20 July 2011 | International Solidarity Movement, West Bank
Today, Friday 15 of July, the Israeli army violently repressed the weekly non-violent demonstration of the Palestinian city of Nabi Saleh. During the repeated attacks on the peaceful demonstrators four activists were arrested: two Palestinians, one Italian and one Israeli. The following is the testimony of the Italian activist.
The main demonstration lasted under 3 minutes. Three Palestinians blindfolded themselves behind a wooden structure covered in barbed wire, to symbolise the imprisonment of all the Palestinians in Israeli prisons which is illegal under international law. As soon as the demonstrators appeared in the soldiers view, a barrage of tear gas hit them and they were dispersed. The first Palestinian was arrested in the course of the morning (not sure about the second Palestinian and the Israeli). Around five in the afternoon they attacked a group of people that took part in the demonstration in the morning but that at that moment was just standing by. I was sitting a little further away from the group. The soldiers were out to get anyone who participated in the demonstration, regardless of whether they did anything illegal, so I did not have any other choice but to run. A soldier came after me. I stepped on a wrong spot and fell down, injuring my right leg.
Marks of aggression are left upon the wrists of an Italian volunteer, illegally arrested and beaten.
The soldier caught me and put his knee over me to prevent me from running. After a few moments I was surrounded by soldiers. One of them took my left hand and twisted it for no apparent reason other than to intimidate me since I was already incapable of fleeing. They handcuffed me using a plastic zip lock, pulled me on my feet and asked me why I was running. I answered that I know that they routinely arrest people for doing nothing illegal and I did not want to be taken. They started leading me to their jeep and at that point I started asking where I would be taken. They were not answering me so I decided to resist what was an arbitrary and unjustified arrest. I shouted that I am an Italian citizen and I have the right to know where I am going to be taken.
They continued refusing to give me an answer so I resisted being put into the Jeep. There were many of them trying to force me into the vehicle and they started using violence on me. They were hitting me on the legs and the soldier next to me first showered me with water using the little water pipe coming out of his helmet, then he elbowed my groin. Another soldier put his fingers on my throat, trying to prevent me from talking. He then threatened to pepper spray my face, if I wouldn’t tuck my legs in the vehicle. But it was an empty threat he did not carry out. They couldn’t manage to place me in the jeep fully, so they began to move the vehicle with the back door open and my legs dangling out. They brought me to the junction or entrance of the village, where the rest of the troops were gathered and loaded me on another military jeep. A man with a camera filmed everything and from the second jeep I managed to describe to him what they did to me during the arrest, stressing that I was a peaceful demonstrator and I did nothing illegal. The soldiers did not like that and as soon as the jeep moved and they closed the backdoor the physical abuse began.
The soldier next to me, the one who previously elbowed my groin, started punching me in my face, and gestured me to shut up; another two soldiers joined the gratuitous display of power, hitting me on the arm and the head using a helmet. One of the punches in the face left me without glasses, when I asked for it back, I received another punch landing on my nose. They brought me to the army base in the settlement next to Nabi Saleh, although I discovered this only later.
They took me out of the Jeep and put me on my feet. I asked for my glasses and hat. One of the soldiers slapped the hat on my head and the other put my glasses in my bag. Still handcuffed I was taken upstairs, in what looked like the prisoners’ room. On the way they asked my religion and I answered that I am an atheist, the soldier did not understand so I said I was educated as a Christian Catholic. Two Palestinians were sitting blindfolded and handcuffed at the left corners of the room.
One soldier told me “You are a terrorist” and I replied “what makes me a terrorist?” He remained silent. They then cut the plastic zip lock and took my backpack. They replaced a new zip lock around my wrists and one around my thumbs, blind folding me again. They offered me water and I drank. They then started playing with me saying contradictory things like “turn around” and when I did they went “don’t move.” They invited me to sit down on the floor in one corner of the room. They started asking how long had I been in Israel, which day I came in, and when I was planning to leave. This question was repeated several times.
The second time he asked this question, this was the exchange:
“I’m flying back on Tuesday” “Maybe you will stay with us in jail” “I didn’t do anything illegal” “Maybe we’ll find something” “Yeah, I’m sure”.
They went through my things and found pills, I explained they are for my light narcolepsya and the soldier asked me whether I needed one now.
Some 10-15 minutes of silence followed. They probably wanted to wait until I was a little scared before starting the interrogation. At a point I heard a very loud sound, but could not figure out what it was. I asked about it and was given no answer. Later they sparked the loud sound again, and I think they obtain it hitting a wooden chair in that closed empty environment. I then heard them playing with their rifles, probably to scare me into thinking they were about to shoot me. Then the questioning began.
The soldiers asked where I was from, I answered Italy. The same soldier then asked me if my car was a Maserati or a Ferrari.
“Do I look that rich?” “You look very poor. What car do you have ?” “I have a fiat marea” “That’s a piece of shit!”
He asked me what I am doing in Israel and I answered I am here for tourism and I stay in Jerusalem. “Which hostel?’ “I don’t remember the name” “How do you get back there then?” “I know how to walk there”. I spent my first week in the country travelling around so I had in my bag a list of tourist locations and a map of Jerusalem, which gave strength to my story. Another soldier asked me “Do you love Arabs?” “I have no particular feelings towards any ethnicity” “Have you got any relation to the conflict?” “No, I’m here just for tourism. You probably asked this because I look Arab. That is because my father is from Sicily, which was under Arab domination, so I have some Arab features, but no actual relation to the conflict.” “Have you been to Syria?” “No, this is my first time outside Europe” “Did you do tourism in any other conflict area?”
“As I said this is my first outside Europe, and there are no armed conflict in Europe”.
They wanted to know who pays for my trip, I answered that I pay for myself and my last job was in a coffee shop, they also asked if they pay was good in which I answer it was the minimum wage.A soldier said “I saw your pictures” (soldiers using tear gas on demonstrators) “You are a bad guy.” “They show you, aren’t you proud of what you do?” “I’m very proud of what I do.” “Then you should like my pictures.”
After a little while the blindfold was taken away and there were five soldiers in front of me. They wanted to know why did I run if I was doing nothing wrong.
I answered again “I ran because I know you arrest people for no reason to make sense of your job, and I did not want to be taken.”
“We only arrest people that throw stones.”
“Look, you have your incentive structure and I understand it, you have to get someone,” and then repeated I was not doing anything illegal.
I told the group the amount of violence that was used against me and indicated the soldier that did most of the beating. He apologised and I said, “If you wanna make me happy don’t do it again to anybody”. They blindfolded me again and played the trick “Turn Around Don’t Move”.
One soldier said “So he hit your balls, did you like it?”
“I might like it when my girlfriend touches me, I certainly don’t like a man hitting me there with his elbow.”
“Well, you know, some people like it rough” and he said to another soldier, “We have a gay here’” and they had a laugh, and turned to me to say “Just joking.”
I replied “Don’t worry” “What, do I look worried?”
“I don’t know how you look like, I’m blindfolded, remember?” “Then why did you say don’t worry?” “You said just joking, and in English when someone says something like that you reply don’t worry.”
A third soldier intervened with a sentence in Hebrew that finished with the word ‘intellectual.’
After some silence he smugly said “So you won’t have children, that’s good”
“I don’t want children” “Why?” “It’s a waste of time.”At that point my story was: I’m Italian, I’m an atheist educated as a Christian Catholic, I’m here for tourism. And they began playing their tricks to verify it. He asked me if I wanted to eat something, not knowing when the next meal would have been, I accepted. He said we have chicken, turkey and another variety of meat that I can’t remember, probably pork. I said I’m vegetarian and he said they have broccoli. Broccoli and bread will do I said in which he shouted “One broccoli please!” As it was a restaurant. At that point I realised he was not actually offering me food, but probably, trying to check if I was Muslim offering me a variety of meats. Israel’s wine industry was mentioned and from there he asked me which wine I like, I replied that although I’m Italian I don’t drink wine and generally speaking I don’t drink alcohol, puzzled he asked, “Why, are you Muslim?” “No, I’m just a healthy person.” “Are you traveling alone?” “Yes, I travel by myself” “Are you part of any peace organisation?” “No, I’m by myself” “Come on, you can tell me, I’m not the Shin Bet!” “What’s the Shin Bet?” “Like the Mossad… What is it called… like the Israeli FBI.” “You asked me a question and I gave you an answer, I have no reason to lie to you.” They then brought a female soldier into the room that supposedly was planning to move to Italy, and knew some Italian. That was probably to verify that I was actually Italian. She spoke some Italian words and I checked if they were correct. The male soldier who had done most of the talking asked me whether I had been arrested before, “This is the first time.” “You look like you’ve been in this situation before” “People are afraid of what they don’t know”.
The female soldier had a brief conversation with me and asked me what I was doing in Israel, I replied I studied history at University, and I was a tourist interested in the historical sights. She asked me what kind of history I studied and I said modern and contemporary. She asked which cities I visited and I listed a few, she then asked if I like the country and I said I did like it. To further check they called someone that probably knew Italian and passed me the phone. The other person did not speak back so I only kept asking in Italian who was it.
They then said they were willing to release me, but needed my full name and some ID. I told them my name and said I don’t have my passport with me, but I can call someone who can bring it here. They asked me to tell them my passport number and I said I don’t remember it. He got upset about it and said, “They say they want to release you, but you want to spend the night with us. Come on, everybody remembers their passport number” and kicked my foot lightly.
“Well, I don’t. Do you remember yours?” “Yes, of course I do!’ “I’m happy for you then, but I don’t. Let me call someone and they will bring my passport.” “Can you call and ask them to tell your passport number?” “Yes, let’s do this.”
After they checked the passport number they released me within 10 minutes. The Israeli activist was released with me, the Palestinians remained in the room.