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 Israeli soldiers during a raid on al-‘Arrub R.C., Hebron District. Photo by Anne Paq, Activestills, 24 May 2013
From the field

Occupation routine: Soldiers assault 16-year-old at al-'Arrub R.C., break his jaw and arrest him for 26 days

On Sunday, 29 November 2020, at around 8:00 A.M., two military jeeps entered al-'Arrub R.C. Earlier that day, two settlers who were traveling on the road near the refugee camp were slightly injured by stones. As the jeeps entered, children and youths threw stones at the soldiers. The soldiers fired tear gas canisters and stun grenades.

One jeep followed the crowd and hit 16-year-old Muhammad Muqbal. He fell but then got up and kept running until the soldiers caught him. A soldier hit him in the jaw, and he fell again. Another soldier kicked him all over his body as he lay on the ground. The soldiers then handcuffed him and put him in the jeep. One of the soldiers kept beating him on the car ride.

Muqbal and some other youths who were detained in al-'Arrub R.C. that day were taken to the Etzion police station, where they waited for hours and were interrogated intermittently. Muqbal’s basic rights were violated during his interrogation, which ended with him signing a document written in Hebrew, a language he does not understand. After the interrogation, the soldiers took the youths into a kitchen. One of the soldiers told them they could sleep on the floor. They were given no food or drink during this whole time. At 3:00 A.M., soldiers came and took Muqbal to Hadassah Ein Karem Hospital in Jerusalem, where he was handcuffed to the bed. Soldiers posted at the door to his room initially refused to let his father in to see him. Muqbal had jaw surgery two days later, and the next evening, 4 December 2020, he was taken to Megiddo Prison.

On 6 December 2020, the military prosecution indicted Muqbal on two counts: Throwing a Molotov cocktail in March 2020 and stone-throwing on the day he was arrested. The prosecution asked to have Muqbal remanded to custody until the end of proceedings, but the military judge rejected the motion. The prosecution’s appeal was dismissed, and Muqbal was released on 25 December 2020, after a NIS 3,000 (~ USD 900) bail was posted. On 8 March 2021, Muqbal was convicted in a plea bargain. The first count of the indictment was dropped, and he was sentenced to 26 days in prison - equal to the number of days he had already served. The bail was converted to a fine.

Muqbal’s case is not an aberration. It reflects the violence the occupation brings to the everyday lives of young males throughout the West Bank. Israel arrests hundreds of Palestinian minors each year, systemically and systematically violating their rights throughout the entire process - from the arrest itself, through the interrogation and in the legal proceedings at the Juvenile Military Court. While Israel boasts laws and procedures purportedly in place to safeguard the rights of minors, these are no more than a smokescreen designed to legitimize the severe harm caused to minors.

Muhammad Muqbal described his arrest and 26-day incarceration to B’Tselem field researcher Musa Abu Hashhash on 28 December 2020:

Muhammad Muqbal after his release. Photo by the father, 28 Dec. 2020

I ran fast, and one of the military jeeps hit me in the shoulder. I fell down and then got up and carried on running. I went into a house that had its door open. Three soldiers ran after me. One of them caught me and hit me more than once on the left side of the jaw. It hurt badly, and I fell on the floor. Another soldier attacked me and started kicking me in different parts of my body. The wound in my face was bleeding. I got up, and then they led me to the road, tied my hands behind my back and had me sit down in front of a closed shop.

A few minutes later, they put me in a jeep and blindfolded me. I sat on the floor of the jeep. There were four soldiers in it, and one of them hit me, kicked me and spat at me more than once. The jeep drove for about 500 meters and stopped at the entrance to the refugee camp, by the gate. The soldiers took me out there, near the electric gate, and from under the blindfold, I saw four detainees that the soldiers had arrested before me, standing at the entrance.

A man in military uniforms approached me and said he was “Captain Karam.” I’d heard about him. I know he’s the ISA officer in charge of our refugee camp. He hit me in the face with the butt of his rifle.

He moved my blindfold and took a picture of me and the rest of the detainees. After about five minutes, we were all taken in a large military vehicle to the settlement of Carmei Tzur. We were kept there in the courtyard for about two hours. My jaw hurt, and it was bleeding.

Then they put us in another military vehicle and drove us to the police station in Etzion. We got there in the early afternoon, and the soldiers took us into the courtyard. In the later afternoon, they started interrogating us, one by one. I was third in line. Before the interrogation, a lawyer spoke to me on the phone and told me I could exercise the right to remain silent and not to be afraid.

An interrogator by the name of Yusef interrogated me. He accused me of throwing a Molotov cocktail at an Israeli bus a few months ago and throwing stones at military vehicles. I denied both accusations, and after ten minutes, the interrogator took me out to the yard. They left me there until the evening. Then they took me back into the interrogation room, and a different interrogator questioned me. He yelled and said I was lying. He started asking: “So the soldiers and camp residents who saw you do it are liars, and only you’re right?”

I continued denying it, and the interrogator wrote down what I said and ordered me to sign my statement. He told me I was signing what I had said. I signed and gave my fingerprints, and my photo was taken. At around 9:00 P.M., after they’d finished questioning the other four detainees, the soldiers took us to a place that looked like a kitchen, in front of the yard, and one of them told us we could sleep on the floor.

Muhammad Muqbal at the hospital on the day of the surgery, with shackled legs. Photo by his father, Munir Muqabl, 2 Dec. 2020

That’s when a military doctor came and gave us a coronavirus test and asked if we had any illnesses. We sat on the floor in the kitchen for about six hours. They didn’t give us food or drink, and we weren’t able to sleep either. My jaw hurt a lot. We were handcuffed and blindfolded the whole time, and time went by slowly. At around 3:00 A.M., the soldiers took me out of the kitchen. The others had been taken before. I was taken in a small vehicle with a four-soldier escort. I was sitting in the front seat, between two soldiers. We drove to Hadassah Ein Karem Hospital. I knew where I was by the sign at the entrance. I got there at about 4:00 A.M. I got tested for coronavirus again, and then I was given painkillers. Two soldiers escorted me. One of them was the one who attacked me during the arrest. I was taken into a room, and one of the soldiers tied my left hand to the bed. The pain was so bad I couldn’t sleep. In the evening, I was taken for X-rays and then brought back to the room. There was a patient from Jerusalem in the room, and he told me he’d heard the doctors saying in Hebrew that I was going to need surgery. After sunset, in the evening hours, my father came and tried to get in the room. He called out to me and asked me how I was feeling. The two soldiers kicked him out. He tried to get to the door every once in a while to ask me how I was doing and told me not to worry.

The next day, Tuesday, I was taken into another room, and the soldiers were replaced. The new soldiers let my father come into the room for a few minutes and talk to me. My father told me he had signed consent for my surgery and told me it would be on Wednesday.

On Wednesday, I was taken into the operating room, and the surgery started at around noon. It took four hours, and after, they took me back to the room. I found out the doctors had put in a fastener to put my jaw together on the left side. It stops me from chewing or moving my jaw.

On Thursday, at around 8:00 P.M., I was taken in a vehicle used to transport detainees to Megiddo Prison with my hands and feet cuffed. In the prison, they took me into a room where I stayed by myself for four days. After that, I was taken into a room with five underaged detainees. I stayed at Megiddo for 18 days. I got soup to eat and painkillers. There were three court hearings that I attended through video. A lawyer represented me.

Then, I was transferred to Ofer Prison, where there was a final hearing on 24 December 2020, which I also attended through video. It lasted more than half an hour, and the judge asked me what I would do when I went back home. I told him I’d go back to school. I couldn’t understand the interpreter that well because the connection wasn’t good, and I didn’t understand what the judge decided. They took me back to a room at Ofer, and I stayed the night there. In the morning, it was Friday, they told me I was getting released that day. I later found out I’d been released on a 3,000 NIS bail.

That day, 25 December 2020, before noon, a military jeep took me to the al-Jib checkpoint, and my father was waiting for me there in a friend’s car and took me home. I still can’t eat properly, and I’m getting liquids only. A doctor at the hospital in Hebron told me it would take two more weeks before they remove the metal fastener.

Muhammad’s father, Munir Muqbal, 47 and father of six, said in a testimony he gave to B’Tselem field researcher Musa Abu Hashhash on 6 December 2020, while his son was held in custody:

The day after the arrest, in the early afternoon, I got a call from Hadassah hospital and got asked to go there to sign the approval for Muhammad’s surgery. They sent me an invitation, and I sent it to the Coordination and Liaison Administration. At 5:00 P.M., I got an entry permit. I went straight to Hadassah Hospital and went up to the seventh floor. I saw Muhammad in one of the rooms and tried to go in, but two soldiers who were in the room barred me from entering.

רגליו של מוקבל, שנאזקו למיטת בית החולים. צילום: מוסא אבו השהש, בצלם, 2.12.20
Muqbal’s shackled legs in his hospital bed. Photo by his father, Munir Muqabl, 2 Dec. 2020

I stood in the doorway and asked Muhammad how he was feeling, and he said he was okay. I tried to go in the room several times, but the two soldiers wouldn’t let me. I managed to take a picture of Muhammad, who was tied to the bed. I stayed in the hallway all night and tried to get some sleep on one of the chairs there, but I wasn’t able to.

On Tuesday, he was taken to a different room, and the two soldiers who had been there were replaced by others. One of the new soldiers let me in and talk to him for a few minutes. I managed to take a photo of him too. His left hand was tied to the bed, and a patient who was in the room with him told me his surgery was scheduled for Wednesday.

On Wednesday, at around noon, he was taken to the operating room. The surgery lasted four hours, and after that, he was brought back to the room, and I managed to talk to him for about 15 minutes. The doctors told me they had put in a jaw fastener, so he would have a hard time eating for quite some time. I expected Muhammad to stay in the hospital for further treatment, but to my surprise, the very next day, Thursday, in the evening, the soldiers took him to Megiddo Prison. I went home and got updates about what was happening to him from a lawyer with Defense for Children International.

His mother and I are very worried because they took him back to jail right after the operation.