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From the field

Testimony of ‘Abed Sabah, from al-Jalazun Refugee Camp, Ramallah District, who was arrested when he was 15 years old

 ‘Abed Sabah. Photo by  Iyad Hadad, B'Tselem
 ‘Abed Sabah. Photo by  Iyad Hadad, B'Tselem

Testimony from B'Tselem report: "Minors in Jeopardy: Violation of the Rights of Palestinian Minors by Israel’s Military Courts", March 2018

On 20 August 2017, at around 3:00 A.M., my mother woke the whole family up and said there were soldiers at the entrance so we had to get up. I got up before everyone else, because I was afraid the soldiers would burst into the house. A few seconds later, the soldiers knocked on the door and my father opened it.

About ten soldiers came in. They were all carrying guns and wearing protective flak jackets. I didn’t think I was going to be arrested because I’m a kid, and I didn’t do anything. I was sure they were there to arrest my brother ‘Omran, who is eighteen. Their officer made my brother and me stand together, with the soldiers surrounding us. They asked us our names and told us to turn around on the spot. They held up photos of us and compared them to our faces. In the end, they let ‘Omran go and the officer said to me: “Get dressed, you’re coming with us”. I only had an undershirt on, so I went to get dressed. In the meantime, the officer handed my father an arrest warrant, without explaining why I was being arrested or where I was being taken.

The soldiers led me outside and one of them tied my hands behind my back with plastic cable ties. He blindfolded me with a strip of cloth and then the soldiers led me through the alleyways until we reached the end of the camp, about 300-500 meters away. There were military jeeps parked there. Along the way, the soldiers slapped me, hit me with their hands and rifles, and kicked me with their heavy boots. They hurt me and swore at me.

Then they tied me to the post, blindfolded me again and left me there for several hours. The whole night, I wasn’t allowed to go to the bathroom. 

When we got to the jeeps, they put me inside one, on the floor, and sat down around me. I couldn’t see a thing. During the ride, they continued hitting me. When the jeep stopped, the officer who had arrested me came up and told me we were in the military base at Beit El. The soldiers led me to a big yard. At first, they removed my blindfold, sat me down on the floor and leaned me up against a wooden post. Then they tied me to the post, blindfolded me again and left me there for several hours. The whole night, I wasn’t allowed to go to the bathroom. I also asked them to loosen the plastic cable ties a bit because they were really hurting me, but the soldiers refused and also hit me every now and then. They gave me a particularly painful smack on the back of the head with a hard object, and after that I had very dizzy spells once in a while. During the arrest, I had two attacks like that, and both times they gave me medication that soothed it.

At around 7:00 A.M., they told me to get up because I was being taken to a police station. When I got up, I felt all wobbly and one of the soldiers held me up. They put me in a jeep, and again the soldiers hit me throughout the drive, but not much. When we got to the police station at Binyamin, the soldiers removed the blindfold and switched the cable ties to metal handcuffs. They also put my legs in restraints. I could hardly walk and almost fell over. They took me straight up to the second floor and sat me down on a chair facing the interrogator. There was another interrogator in the room, wearing a police uniform, and someone else in a military uniform.

As soon as I was inside the room, the interrogator told me he was going to question me about throwing stones and a pipe bomb. He let me call my family before the interrogation began. I spoke with my brother and told him I was being interrogated and that I wanted a lawyer, but then the interrogator took the phone out of my hand and I couldn’t continue the conversation. I didn’t even get a chance to tell my brother where I was being held. The interrogator started questioning me without reading me my rights, and didn’t even tell me I had the right to remain silent until I saw my lawyer.

The interrogator accused me of throwing a pipe bomb towards Beit El, but I denied it. He kept insisting that I confess and said it could help me get less time in prison. After about an hour, he told me to sign two documents in Hebrew. He said they would help me get a shorter sentence and could get me released. I didn’t believe him and refused to sign. When the interrogation was over, they took me to another room where they took my photo and fingerprints. Then I was taken down to the entrance, with my both my hands and legs in restraints. About half an hour later, I was taken to the detention facility at Ofer. At Ofer, they ordered me to take my clothes off, strip-searched me and stood me in front of a metal detector. They ordered me to squat and stand back up in front of the detector about four or five times. Then they gave me a prison shirt and pants and took away everything I had on me – my clothes, my shoe laces – and handcuffed me, tying my hands in front of me. They put me in a cell for minors.

From the cell, I was taken with my hands tied in front of me in metal handcuffs to a waiting room. About twenty guys around my age were sitting there, waiting for their court hearing. From that room, we were taken by bus to the court, which is in the same military base. Every time we were taken there, they would chain our legs to the seats of the bus until we got to the court, where they would remove the restraints. In the court, we were taken into a waiting room. We sat there on concrete benches. We could move, but there was barely any space because the room was very small, about three by three meters with twenty people in it. Air came in through one window. When we were taken from there to the courtroom, they put the restraints back on. They called the detainees into their hearings one by one. While the rest of us waited, they brought us each an apple and a cucumber for breakfast. Lunch was a slice of bread, a small yoghurt and a cucumber.

I was taken into the courtroom at midday. One soldier walked ahead of me and another behind me. No lawyer came to represent me and none of my family showed up. Maybe they didn’t know about the hearing. I didn’t understand what the purpose of the hearing was. The judge only asked me my name, and the interpreter translated. Then the judge informed me that the trial had been postponed, I don’t remember until what date. A few minutes later, they took me back to the waiting room. I stayed there until 4:00 P.M., with my legs in restraints, and then they drove us back to the prison by bus.

We were put back in the cell. It’s about three and a half by two meters and holds fifteen boys. There is one and we slept on bunk beds. Every bed had a mattress and blanket. We got two meals a day. Lunch was bread with jam and hummus, served at midday. For supper, we got meat stew or chicken with rice at 6:00 P.M. Between the meals, we could buy at commissary – tinned food, bags of chips, sweets and chocolate. They would open the doors of the cells every half an hour and we could go out to the yard. In the yard we could play table tennis and exercise. Also, every cell had a TV that the prison management controlled, as well as some games and books.

In early September, I don’t remember the exact date, I was taken out of the cell at 6:00 A.M. and driven to court. I waited in the waiting room until 2:30 P.M. and then they took me into the courtroom. This time, there was a lawyer there to represent me. He spoke with me for about five minutes inside the courtroom. He said they were charging me with throwing stones and Molotov cocktails, and asked if I had confessed to any of those charges. I said I hadn’t. He said they could give me two years, but he’d try and postpone the trial until the end of October.

The lawyer spoke with the judge. I didn’t understand what he said because they spoke in Hebrew and the interpreter didn’t translate what they were saying for me. I used the opportunity to talk to my mother, who was in the courtroom. I could only talk to her from a distance, because they didn’t let her come near me or even shake my hand. I couldn’t say anything except “What’s up?” and “How are you?” because we had no privacy. But it made me feel better, knowing that my family was okay and they knew that I was doing alright. The hearing only lasted five minutes, and my trial was postponed until the end of October. I was taken back to the waiting room and at 4:00 P.M., when all the hearings were over, they took us back to prison.

On October 30th, I was taken again to court ... My parents were there and again, I could only say hello to them from a distance. The lawyer said: “I want to make a deal”. The deal included 2 months and 15 days in prison – the time I’d already spent in detention – as well as a 2,000 shekel (~570 USD) fine and probation.

On October 30th, I was taken again to court at 6:00 A.M. My hearing began at 2:30 P.M. My parents were there and again, I could only say hello to them from a distance. The lawyer came up to me and said: “I want to make a deal”. The deal included two months and 15 days in prison – which was the time I’d already spent in detention – as well as a 2,000 shekel (~570 USD) fine and another five months on probation. The lawyer asked my father if he had the money, and told him that if he did, I would be released that day. My father handed him the cash outside the courtroom. There was no hearing, and at 7:00 P.M. I was taken back to prison.

At 8:00 P.M. I was called and informed I was getting out. They gave me my clothes back and drove me to Beit Sira checkpoint. There were three other detainees with me, whom I didn’t know. I was dropped off at the checkpoint at 11:00 P.M. No one was there waiting for me, because no one knew I was being released there. I asked one of the Arab drivers who work in the area to use his phone, and I called my brother. He told me he was waiting for me outside Ofer Prison. He came to pick me up with a taxi and we went home.

I missed more than 45 days of school and the midterm exams. I don’t know if the school will help me make up the studies I lost, but I’ll do my best to catch up.

The testimony was Given to B'Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad on 25 December 2017