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"I Refused and He Hit Me"

A 14-Year Old’s Prison Journey

by AMIRA HASS

Fourteen-year-old Taher Ouda from Madma, a Palestinian village south of Nablus, was the subject of a story in Haaretz last week. Under Israel Defense Forces orders, he was kept in arm and leg restraints and under around-the-clock guard by two military policemen at the Schneider Children’s Medical Center, following an operation on his leg. At the time, the IDF Spokesman said he was kept in the restraints since he was under de facto arrest.

According to the version related by the soldiers, Ouda had intended, together with other youths, to throw Molotov cocktails at Israeli vehicles. As the soldiers were chasing the youths, Ouda tried to throw a Molotov cocktail at the soldiers, at which point he was shot and wounded in the leg. Ouda, who works with his father ! delivering cooking-gas canisters in the village, hotly denied the allegations: He was bringing a gas canister to a neighbor at the edge of the village and found himself in the middle of the gunfire. The incident occurred on the evening of Wednesday, November 30. He sustained a fracture in the femur, and a torn tendon. Ouda was operated upon that evening. A long steel rod was fixed by four screws along the length of his leg. It prevents him from bending his leg.

On the morning of Sunday, December 4, four days after he was wounded and brought to the hospital, the military policemen had him discharged. A Schneider spokesman explains: "Upon completion of the hospital treatment, the youth was released, with instructions for continued treatment, but only after the medical staff ascertained through the IDF that he would be transferred to a facility where he would be able to receive suitable medical treatment."

During the initial days of arrest, Israel Police or Shin ! Bet investigators routinely interrogate Palestinian detainees, in orde r to obtain confessions that would provide the basis for an indictment (or incriminate additional persons). But on Monday evening, December 5, Ouda was freed and sent home. Amid the hugs and kisses, the warm welcome and the numerous visitors, he talked about the "suitable medical treatment" he had received after his transfer from the hospital. He was never officially told where he was or who was holding him. Which may explain why he alternates between "soldier" and "policeman" in his account of what happened (although it was evidently a Israel Prisons Service facility).

Police and Shin Bet spokesmen told Haaretz that they had no connection to Ouda, and were not involved in any interrogation. It turns out that the Military Police were responsible for him on Sunday, until he was handed over to the Prisons Service on Monday, December 5.

`I told the soldiers I was cold’

"After breakfast on Sunday," Ouda told Haaretz and MachsomWatch activists, "I watc! hed a movie, and then the soldiers received a message. They took me out of the hospital. I asked what time it was, and they said it was 10 A.M. I was dressed only in the hospital robe and a coat. No underwear or pants. I tried to explain to the soldiers [they did not speak Arabic, and Ouda does not speak Hebrew - A.H.] that I wasn’t dressed, and that I was cold, but they didn’t care. I asked where we were going, and the soldier said he didn’t know. All of this was by sign language. The soldiers pushed the wheelchair. My injured leg dragged along the floor, in front of the wheelchair. One of the soldiers attempted to arrange the leg (so that it would not drag along the floor), but couldn’t. In the bag that was with me was underwear that had been sent from home, a cell phone my father gave me, some chocolate and a notebook that my father sent to the hospital, with a letter from my sister in it. In the notebook, I’d also begun to write a journal in the hospital.

"They p! ut me into an army car. There was no room to lay down, only seats. One soldier was sitting near the driver and another soldier sat in back. The car made a lot of stops. Each time, the driver would get out and then come back. My hands were tied the whole time. My legs were not bound.

"We got to a big plaza, where I saw police cars and offices. I also saw soldiers in handcuffs. I asked what time it was, and they said it was 2:00. I sat in the car for half an hour or so, and then they took me out. One of the soldiers who was guarding me in the hospital, and who wore a skullcap, shook my hand and said good-bye. He looked into my eyes and I saw he had tears in his eyes. They led me into a van that was parked there. They stood me up in it, on both legs, including the injured one. They handcuffed my hand to an inside handle above the window. I bent my healthy leg, and I stretched forward the injured one, which cannot bend. My head and [upper] back were hunched over the whole time, because I am taller than the handle was.

"Somebody appea! red. I noticed two leaves on the shirt of the uniform. The door opened from the side and was left open. He was holding a folder, he pointed to it and said, `Sign.’ I refused. He slapped me across the face. He didn’t ask anything, he only insisted that I sign. He would go away and come back every few minutes, each time demanding that I sign. I refused. He slapped me and kicked me in my good leg and then left, and came back a short while later, and then demanded again that I sign. I again refused, and he hit me.

"It went on like this until the evening, at which time they took me out of the car. I guess that it was around 10 P.M. Throughout this whole time I didn’t eat or drink, and they didn’t let me go to the bathroom. They only hit me. In the evening they came and removed the leg restraints, but my hands remained cuffed. They led me by foot to a jail that was there. Again they demanded that I sign `so that you can get out,’ and I refused. They didn’t read out to me ! what was written; it was in Hebrew. They put me into a room that had t wo bunk beds. I asked to eat, and the soldier brought me some mysterious food, and I didn’t eat. I asked to go to the bathroom. They let me go to the bathroom but they didn’t help me, even though it was hard for me. They just yelled at me.

"I wanted to sleep, and I laid down on one of the beds. The door opened, and a soldier ordered me to stand up. Another soldier came, took off the handcuffs, but the cuffs were still around one of my hands, I don’t remember which. He was holding a briefcase, and demanded that I sign. I refused. He demanded three times and I refused three times, and then he stood me up, ordered me to put my hands at my sides and he spread my legs apart, by kicking at the good leg. And I was wearing only the hospital robe and a coat. He slapped me in the face a few times. And then he put the cuffs back on my hands, and I went to

sleep. They brought me a big coat with a hood to cover myself up [apparently a sleeping bag - A.H.].

"On the mo! rning (of Monday, December 5), the same soldier who had brought me the food the previous evening came into the cell. This time he brought me water, a tomato and a few peppers. I ate. Another soldier led me to the car that had brought me there from the hospital. I could tell because of the driver. I was handcuffed. In the car, they cuffed my legs, too. Before starting the car, they blindfolded me with a rag. We drove for an hour and a half or two. I felt that we drove through a tunnel. At one point the driver switched off the engine and began speaking with someone outside. While we were driving, my [injured] leg was constantly being shoved around. Later on they removed the blindfold."

Slaps and a punch in the stomach

"We got to a place that I guessed was a prison. They took my bag from me. They put me in a very narrow cell. I couldn’t stand up in it, I could only lie down, bent over. I couldn’t stretch my legs. Someone came and demanded that I sign. I co! uldn’t see who it was because I was lying down, with my head on my arm s. I was afraid that the leg would not heal, and I missed my mother. I refused to sign, but they told me that it was only my signature to the fact that they had taken my cell phone. After what I guess was about two hours, they removed me from this narrow cell. I asked them to help me carry the bag, but they refused. They sent me to an ordinary prison cell, all by myself. I didn’t cry, I was only shaking from the cold. On the way from the solitary confinement cell upstairs one of the detainees warned me about `birds’ (asafir) – who try to get you to talk.

"Again a soldier came in, one I didn’t recognize, and demanded that I sign, and again I refused. I laid on the bed. The soldier tied my hands above my head to the bed, and cuffed my feet to the bed. He started to slap me around. After 20 or 30 slaps, he punched me in the stomach. I felt I wanted to throw up. He punched me again, and this time I did throw up. He released my legs and uncuffed my hands from the bed – but! they remained cuffed to each other. He threw me a little toilet paper so I could wipe up the vomit.

"They put someone, a Palestinian, in my room, who was bound hand and foot. He asked me why I was arrested. I told him that there was nothing against me, and that if I wasn’t released that night, I would be released the next morning. He told me that he’d killed a settler and was sentenced to 15 years, and he told me not to be afraid of him, that he wasn’t a collaborator. But I felt he was a collaborator. I told him I wasn’t afraid (to tell him what I’d done), it was only that I hadn’t done anything, and I would be released, if not today then tomorrow. He asked me how I was so sure of myself. After a while, a soldier came and took him out.

"By now it was evening. I was awfully tired, and I went to sleep. Someone came in dressed like a doctor. I asked him what time it was and he said it was 6 P.M. He told me to arrange my things, because they were taking me to cou! rt. Then they removed the metal handcuffs and replaced them with plast ic cuffs. A prisoner who was there gave me sweatpants, a shirt and sandals, but only after an argument with the soldiers. I’d been barefoot ever since they took me out of the hospital. He also brought me a crutch. From the other prisoners I heard that I was in Ramle. But two minutes later they took the crutch away from me.

"They put me in a car, sat me behind the driver, and I stretched my injured leg forward. A policemen sat down next to me, and to make room for himself he pushed my injured leg. They tried to blindfold me with a garbage bag, but when it didn’t work, they covered my head with the garbage bag. My hands were cuffed very tightly. Every so often the driver, who was a soldier, would turn around and slap me and demand that I lean my head down. As he was turning around to slap me, I felt that he collided or brushed up against another car, apparently a truck. After that, he still managed to get in a slap. I think we were driving for about two hours. I sweated! a lot, and I nearly suffocated from the plastic bag over my head. The leg was hurting me a lot, and so were my hips, which were bound by a belt. I thought we were on the way to the court, and when they pulled me out of the police car I suddenly realized I was at the Hawara roadblock.

IDF Spokesman denies

The IDF Spokesman’s response: "On the afternoon of December 4, the detainee was about to be handed over to the Prisons Service. Since his transfer to the Prisons Service was delayed, a team of military policemen and the detainee made their way to the Military Police base in Tel Mond. Around 7 P.M., the Prisons Service made the decision not to process the detainee until the following morning. Accordingly, the detainee was held in a separate detention cell in the Military Police base.

"When he entered the lock-up, there was a need to carry out a procedure of deposition of property, and therefore an Arabic-speaking soldier explained to the detainee! that he had to sign the document to confirm that his cell phone was d eposited. The detainee refused to sign the deposit form. Until the time that he entered the detention cell, only the detainee’s hands were bound. Once he entered the detention cell, the handcuffs were removed. The detainee’s stay in the Military Police base was closely supervised by the base commander, an officer of the rank of major, who confirmed that his treatment was humane and according to regulations. We emphasize that the detainee was not beaten or handcuffed to a vehicle.

"On the morning of December 5, 2005, the detainee was transferred to the Prisons Service facility in Ramle by a team of military policemen. That evening, at around 7 P.M., a directive was issued by the Samaria district of the Israel Police, stating that the detainee should be immediately released.

"A team of three military policemen was entrusted with his transfer from the Prisons Service facility to the Hawara roadblock. The detainee was transferred from the Prisons Service with a pla! stic bag tied around his eyes. In the course of the journey no exceptional event took place, and the allegations of violence committed against him are groundless. The Military Police car did not have a collision with any other car. The trip lasted approximately one hour, at the end of which the detainee was transferred to a Civil Administration officer who was waiting there." Nevertheless, the IDF Spokesman informed Haaretz that these were the results of an initial inquiry, and that an investigation of the event continues.

The Prisons Service reported, "The detainee arrived at the central hospital of the Prisons Service on December 5, 2005 at 11:35 A.M., and his processing was approved by the chief medical officer of the Prisons Service (due to his being injured). The detainee was released that same day by the Prisons Service at 6:10 P.M. and was taken by the Military Police. The detainee spent these hours in a hospital room and was held separately, because he is a m! inor."

Maher Talhami, the attorney for Physicians for Human Rig hts who met twice with Ouda and took down an affidavit, says that on the basis of his own experience, the beating of minor Palestinian detainees in order to have them sign confessions is routine. This view is shared by attorney Khaled Quzmar, who represents minors in military tribunals for Defense for Children International.

What makes this case atypical, say the two lawyers, is that Ouda insisted on not signing, was released early, and was able to tell about his arrest only a few days after it occurred.

AMIRA HASS writes for Ha’aretz. She is the author of Drinking the Sea at Gaza.