Hebron Residents Describe an Israeli Reign of Beatings
By DEXTER FILKINS
HNYTimes, 2 Jan:
HEBRON, West Bank, Jan. 1 — Almost any young man walking the streets of
this gritty Palestinian neighborhood on the eastern rim of the city can tell
you the same thing: when the Israeli border police want to give someone a
beating, they take him to the city's deserted industrial area after dark.
Imran Abu Hamdiya, a 17-year-old high school senior, was taken away by four
police officers Monday night, residents here said in interviews, and he
never came back. Mr. Hamdiya's friends, assuming he might need a hand after
receiving blows from a nightstick, went to the city's industrial zone to
look for him.
They found his body there, splayed in a pool of blood. When they carried
their friend to a local hospital, a doctor delivered his appraisal.
"He died from injuries caused by beating the head and face," said Dr. Mazen
Jabari, of Mohtaseb Hospital.
The important mysteries surrounding Mr. Hamdiya's death — who killed him and
why — may, like so many encounters in the West Bank and Gaza, go forever
unanswered. Israeli officials say they have begun an investigation.
But Israeli human rights groups say the government's record in disciplining
their own for such abuses is not encouraging, and there is little evidence.
Mr. Hamdiya was buried soon after he died, following Muslim custom, and the
police say they did not have a chance to examine his body. His family
members, who say they do not trust the Israelis, are reluctant to talk to
the police or allow them to exhume the body.
"If the complaint is right, then people will get punished," said Pearl Liat,
a spokeswoman for the Israeli border police. "But maybe it is not them.
Maybe it is not the border police at all. Maybe it is soldiers, maybe it is
For the people of the Jabal Johar neighborhood on the east side of Hebron,
Mr. Hamdiya's death seemed a natural end of an Israeli strategy of applying
pressure to quell resistance in one of the West Bank's most restive areas.
Since November, when 12 Israeli soldiers were killed near here, the campaign
has been particularly fierce, locals say. Curfews, interrogations and
beatings have become as commonplace as shopping and going to school, they
"Some people make trouble, so they punish everybody," said Hafez Alu
Snaineh, a gas station attendant in the neighborhood. "They break bones.
They give bruises. With Imran, they probably didn't mean to kill him, but
Since the Palestinian uprising began 27 months ago, the area around Hebron
has been one of its recurrent flash points. The source of much of the
turmoil is a small Israeli settlement in the heart of what is otherwise a
Palestinian city of 120,000 people. The area around the settlement has been
the scene of periodic violence and, as a result, it has drawn a large
contingent of Israeli troops and police officers.
In November and December, two Palestinian-led attacks, which killed 14
Israeli soldiers, the police and security guards, prompted a renewed
crackdown by Israeli troops and the police. Since then, the locals say,
Hebron has been under nearly constant curfews, searches and beatings to root
out enemy fighters.
As described by local Palestinians, the Israeli strategy here seems
reminiscent of the one in the first intifada in the late 1980's, when the
Israeli leader, Yitzhak Rabin, told his troops to break Palestinian bones.
Consider the gathering at Yasser pharmacy on Tariq Benziyad Street. It was a
group of a dozen friends who had come to chat on one of the few days when a
curfew did not require them to be indoors.
There was Hasan Ajlouni, who said he was driving his car during the curfew
recently when Israeli soldiers fired on him. He lost control and drove into
a light post, killing his 7-year-old son, Fadi.
Then there was Rajeh Daoud, a pharmacist, who said he was beaten by the
Israeli police when he kept his shop open in defiance of the curfew and
slipped medicine to customers through a side door. "People need medicine,"
Mr. Daoud said. "I was trying to serve the community."
Ms. Liat, the border police spokesman, said the Israeli police did not
engage in systemic brutality. Often, she said, the claims made by
Palestinians fell apart once they were scrutinized. "We take them very
seriously, every complaint," she said.
Staff workers at Btselem, an Israeli human rights organization, said the
police and soldiers were rarely disciplined for brutality. Of 49 cases
reported to Btselem since the Palestinian uprising began in September 2000,
one has resulted in convictions.
"There is no deterrent, because they rarely make cases against the
officers," said Maya Johnston, a data coordinator at the organization.
Dr. Jabari, of Mohtaseb Hospital, said four or five young Palestinian men
were brought to the hospital every night, claiming to have been beaten by
the Israeli police.
It is impossible to tell how many of the stories heard on the streets of
Hebron are true. Hamzeh Rajabi, for instance, said he was picked up by
Israeli border police and beaten Monday night, about an hour before Mr.
Hamdiya was. His rolled-up sleeve revealed a swollen and darkened left arm.
"They said I was a collaborator," Mr. Rajabi said.
In the case of Mr. Hamdiya, two men who say they were with him on Monday
night said the police approached them just after evening prayers. The police
checked their identification cards and told three of the men to go. Then,
the men said, they asked Mr. Hamdiya to stay.
Minutes later, said Raed Rajabi, one of the two men, they saw the officers
put Mr. Hamdiya in the back seat of their jeep and drive away.
"When we saw the direction of the jeep, we knew where they were going," Mr.
Outside the same mosque where Mr. Hamdiya prayed for the last time, a crowd
of mourners gathered. Among them was Aleh Omar Abu Turky, whose twin sons
attended class with him.
"Imran was honest and beautiful, all the best things," she said. "He didn't
throw stones, nothing like that. He was a gentle boy."
Ms. Turky began to walk away, then she paused and turned.
"There was no reason for this," she said, her eyes welling. "Everyday they
take men. They hit them and they break their bones. What kind of life is