Otherwise Occupied |

Baseless Arrests in the Holy Kingdom of Judea and Samaria

Someone fed the Israel Defense Forces spokesman’s office with lies claiming that two young West Bank Palestinians caught by Israeli soldiers were suspected of breaking a see-saw owned by West Bank settlers.

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We won’t publish S.’s full name because at 17 years old, he is a juvenile. Unidentified soldiers from an unidentified IDF unit arrested him and his neighbor, Saif-al-Din Ibrahim, on February 28.

They fired shots to scare them, slapped them, inflicted pain and left them bound and blindfolded out in the cold for several hours. Then the police were called in on a baseless pretext to finalize the abuse. The arrests without cause of S. and Saif al-Din Ibrahim are two more of those unreported run-ins, an entirely normal circumstance in the holy kingdom of Judea and Samaria.

That’s how a junta that forces itself on a civilian population conducts itself. Humiliation and the infliction of fear, the demonstration of superiority and harassment are the necessary ammunition that the soldiers employ. Along with lying.

Umm al-Amad is a tiny village not far from Yatta in the southern West Bank. It is home to about 300 people who earn a living from small-scale agriculture (farming and raising sheep and goats) and a bit of work in Israel and in the settlements.

The village is far from the main highway and tucked behind neighboring villages. About a kilometer and a half  (a mile) away is the ever expanding settlement of Otniel. 

Ibrahim, 21, was herding sheep that were munching on the fresh grass of the terraced landscape just a few meters below his house, when suddenly, at around 2:30 P.M., he heard the sounds of gunfire to the west and saw two people running away. He then spotted soldiers on their way down the slope. Two were on foot with a jeep close behind. An armed civilian, apparently a security coordinator, showed up as well. 

S. points to the place he was arrested on February 28 by an unidentified IDF unit in the West Bank.Credit: Amira Hass

“They called out to me to come down to them from the terrace,” Ibrahim told Haaretz. “I understand Hebrew. I didn’t know what they wanted from me. I asked them: ‘How do you want me to come down when I’m with the sheep?’

They shot near me into the air. I was forced to come down. Three of them grabbed me. One held me by the head and slammed me against the terrace’s stones. The second one pulled my hands to the side and cuffed them, and the third held my legs.” 

Then they beat the major criminal and dragged him to the jeep. The girls in the house saw what was happening and started screaming. The soldiers entered the house and pushed one of the girls against a wall, as they screamed out their threats.

They then went outside and turned on another group of villagers, members of the H. family, who were trimming branches in an olive grove. There were two or three adults there, and a boy, and nearby, S. was tending a flock of seven sheep. 

Two soldiers stood on a higher terrace and ordered S. to come toward them. When he didn’t comply immediately, they fired into the air nearby. They also threatened to shoot anyone who took their picture. 

S. approached them. He recounted the following to Haaretz: “They asked: ‘Where’s the guy who was with you?’ I answered: ‘There was no one with me,’ to which they replied: ‘Liar.’”

The soldiers bound him and had him lie on the ground. He screamed. They asked why he was screaming, and he said it hurt. In response, one of the soldiers put his rifle to S.’s neck.

S.’s father, who was in the olive grove, ran toward the jeep that his son was taken to. In Hebrew, the father asked: “Why did you take them?  After all, they were herding the sheep.” According to the father, the officer answered: “I am taking who I see in front of my eyes.”

At about 3 P.M., the jeep departed with its human booty that our unidentified soldiers had hunted down. For about six hours, the Palestinians were held outside in the increasingly cold weather at a military post at Otniel. They were bound and for most of the time, blindfolded as well. From time to time, someone would come by, give them a punch and call them thieves. 

They were taken to be examined by a doctor, and when they complained that they had been beaten, the doctor said it was not true, the pair later recounted.

An officer among those who had conducted the arrests, interrogated the pair and accused them of breaking something in the vicinity of their village’s spring - an area that settlers from Otniel had taken over – and had stolen something. Someone then took a lit cigarette lighter near their faces. 

They were then transferred to the Israel Police station at Kiryat Arba outside the West Bank city of Hebron. There, too, they were placed bound and blindfolded outside in the cold for about an hour and a half before being questioned. S., the minor, was questioned first.

Did he want to see a lawyer or wait until after interrogation, he was asked. “There’s no need. I didn’t do anything,” he replied. Ibrahim’s response was the same. 

The military officer who had arrested them appeared and Ibrahim told the police investigator he had arrested him near his home. The investigator took him out of the room and at about 1:00 ordered both detainees released unconditionally and without bail.

A Palestinian man who happened to be in the area took them into Hebron, where they called their parents and found a cab to take them home.

The IDF Spokesman’s Office said in response: “Last Monday afternoon, a report was received about Palestinians suspects in the area near the community of Otniel. A force that rushed to the scene initiated standard arrest procedures after which the suspects fled. Following a chase, they were caught.

At the same time, a report was received of the destruction of a see-saw at a memorial site in the community [Otniel] near the site at which the suspects had been found. The detainees were held at a battalion outpost in Otniel and then were transferred for continued handling by the police. As far as is known, no violence was employed. The complaints on the matter will be looked into.”

The following should be noted regarding this IDF statement: The incident occurred on Tuesday. Otniel was constructed next to the village of Umm al-Amad. The young people did not flee at all. There is no see-saw near their homes or in the vicinity of their arrest.

Someone issued a bald-faced lie to the IDF Spokesman, or as S.’s father saw it: “The soldiers were very frustrated that they hadn’t caught the people who had fled and to cover up their failure, they arrested whoever they happened upon.”