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First Hand Account of Palestinian and International Arrests in Hebron

by Johan

At approximately 13.15 I and another international were at Shuhada Street in Tel Rumeida, Hebron. I saw a soldier holding a 15-year old girl on her shoulders, so I walked over and filmed with my video camera while I asked the soldier what was going on. The soldier said “she won’t leave”. After a minute a group of three settlers aged 15-20 aggressively approached the girl. I tried to position myself between the Palestinian girl and the settlers. The settlers tried to grab my video camera and kicked and punched me – they were also trying to hit the girl. One of the settlers kicked the girl’s legs right before my eyes (there is a photo of this settler if he needs to be identified). The soldier did not to protect the girl from this assault.

After a minute or two we managed to get the girl away from the situation and walked with her up to Shuhada Street. An older Palestinian man and an older Palestinian woman accompanied us and were speaking to the girl. We stayed at the scene to try to find out what had happened before the girl was being held by the soldiers, but no one spoke English so we didn’t find out much. A Palestinian boy aged approximately 13 who spoke some English came along and tried to help us. During all this the girl was continuously asking us to call the police. We did not call the police at that point.

Approximately five minutes later a police car came from the Beit Hadassa settlement and drove up to us. They walked up to the girl and started talking to her. I tried to stay close and film it all, but they kept moving her away from me. A mob of approximately 20 settlers (kids and adults, men and women) arrived, and tried to block my way. They grew more and more aggressive and punched the video camera out of my hand. They destroyed it by stamping on it and kicking it away. When I was making phone calls about the incident the settlers tried to grab my telephone. I was also kicked on the foot by a settler man approximately 50 years of age (this man can also be identified).

Two to three minutes later the Palestinian girl was stuffed into the police jeep and was driven away.

Me and two other internationals (one more had joined us) tried to walk away towards the checkpoint but were physically stopped by a big settler guy who was filming us. He said we couldn’t pass, and since we were not sure if this person was a policeman or a soldier I asked a soldier about this – he told us the man was a settler. The mob was getting even more aggressive and I called out to two soldiers to help us to get out of there. They said we should follow them towards Beit Hadassa, and after a while we got away from the crowd. During this whole time, the settlers where constantly intimidating and threatening us, trying to get at us physically.

We walked with the soldiers through Beit Hadassa, and were told to wait there. We were not informed that we had been detained or arrested. The settler guy with the video camera was there filming the three of us. The soldiers told us to tell the other internationals in Hebron to get off Shuhada Street since they could not guarantee their safety. The message was passed on. The time was 13:26 at this point.

After a while, when being questioned, one soldier told me that I was accused of attacking a soldier, which I had not done. I asked him if I was being detained, and he said something like “I don’t know what that means”. So I and the two other internationals decided to start walking away from the scene. When we did so one soldier followed us and said that he would continue to do so until the police arrived. We continued walking but after a while where were stopped by some other soldiers and held a military jeep in wait for the police. At this point the time was approximately 13:45.

The police arrived and asked for our passports. After waiting for a while they let me know that I was accused of attacking a soldier. The other two internationals were free to go. They decided to go to the police station to file a complaint regarding the settler violence we all had experienced. The commanding police officer at the scene was “Zev Zafrani”.

I was transported in a military jeep to Kiriat Arba Police Station (the car left at 14:11), where I was told to sit and wait. The Palestinian girl sat in a chair a few meters away from me, in company of three soldiers. At one point a policeman was showing her what looked like an album of photographs, seemingly in order to identify someone. At another point a policeman (the same that later interrogated me) was asking her questions without a legal representative, despite the fact that the girl was only 15 years old. The policeman was being aggressive and raised his voice, which the three soldiers sitting next to her seem to think was ok, judging from their content and merry facial expressions.

There was one soldier who was watching the girl so she could not get away. This was the same soldier who had been holding the girl on her shoulders at the military post at the beginning of all this. He told me that the girl had attacked him with a knife. The girl was visibly trembling as she sat down waiting.

The girl disappeared from the scene on one or two occasions, presumably to be questioned, but came back to the waiting area. During this time her father was waiting at the gate to the police station, but was not let in. I pointed out this fact to various police officers, and asked them to let him in since the girl was obviously scared, but they did not take much notice.

After a while the two other internationals arrived at the police station, and were told to wait along with me.

At approximately 16:15 I was taken in for questioning and the police officer told me I was a suspected of having attacked a soldier and interfered in his work. The soldier who I had supposedly attacked was at the desk next to me. When he overheard the accusations against me I looked at him and he laughed, not in an antagonistic way, but due to the absurd accusation. Later he told me that he did not say that I had pushed him, maybe just touched him, so it seemed as if the policeman was trying to intimidate me by making it sound worse than it actually was. I was told that what I said in this questioning could be used as proof against me in a trial. I stated very clearly at a few times that I had not in any way attacked the soldier. He was lecturing me saying I should not come to his country and interfere with his business, if he came to another country he would let the military and police do their job. I thought, but did not say, that this was his country as little as mine.

At some point he said that I might be deported or arrested, he didn’t know yet, and so on.

Apart from denying that I had used any violence I did not answer any of his questions. He was asking about what I was doing in Hebron, was I here with an organisation etc. He was asking me to give a detailed account of what had happened, but I did not and told him I thought he was being abusive towards me (he was raising his voice a lot and generally tried to intimidate me), and that he was just trying to get me to say something that was not true. At the end of the interrogation he asked me if I wanted to make a complaint against the settlers, but as I was a suspect and this was still a hearing, I turned down the offer, and told him I would prefer to do the complaint at a later date. I was told to wait outside. The time was 16:30, and the police still had my passport. I asked the soldier I was accused of attacking why he was there, and he told me that he had to wait because he was going to take the girl some where in a while. He didn’t say where or why (I don’t think he knew).

I waited until 16:45, when I had been held for 3 hours without being arrested, and asked the policeman if I could have my passport so I could leave, but he wouldn’t give it to me. I pointed out the fact that they were illegally detaining me on several occasions to the policeman who interrogated me and to another one called Aviv. I said I wanted to make a complaint that I was being illegally detained but they said I could do this when the interrogation was over.

At approximately 18:10 I was given my passport back and he said I was released, and that they would escort me and the two other internationals out of the police station. However this did not happen. Instead the policeman threatened with deportation once again and told us to wait while they cleared something up. He said something like “just like in the movies… they release you and then they take you back in”.

On two or three occasions after the interrogation I spoke over the phone with an Israeli lawyer, for advice, and at this point I got the policeman to speak to her on the phone, which I think had some effect. After speaking to the policeman she was saying to me that there was no reason whatsoever to deport me and that I should refuse to get on a plane if it came to that. She also said that I should have made a complaint about the settler violence, which I had declined to do while I was put on the defensive. I told the interrogator that I would be happy to file a complaint about the abuse of the settlers whenever they wanted, but then he said that I had my chance, that I should come back tomorrow.

Finally, at approximately 18:30, me and the two other internationals where taken to the gate and let out of the police station. We asked the policeman what was going to happen to the girl, and he said she would be arrested and held overnight.