Silence in the Court

Palestinian detainees who tried to greet their families in a military courtroom were set upon and beaten by police guards, their lawyers say. Here is their testimony.

The lawyers who were sitting in the waiting room at the Military Court at the Ofer Israel Defense Forces base, southwest of Ramallah, suddenly heard a scream. This was on Sunday, May 2, at around 1 P.M. They ran out. "I saw a heap of policeman, maybe eight or 10 of them, flailing and flailing, and I could see some heads, legs, arms of the beaten detainees, maybe three of them, or four, who were lying on the floor. The lawyers shouted `Why? Why? Why?' and the police officer in charge shouted, `Guys, guys, get all the lawyers out of here,' related attorney Khaled Kuzmar of Ramallah.

Attorney Faiz al-Shami of Be'er Sheva was inside the courtroom (which is located in a prefabricated structure) when it all began, and tells this story: "There were five detainees in the courtroom. The families were also there. One of the detainees - I don't know his name - was talking to his family, to his mother. He was standing there and speaking from a distance. A policeman (prison service official) said to the detainee: `Don't talk. Sit down. I decide what happens here,' and they began to argue. The policeman sat him down forcibly, pushed him down onto the bench. After he pushed him, the detainee stood up again. The other detainees stood up to tell him to let him talk to his family and then about 10 policemen came in. They attacked the people and a whole mess broke out. One of the policemen, an older man, who came from outside, tried to calm things down and spread his hands on one of the detainees to get him to sit down. But the rest of the policemen got the detainees out of there by hitting them, dragged them outside and closed the door. The family members were crying. The judge wasn't in the courtroom. Only the military prosecutor, the interpreter, the stenographer and some lawyers. We couldn't do anything to get them to stop hitting."

Attorney Saleh Ayoub of Jerusalem was also in the military courtroom. "Six detainees came in, and they were seated in their places. They were accompanied by a police unit. One of the detainees who was sitting in the middle stood up and waved hello to his mother, from a distance. There was no chance that he could touch her. The detainees sit behind a low fence. The families sit on the benches at the rear. There are soldiers separating them. The detainee waved, the policeman grabbed him by the neck and sat him down by force. The detainee asked: `What are you doing?' and the policeman cried out, `They're rioting, they're rioting.' Reinforcements of policemen came, and they beat them. The families, from a distance, were crying. They couldn't do a thing. They too were immediately ejected."

Ahmad Yusuf, 18, of the Aida refugee camp, was among the detainees who were beaten. He has been under arrest at the Russian Compound in Jerusalem since March 25. On Sunday afternoon, lawyers Mohammed Shadsan of Al-Aroub and Khaled al-Araj from Wallaja, transcribed what the beaten men had to say about the sequence of events.

Yusuf: "I was standing in the detainees' block and I tried to talk to my mother. The policeman yelled at me, `Sit down!' and pressed my body hard until I sat. He tore my shirt. A group of policemen came and began to beat me, dragging me and throwing me outside the courtroom. One of them shoved me with his foot out of the courtroom. I bumped into the fence that is opposite the gate, I was thrown into a corner and the policeman [Yusuf gave his name, which he had read on his tag - A.H.] said to his colleagues that I had caused the problem. They began to kick me all over my body, on my face and on my chest. Then they handcuffed me and led me to the vehicle, still beating me on the way."

Muhammad Karaja of Bethlehem, 19, who has been under arrest at the Russian Compound since March 15, also tried to talk to his mother: "My hands and my feet were tied. Because of the attempt to talk to my mother, who was in the courtroom, I was attacked and hit hard. The policemen took me outside and threw me down the stairs. I rolled on the floor so my face was down and they hit me with their feet and stepped on me and I didn't have the strength to resist so many policemen and their officer also participated in the beating."

Adnan Nasser, 26, of the Balata refugee camp, has been under arrest since March 11. He told the lawyers: "I was in the detainees' block. Next to me was another detainee by the name of Ahmad Lutfi, whose mother was in the courtroom, and he tried to talk to her. I also stood up, trying to talk to my mother. And then the story began. When they ordered us to sit down and stop talking several times, a policeman tried to press his body until they made him sit down and they tore his shirt. Then other policemen came and began to beat the detainees in the courtroom. The commander of the unit asked me to sit down and while I was talking to him the policemen began to eject us and hit us and throw us, one after the other, out of the courtroom. I spoke to the commander and I tried to tell him that I have had kidney surgery, and that the scars are clear, but he didn't answer me and also hit me in the face. The soldiers continued to beat me, and I'm lying on the ground. After that they tied my hands and dragged me to the car, hitting me all the time and threatening us with weapons."

Munjid Suleiman, 23, from Beit Our al-Tahta, has been held at the Russian Compound since March 18. He related that during the beating, one of the policemen also cocked his weapon near him. "I was beaten on my right knee and on my back and also in the area of my right eye," he said.

Ismail al-Farajin of Al-Aroub, 39, has been under arrest since March 18. He told the lawyers that one of Ahmad Yusuf's relatives came into the courtroom, Ahmad waved hello to him, and after him all the families came in and we all waved to our families ... Suddenly the battle began. We found ourselves forcibly ejected from the courtroom. I was pushed against the wall opposite. At first I was hit once, but I didn't fall to the ground. Only after they dragged us to the car did they beat me really hard, especially on my right ear and on my back."

Iyad Abu Jouda, 32, of the Deheisheh refugee camp, has been under arrest at the Russian Compound since February 24. He was sitting on a chair outside the fenced detainees' block (where there is room for five, but usually six detainees at a time are brought into the courtroom). "I saw one of the two soldiers who were in the courtroom attacking Ahmad and pushing him hard against the wall. All of a sudden, they all came in. Another force came in and then they pushed me straight until they had shoved me out of the courtroom. I fell on the ground, and before that one of them aimed his weapon at me and cocked it and I was very scared. They pulled me by my hair out the door of the courtroom into the cell [a small room where the detainees are held - A.H.] and then they shackled my hands with handcuffs. Until they put us into the vehicle they didn't beat me, but I saw them beating the others. The commander of the unit who was with me asked the soldiers (policemen) to stop hitting, but they didn't listen to him."

Ofer Leffler, Prison Service spokesman: "The fighters of the Nahshon Unit of the Prison Service, who are in charge of the terrorists, the security detainees in the military prisons, overcame six terrorists who started to riot in the Military Court at Camp Ofer. The six terrorists who were present in the courtroom tried to make (physical) contact with members of their families and this is contrary to the Prison Service standing orders and regulations. As a result of the terrorists' activities, a disturbance started in the courtroom. It was lead by the families and the terrorists. After a brief struggle the terrorists were taken out of the courtroom and transferred to the holding cells. The families were ejected from the courtroom by the army. In light of the request by the president of the court and after things calmed down, the terrorists were brought back into the courtroom."

Immediately after the policemen stopped beating the detainees, the lawyers at the military court declared a strike, in protest against detainees being beaten on military court premises. Therefore, the lawyers do not know whether the beaten detainees were indeed brought back into the courtroom.

According to the lawyers, the vice president of the Military Court of Appeals, Yoram Hanniel, recommended that they complain to the department for investigating police actions. Attorney Ahmad Safiyya of Jerusalem fears that the complaint will not be dealt with. According to him, about a month ago, the lawyers wrote a letter of complaint to the president of the Military Court after a policeman beat a detainee, and have received no response. "It is the Military Court that is responsible for the fact that on its premises and in front of their parents and their lawyers, policemen beat detainees, unhindered and unrestrained," says Safiyya.

To the question of the responsibility of the Military Court for the well being of the detainees, the IDF Spokesperson's Office replied:

"Sometimes verbal clashes take place between the detainees and the forces accompanying them, which in rare cases result in the use of force. Whenever such incidents do not take place before a judge, justification for the use of force should be clarified through the usual channels.... by submitting a complaint to the police, to the department for investigating policemen or to the Military Police. Up to now, the court has received no complaint concerning the beating of detainees by policemen. In the incident of May 2, no soldiers were involved."