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Eyewitness Account: Human Rights Observers Arrests in Hebron

On the 8th of November, an international Human Rights Observer (HRO) from Scotland accompanied by two European journalists was stopped by approximately eight Israeli Occupation Force (IOF) soldiers on Shaddah street, Tel Rumida in occupied Hebron. They were asked to show their passports for inspection, which they did but the soldiers tried to take them away. They were not told when and if the passports would be returned. They informed the soldiers that it was illegal for them to take their passports away indefinitely. While the passports were being displayed for the soldiers, they were snatched out of two people’s hands including from the HRO. The HRO again made the point that it was not allowed for his passport to be taken away from him. After several minutes of inspection, the passports were returned one by one. Soon after, in the same place, these passports were again snatched from the hands of the HRO and the journalists. Again, they were inspected and after a period of time were returned. It was not observed that the IOF made any radio contact with their identification registers. The passports were returned after several minutes. The volunteers contacted the local police station and requested their presence. The passports were snatched and returned a third time without any apparent reason. The HRO surrendered his passport again but continued to protest. He then had his arms placed behind his back and was bound by handcuffs. He was bundled into a military jeep with IOF soldiers and the doors were shut.

At this point other HROs arrived and asked the superior officer why the first Observer was being detained. They were told that they would be told “in a few minutes”. An HRO from Scandanavia who was filming the events was dragged to the rear of the military vehicle and held there.

The Police then arrived and despite being requested to intervene on behalf of the detained HROs, began to ask for passports from the two volunteers who where being held by the IOF. The police informed the HROs that they had now taken charge of the operation: “this is a police operation, we are in charge”.

These HROs, from Scandinavia and from Canada both showed their passports but informed the police officer that it was not permitted for them to be taken away. The police man said they “could be taken here” or the two HROs could be taken to the station and inspected there. The police then snatched the passports from the hands of both HROs. Tthe observers refused either of these options and were then informed that they were being placed under arrest and both were forcibly dragged to the Police vehicle, the HRO from Canada being dragged along the ground. They were both locked inside this vehicle. They were both informed that they were being arrested for interrupting a military operation (not a police one).

The Police were asked to address the issue of the first HRO from Scotland who was still being detained in the military vehicle. They were asked on what grounds he was being detained. A Police officer walked over to this vehicle and opened the door and shouted in, ‘you are arrested.’ When asked again on what grounds, he said for refusing to give his passport. It was pointed out that the IOF had his passport and had previously inspected it three times. The police officer appeared not to have been aware of this and explained that he had been told that the HRO had refused to hand over his passport and still held it. The police officer then said he would take the HRO to the police station ‘for a chat’. It was pointed out to him that this was against his will and he was handcuffed; and furthermore, that this was not grounds for arrest. A discussion took place between the superior officer and the police man. The police man then said he was to remain under arrest. He would not explain why.

A female HRO from the US who was filming the proceedings, and had already been manhandled by an IOF soldier, prevented from filming and had her handbag torn from her shoulder, was informed that she too was under arrest. She had been informing the police that it was illegal to transport a person arrested by the police in an IOF vehicle and that she would be concerned for his safety in an IOF vehicle.

She was charged with obstructing a military operation and was instructed to enter the military vehicle. A police officer said he would ride in the IOF military vehicle and this “would make it” a police vehicle. She refused and was physically forced into the vehicle. This was the fourth and final arrest. Other HROs were intimidated, pushed, had arms twisted and on several occasions had attempts at their cameras being snatched and pulled by the IOF.