Israel-Palestine war: Settlers and soldiers 'severely abuse' Palestinians and activists
Palestinians and left-wing Israeli activists in the West Bank village of Wadi al-Siq were physically assaulted, sexually humiliated and tortured by Israeli soldiers and settlers, according to a new report in Haaretz.
Three Palestinians and three activists spoke to the Israeli newspaper about their arrest on 12 October by the Israeli army’s Desert Frontier unit, which has recruited members from the far-right Hilltop Youth settler group.
The Palestinians, who were part of the evacuation of the village after repeated settler attacks, said they were held for hours by between 20 and 25 armed settlers and soldiers, who arrived in two vans and detained them.
The three Palestinians were stripped of their clothes and photographed naked and in their underwear. Israeli forces urinated on two of the captives and put out burning cigarettes on them, according to the report.
A photograph of the three Palestinians in their underwear, blindfolded, tied up and with bruises on their bodies was published on Facebook before being deleted.
One of the men, 46-year-old Mohammed Matar, known as Abu Hassan, told Haaretz that what they had experienced was like the torture and prisoner abuse perpetrated by US forces at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison.
The Palestinians were released in the evening by officials from the Civil Administration, Israel’s governing body in the occupied West Bank. They were taken to hospital in Ramallah, seriously wounded and having had most of their property – including a car and cash – stolen from them.
An Israeli army spokesman told Haaretz that it had opened an investigation into the incident and that one commander had been dismissed as a result.
On the same day, a group of left-wing Israeli activists who arrived on the scene, and who had a child with them, was attacked and held for several hours.
The soldiers and settlers threatened to kill them and went on to beat some of the activists. The activists, who were released after three hours in captivity, said that at one point a young settler in civilian clothes was put in charge of guarding them.
Abu Hassan and Mohammed Khaled, 27, both employees of the Palestinian Authority (PA) who had spent seven weeks in Wadi al-Siq helping its residents, told Haaretz reporter Hagar Shezaf they had already got in their car to leave the village when the settlers and soldiers arrived “in military uniforms, all armed and most of them masked”.
When the settlers caught Abu Hassan and Khaled, they chained them to the floor and started beating them with weapons, pinning their heads to the floor and stepping on them, according to the two men, who then had their hands tied with ropes.
Some knives were produced, which the settlers and soldiers said belonged to the Palestinians, but which they insist were planted in their baggage.
'They had an iron pipe and knives with which they also beat us. They beat me everywhere, on my hands, chest and head. Everywhere.'
- Mohammed Khaled, detained Palestinian
At one point during their period of detention, the Palestinian captives told Haaretz that personnel they were told were from the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, arrived and interrogated and abused them. Shin Bet denied the charges.
The three Palestinians who were detained and tortured said it was hard to tell who was a settler and who was a soldier.
After their initial detention, the captives said they were led to an empty building, where their eyes were covered and their hands bound with steel wire.
“They laid us on our stomachs and one of them brought a knife and tore our clothes,” Abu Hassan told Haaretz. “We stayed only in our underwear.”
“They continued to beat us,” Khaled said. “They had an iron pipe and knives with which they also beat us. They beat me everywhere, on my hands, chest and head. Everywhere. They put out cigarettes on us, they tried to pull out my nails.”
Abu Hassan said his face was pushed into the dirt and excrement that covered the floor of the empty building. They were interrogated and asked repeatedly where they intended to “carry out the stabbing attack” with the knives they purportedly had. They also said they were asked personal questions about their families.
“The violence continued all the time,” Abu Hassan told Haaretz. “They poured water on us, they urinated on us. After that someone holding a stick tried to stick it in my behind. I resisted with all my might until he simply gave up.”
According to the two Palestinian men, after about six hours they were taken out of the excrement-covered building, barefoot and in their underwear. They were unaware of the presence of a third Palestinian, Majed, who was tied up with a rope and had his phone taken and later spent two nights in hospital.
The three Palestinians were released in the evening.
'All Arabs are shit'
At the same time, according to the report, five left-wing Israeli activists were held for hours by the settlers.
“When they saw us, they started chasing us,” one of the activists told Haaretz. “Some of them were in uniform, or half in uniform and half in civilian clothes, but the vehicles were civilian.”
Abu Hassan told Haaretz he thought he was targeted for such severe abuse because he is known among the settlers as an activist who helps the shepherd communities in the area.
“They wanted to convey two messages: one, that the Jews went crazy after the Gaza Strip, and two, that we, the Arabs, dare not mess with them,“ he said.
“I told them that I was against Hamas and against Palestinian Islamic Jihad, but it didn't interest them. They said that all Arabs are shit and that we should be sent to Jordan. What happened has nothing to do with law, order, or the conduct of a reformed country. It's simply an integrated gang.”
The events take place against the backdrop of rising violence and tension in the West Bank because of the ongoing Israel-Palestine war.
Israeli forces have imposed a strict lockdown across the West Bank, closing cities, placing barriers and cement blocks at the entrances to villages and towns, and shooting at protesters.
They have killed dozens and detained at least 870 Palestinian civilians since the war broke out on 7 October, following a surprise Hamas-led attack on Israel. In the same time, settler attacks have surged by 40 percent.
At least 72 people have been killed in the occupied West Bank since the war broke out, while at least 3,785 people have died in Gaza and 1,400 in Israel.
Last Tuesday, two days before the attack on the Palestinians and left-wing activists, Israel’s far-right national security minister, Itamar Ben Gvir, announced that his ministry was purchasing 10,000 rifles to arm civilian security teams, including in West Bank settlements.