The Man Who Wasn’t There

A young man is found badly beaten near a road in the Negev. He claims Shin Bet tried to recruit him as an informer, but security officials deny it

Five months after that terrible day, Ashraf Amr says he is in pain, incontinent, unable to have sexual relations and cannot work. Amr and an eyewitness say he was arrested by soldiers on his own land last January. Then he was bound, blindfolded and transferred to a facility in Israel where Amr says anonymous interrogators tried to persuade him to become an informer.

Every security organization we contacted last week denied any connection to the story. B’Tselem has asked the state prosecutor, the Military Advocate General and the Police Investigations Department to look into the incident. The PID has begun investigating.

Ashraf Amr
Daniel Bar-On

Last week, Amr arrived at a meeting with Musa Abu Hashhash, B’Tselem investigator for the Hebron area, straight from Aliya Hospital in Hebron, where he is being treated. On the morning of January 10, Amr explained, he left his home in Yata for the family’s nearby fields, accompanied by his father and several relatives. At about 10 A.M., the family members noticed some Palestinian laborers who had abandoned their car and fled to the hills, away from Border Police Jeeps. A few minutes later, two vehicles arrived; soldiers examined the abandoned car and asked the Amr family about its passengers. The Amrs said the laborers had headed for the hills. The soldiers then handcuffed and blindfolded four young men, including Ashraf.

An eyewitness, 18-year-old Yata resident Issa al-Amur, later testified that he saw the soldier put Amr, cuffed and blindfolded, into a Hummer. When Amr’s father asked why the men were being arrested, he was told there were problems concerning illegal residency in Israel and a possible infiltration attempt. Ashraf Amr, who says he has never been in Israel, was separated from the rest; the other three were taken into detention and two were held for four months. A soldier told Amr’s father that he would be taken for a brief interrogation and released.

Last week, the Israel Defense Forces spokesman denied that IDF troops had arrested Amr.

Amr says the handcuffs were painful, and the soldiers would not undo them, helping him unzip his pants when he had to urinate. He was transferred to a van, which he thought belonged to the police, but the police deny any involvement at that point.

A little while later, Amr was taken to a building and forced to sit on a tiny stool about 20 centimeters high. The plastic handcuffs were replaced by metal ones. Two interrogators in civilian dress spoke to him in Hebrew, in which he is not fluent, and began slapping him. Then a third man entered the room. He introduced himself as “Abu Faraj” − apparently the nickname of the Shin Bet officer in charge of Hebron.

“Abu Faraj” regaled Amr with intimate details about his family members and even showed him a photo of his home in Yata on a computer. Amr says the interrogator also knew that he had voted for the Hamas candidate in the last election, Khalil Raba’i, and was active in his election campaign. Amr tried to explain that his support for Raba’i, who was elected to the Palestinian parliament and subsequently jailed by Israel, was solely due to his being a relative, not from any political identification.

Abu Faraj: “All we want from you now is to keep an eye on Raba’i and on your two cousins who are active in the Hamas charitable associations.”

Now the interrogator showed him photographs of his cousins’ home on the laptop and said: “They’re your neighbors, you can easily keep track of them.” He showed the bound Amr a tiny electronic device with which he could photograph and record his relatives from afar. He also showed him, on the computer, an entry permit to Israel and said: “We’ll take you to places you’ve only dreamed of going.” And the final incentive: 3,000 shekels.

Amr claims he turned them down, and the two other interrogators threatened him: “Your life is in our hands.” Amr says they also threatened to bring in his wife and have their way with her while he watched, saying “no one could stop us.” Amr says he panicked and leaped up from his seat. The two pushed him back down. Then all three interrogators left the room. They returned about 15 minutes later and tried to tempt him once more: “This is an opportunity for you. If you agree, a car will come right away and take you home.” Amr, already physically and emotionally drained, told them: “Either kill me or let me go.”

Abu Faraj remarked: “You’re quite a stubborn one,” and told Amr to refresh himself in the bathroom. When they lifted him up, after prolonged sitting on the low stool, his legs wouldn’t cooperate, so they dragged him to the bathroom. By the door he tried to fight back and one of the metal handcuffs hurt one of the investigators. In response, they gave him two electric shocks.

He says he felt close to passing out. When he finally lifted his head, he bumped the chin of one of the interrogators, triggering a severe beating. They beat him with a dull instrument about the head and back, until he lost consciousness. Amr says that when he woke up, he found himself in the emergency room of Soroka Hospital. He had no idea how he got there.

At the hospital, with no ID on him, he was examined in the emergency room as an unknown, and fell asleep there until he was awakened by two policemen, who told him to get up and come with them. Amr says they told him: “You are from Gaza. We’ll take you to the police station and then we’ll let you off at the Erez checkpoint.” He was terrified of being transferred to Gaza and being unable to get back. He was taken to a police station, where he gave officers his name and his phone number in Yata. At around three in the morning the police called and spoke with his mother, who told them that her son Ashraf had been arrested the day before by soldiers and not seen since. They asked her for identifying details until they were convinced that he was in fact Ashraf Amr from Yata.

Shortly before six in the morning, he was dropped off at the Meitar Checkpoint, where his worried siblings were waiting. They took him to the small hospital in Yata and from there to Aliya Hospital in Hebron.

So who arrested, interrogated and beat Amr? Everyone denies it. The Shin Bet told Haaretz: “Ashraf Amr was never arrested or interrogated by the Shin Bet.”

Is it possible that Shin Bet interrogators proposed that he become an informer while he was detained at a police station?

“Upon further examination of the matter, [we found that] the subject was not questioned by/did not meet with Shin Bet interrogators.”

Tamir Abatbi, a spokesman for the Negev District of the Israel Police: “The subject was found lying near the junction at the entry to the Bedouin town of Aruar and was transported to Soroka Hospital by Magen David Adom. The event was reported to the police by Magen David Adom. He arrived at the hospital as an unidentified person. At the conclusion of the medical examinations in the hospital and following a medical discharge, he was detained for identification and questioning at the municipal police station, from where he was sent home after inquiries were made with his family.”

As noted, the IDF Spokesman denied that soldiers arrested Amr, and Assistant Border Police Spokesman Avner Erlich also told Haaretz: “The Border Police and its units have no connection to the incident.”

Epilogue: This week, B’tselem received the testimony of Maher al-Shubaki, 48, a tea and coffee vendor and father of seven who lives in Hebron. He told Abu Hashhash that on April 9, he was arrested by the IDF at a surprise checkpoint between Efrat and Tekoa and taken to an interrogation facility. There, three interrogators proposed that he become an informer by exploiting his family ties with an assassinated Islamic Jihad leader. They tried to tempt him with money and then resorted to a beating with electric shocks to his head, until he passed out. Testimony that is incredibly similar to that of Amr.

In this case as well, the Shin Bet replied this week: “The incident described in your inquiry is not known to the Shin Bet and if any such incident occurred − the Shin Bet has no involvement in it whatsoever.”