Following B'Tselem's intervention, army opens investigation into vandalism in southern Hebron hills and suspends suspected officers
On 12 and 13 October, B'Tselem documented eight vehicles owned by Palestinians that had been vandalized, apparently by soldiers, near Jenbah in the southern Hebron hills. The vehicles, which were used to transport Palestinian laborers wanting to enter Israel without permits, were abandoned when military vehicles chased them. Following urgent demands made by B'Tselem to the Judge Advocate General's Office and to the Military Police Investigation Unit, the MPIU opened an investigation into the matter and the IDF Spokesperson's Office announced that two officers commanding soldiers in the area had been suspended pending investigation.
On Monday, 12 October, field researchers from B'Tselem's camera distribution project who were on their way to Khirbet Jenbah, a village in the southern Hebron hills, filmed a Ford commercial van going up in flames on the road. Nearby, they documented a private car lying in a ditch alongside the road, its windows shattered. A few minutes later, the owner of the van and his passengers arrived and said they had been hiding from soldiers some distance from the van. They related in their testimonies that a Hummer army jeep had chased the van, which was transporting Palestinian laborers who wanted to work in Israel without permits. At some point, the van malfunctioned and the passengers got out and ran away. According to the testimonies, the soldiers then went over to the vehicle, smashed the windows, removed the spare tires and burned them under the vehicle. The gas tank caught fire and the vehicle went up in flames.
While B'Tselem's researchers were standing by the burning vehicle, an army Hummer jeep pulled up, with a group of soldiers inside. According to the Palestinian witnesses, the same soldiers had started the fire. The soldiers detained the researchers for about half an hour, on no grounds whatsoever. That evening, B'Tselem contacted the army and reported the events.
Vehicle transporting Palestinian laborers that was allegedly torched by soldiers. Photo: Kareem Jubran, B'Tselem.
The next day, five more vehicles were vandalized in the same area:' one was torched and the other four were rolled off the road. Next to one of the vehicles that had been pushed off the road, B'Tselem's researcher documented tire tracks whose width conforms to the width of Hummer jeep tires. B'Tselem documented the damage to the vehicles and took testimonies from eye witnesses, to be transferred to MPIU investigators.
One of the vehicle drivers related in his testimony what occurred on 13 October, while he was driving workers in the Ramadin area:
"Suddenly, an army Hummer jeep pulled up [...]. I stopped and stayed in the car with the four workers. Three soldiers got out of the jeep and one of them asked for our ID cards. He checked [the ID numbers] with someone on the two-way radio and wrote our names down on a page. Then he gave us back the ID cards and told us to continue on foot.
We walked about 50 meters away and waited, hoping that the jeep would leave and we could go back to the car. I saw the three soldiers break the rear window. One soldier open the engine hood, sprayed something flammable on the spare tire and set fire to it. The tire caught fire and exploded, and then the fire went out. The soldiers punctured all the tires on the car and broke the front window. It lasted about forty minutes. Then they got into the jeep and left."
In addition to the above vandalism, B'Tselem also recently documented cases in which soldiers are suspected of having severely abused Palestinians in the southern Hebron hills. In the past week, the Military Police Investigation Unit opened an investigation into a complaint filed by B'Tselem regarding one of the cases that took place near the village of a-Ramadin.