Israel says beaten activists should blame themselves

This is not the first time Ta’ayush activists have reported violence by IDF soldiers toward the Palestinians and toward them — but this attack was, in their opinion, especially brutal.

By Amira Hass | Haaretz | Dec. 29, 2014 |

The West Bank settlement of Tekoa, April 2014. Photo by Eyal Toueg

Last Thursday the Jerusalem Magistrates Court held a preliminary and brief deliberation on a damages suit filed by three Ta’ayush activists against the state, on the grounds that soldiers and officers attacked them, arrested them on false pretenses and lied outright. The state denies the details described in the suit and claims that the activists themselves are to blame for the physical and psychological damage caused to them — or at the very least, share the blame.

For nearly 15 years now Ta’ayush (“Living together”) activists have been accompanying Palestinian farmers and shepherds whom settlers, mainly in the southern West Bank, are making a concerted effort to expel from their lands. This is not the first time the activists have reported violence on the part of soldiers toward the Palestinians and toward them, and have documented this with their cameras.

But the attack on May 30, 2012 on land of the Palestinian village of Teqoa was, in their opinion, especially brutal. Therefore the activists did not content themselves with the closing of the investigation opened against them on the basis of false claims by the soldiers to the effect that they, the activists, had supposedly entered a closed military zone and attacked the soldiers. Nor did they content themselves with the indictment filed by the state in October 2012 against a settler named Shilo Kinarti, from the settlement of Tekoa, on the charge of having beaten up Ali Hajahja from the village of Teqoa, “hitting him hard in the abdomen with his fist.”

In February of this year attorney Eitay Mack filed the damages suit on behalf of three Ta’ayush activists — Guy Butavia, Guy Hirshfeld and Ezra Nawi. The subject of the suit is the soldiers’ violence, prima facie, which can be summarized under six headings:

* Violence. After the activists inquired as to the whereabouts of the closed military zone order, the soldiers attacked and hit Butavia several times, threw him to the ground and beat him, ignored his pleas not to hurt his arm that had been operated on several times following a road accident, choked him, dragged him along the ground, refused him water to drink while they kept him detained in the jeep and outside, only poured water on him when he fainted, denied him medical treatment for several hours and attacked Nawi, dropped him to the ground and beat him, handcuffed him behind his back and dragged him to a jeep while kicking him.

* Turning a blind eye to settler violence. The soldiers did nothing after Kinarti beat up Hajahaja (in front of them).

* Encouraging settler violence. Even though the soldiers claimed that the place was a closed military zone, they allowed the settlers to move around there unimpeded and let them congregate around the jeeps and photograph the arrested and bruised activists who were held in the vehicles (one Jewish Israeli, apparently a settler as well, urged the others to leave and treated Butavia’s injured arm).

* Lying in order to evict the farmers from their lands. The soldiers claimed that Palestinians were forbidden to work east of an isolated house on their land — land of the village of Teqoa — next to which the outpost Tekoa Dalet has put down stakes (in the state’s defense brief the outpost is called “settlement Tekoa Dalet”). Israel Defense Forces officer Uri Politi claimed, in reply to the Israeli activists’ question, that a closed military zone order existed.

After him another officer, Major Eliaz Elbaz, appeared and said that he would immediately issue a closed military zone order (despite the fact that under instructions from the military attorney general only an officer who is brigade commander or higher is entitled to close a zone). After the activists were detained, the soldiers said the order had been signed in the name of the brigade commander, Col. Yaniv Alaluf.

The activists and farmers did not see the order. It was submitted to the police. Under the brigade commander’s name there is a scrawl, which is not his signature. In a written public servant’s deposition from Alaluf on June 12, 2012, he said that “the order was filled out by me, signed by me.” However, in his statement to the police on that same date he said that on the day of the incident he was in a meeting at division headquarters and that “authorization was given [to sign the order] to a brigade operations officer, who gave the approval in my name.” That is — contrary to his deposition — Alaluf did not fill out the order in his own handwriting.

* Curses and threats. The soldiers told the farmers and activists: “Get out of here,” “I’ll make you fly away,” “We’ll kill you, we’ll bust your balls,” “If you don’t hand over your mobile phone I’ll bust you up with a beating and then I’ll take the phone from you — which do you prefer?” “The leftists are cancer in the state,” “I don’t give a f**k about your arm.”

* False accusations. Mendacious claims by soldiers that the activists had attacked them and had entered a closed military zone led to a criminal case against the activists. It was closed, for lack of fault. That is — there was no closed military zone order, the activists did not violate it and they did not attack the soldiers.

Judge Keren Azulay expressed surprise that the defense brief, which was signed by attorney Moshe Willinger of the Jerusalem District Prosecutor’s Office, does not deal with the claims in the activists’ suit — which are backed by documents and photographs — and does not provide any positive version of the incident. She allotted him 60 days to clarify the details again with the various parties and to try to reach agreement with the claimants about the details, or some of them. The next court session is slated for April, 2015.

Photo by Iliya Melnikov

Mirror Copy. Originally published at www.haaretz.com.

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