On Holocaust Remembrance Day, earlier this month, Israel Police officers let loose large, violent dogs on an 18-year-old Palestinian who is the sole provider for his poverty-stricken family. He was working in a moshav in the western Negev, building a chicken coop. When the officers freed him from the jaws of the dogs, wounded in all parts of his body, they proceeded to beat him and kick him in the head. They then took him to a police station and left him lying on a floor there for a full day, half-naked, his shirt torn, his injuries untended. It wasn’t until late evening that they released him. He was taken to the Palestinian side of the nearest checkpoint and told to get out of the vehicle. He lay on the sidewalk until a driver who passed by picked him up and took him to his village. It was nearly midnight when the young man got home – neighbors carried him in, wrapped in a blanket. His mother had thought he was dead.
This whole incident played out two weeks ago, on the day that Israel officially commemorates the Holocaust.
The security forces of the apartheid regime in South Africa used dogs extensively, setting them on the Blacks. The police there actually imported wolves from Europe and interbred them with dogs to create a particularly vicious breed of attack animal. Both Israel’s police and its army also import some of their attack dogs from Europe – the historical memory of regimes that used to sic dogs against the weak and the helpless is apparently not a deterrent. Not even on Holocaust Day.
The symbolism is blatant.
That Assad Sharaheh hasn’t yet recovered from the emotional trauma is apparent from his slurred speech, his expressionless face and his silences. His wounds, many incurred by the dogs’ teeth and including in the area of the groin, have not healed. A large scar on his head is the result of the kicks he endured from the police officers.
He is a handsome youth of 18 who, after the death of his father 10 years ago, became the sole provider for his mother, Fariel, his two younger siblings (out of a total of 10 children) and also the family of his sister, Asamaa, whose husband, a drug addict, is unable to provide for them. His other brothers and sisters don’t live at home.
This house of poverty is located in one of the poorest and most neglected neighborhoods of the relatively well-to-do West Bank city of Dura, south of Hebron. Refuse and litter are scattered on the way to the house; the stench too is difficult to bear. It’s apparent that an effort is being made to keep the home as neat and tidy as possible.
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Sharaheh awakened from a midday nap when we arrived on Monday. It’s the holy month of Ramadan, and the heat outside was oppressive; local residents were trying to rest as much as possible, to ease their fast. He greeted us in a galabiya, which also apparently doubles as pajamas.
Sharaheh dropped out of school in eighth grade to support his family. He began stealing into Israel at the age of 15, working as a plasterer. He was caught several times. Because of his young age and his bachelor status, however, he has no chance of obtaining a proper permit to work in Israel. During the past few weeks, he worked in Rahat, a Bedouin city in the Negev, then moved on to Moshav Brosh, where he was hired to build a chicken coop. He would sleep at the construction sites and come home only every two weeks or so.
On April 8, Holocaust Remembrance Day, he woke up in the construction site in Rahat and then proceeded to Brosh. His plan was to work there until the start of Ramadan, four days later, and then return to his mother and the rest of his family.
At around 8 A.M., before starting work, he had coffee in Brosh with three other Palestinian workers whom he didn’t know. Suddenly he spotted a group of police officers running toward them. They swooped in from two directions – he thinks there were about 20 of them. Hurtling a few dozen meters ahead of them were two terrifying dogs, without muzzles. The three other workers managed to get away; he says now that he doesn’t know what happened to them. The police officers fired into the air to warn and stop them; he was able to run only a few meters before the dogs pounced on him. They knocked him to the ground and started to sink their teeth into him, gripping him with their legs. Sharaheh screamed in pain and terror. The attack went on for about a minute, until the officers caught up with the dogs and pulled them off him.
The officers then started to beat him, he recalls, kicking him in the head and punching him with glove-covered fists. Through it all, he lay defenseless on the ground. At one point everything seemed to go hazy. The police summoned an ambulance to which he was carried on a stretcher, and where he received some treatment. But the officers did not agree to have him taken him to a hospital – after asking him whether he had money to pay for treatment. Two masked officers told him in Arabic not to be afraid. After being examined in the ambulance he was taken to a police station, he’s not sure where, possibly in the nearby town of Ofakim.
There he was made to lie on the floor in one of the rooms. His shirt was torn, his wounds were open. He said he wanted to be taken to a hospital, the police officers told him that he would be released in another two hours. He has no idea how long he lay there, but when he emerged it was already late evening. He asked for food and was given bread and water.
He was fingerprinted and photographed for the Israel Police’s album of criminals. With him in the room were four other Palestinian workers who had been seized that same day, and were handcuffed. Sharaheh’s hands were unbound because of his dire physical condition. He was given a document in Hebrew, which he couldn’t read, and told to write his name and to sign it. He has no idea what the document said, no one bothered to translate it for him. Later, a relative said that perhaps he signed a declaration stating that the police officers hadn’t hurt him.
One officer at the station asked him what the wounds were from. “From your dogs,” he replied. He remembers that they were black-brown and very big.
It was evening when he was bundled into a police van together with three of the four other Palestinians who had been with him in the room. The officers dropped them at the Meitar checkpoint, in the Hebron area, and sent them on their way. The others dispersed. Sharaheh lay down on the sidewalk – weak, injured, exhausted and in shock. His cellphone had broken the day before and he had no way to call his mother.
A Palestinian driver who transports workers to and from the checkpoint noticed him, asked him what had happened and drove him to Dura. He got home at 11:30 P.M. His mother was still awake when he arrived. Fariel, 53, who has known her share of suffering, suddenly heard shouting outside: Someone, who turned out to be the driver, was asking for a blanket. When Fariel went outside and saw her son wrapped up in it, she was certain that Assad had died and his body was being brought home. She started to scream and almost fainted. “What happened to you? Who hit you?” she shouted when she realized he was alive. “The dogs, the Jews,” he told her.
His mother asked neighbors to take her son to the Red Crescent clinic in Dura, but the staff there refused to treat him and recommended that he be taken to the Alia Hospital in Hebron. From there he was sent to Ahli Hospital in the city, where he was examined – he had no broken bones and no deep wounds. Both hospitals were apparently afraid to treat him because of a fear of rabies. He was then sent back to Alia; at dawn the next day he asked to go home and was discharged.
Since then Sharaheh hasn’t gone outside; his recovery is extremely slow. A field researcher for the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem visited him 10 days ago and reported that his condition had worsened and that he barely replied to his questions. This week he spoke a little, but the impact of the trauma is still very apparent.
An Israel Police spokesperson gave the following statement to Haaretz this week: “Border Police forces conducting a search for a person suspected of planning an act of terror arrived at the construction site where the suspect was hiding and noticed a number of people fleeing. During the incident one suspect was injured and received medical treatment by personnel from Magen David Adom, who were summoned to the site. After a medical examination that showed the suspect was fit, he was taken to the Ofakim station where he was questioned on suspicion of unlawful presence in the country. Thereafter he was removed [from the country] for being in Israel illegally.”
Will he go back to working in Israel? Not without an entry permit, Sharaheh tells us. His mother, who interrupted our conversation several times, asserted: “I prefer to die of starvation, anything but for him to go back there.” He then showed all his wounds, one by one: a bite on two sides of his chest; a wound on his left arm and a scar on his palm from a bite; injuries on both legs; a large bruise on the back of his neck from being kicked, or maybe punched. Finally he lowers his pants and shows a small, deep wound in the groin, still red and bleeding from a dog’s bite. On Holocaust Day.