone came into the room and started to beat the detainees brutally. I heard the sounds of beating when an officer said to them, ‘Heads down, heads down.’ I also heard the sound of a detainee’s head being pushed against a door. I saw another one of those arrested beaten with a broom handle until it broke. The beating continued by other means.”

Roshrosh was released unconditionally. “What was happening there in the police station was a madhouse. You can’t begin to describe it. It’s a place where the police are supposed to protect you, but in actuality they attack you – literally, physically threatening people, beating them brutally. After what happened, it’s not for nothing that Arab society has lost faith in the police.”

A police spokesman denied the substance of the charge, noting that Nazareth police had been forced to handle a large number of violent incidents, including the torching of dumpsters, throwing Molotov cocktails and stones at police and passersby, and the shooting of fireworks at the police station itself.

“During these incidents, more than 120 suspects were arrested and at all times high-ranking police officers were present,” the spokesman said. “It should be noted that an investigating officer contacted the head of the jail on behalf of the Public Defender’s Office and requested the presence of defense attorneys at the station, and accordingly, when the detainees arrived at the station, two defense attorneys were present who advised the detainees.

"Unfortunately, some of the attorneys who have lodged complaints in the affidavit were present at the entrance to the station and tried to create provocations on the spot," he continued. "Despite that, they were permitted from time to time to enter the station and patrol the facility to prove that the detainees were treated properly. It should be noted that medical staff was always present at the station and that every detainee who required medical treatment was transferred without delay and in some cases was summoned for questioning only after the treatment.”

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