Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A cold wind and standard humiliation

The wind was blowing so hard that 2-inch blades of grass were lying horizontally on top of one another. The cold wind seemed to convert my jacket into a layer of porous mesh.

We walked down the hill towards two Palestinian vehicles and an Israeli Border Police jeep. Israeli Border Police officers had two Palestinian men in the back of their jeep, handcuffed, when we arrived.

Responding to my questions about the purpose of the men's arrest, the officers stated the men had been driving stolen cars.

After the handcuffs were removed and the men were allowed to sit on the ground outside of the jeep -- and subsequently, the blood flow returned to their hands where the zip ties had been cinched down -- they described started to describe their side of the story.

Detained Palestinian men sit in the cold

Israeli forces had been stopping and searching cars in Yatta. This is strange in and of itself because Yatta lies firmly in Area A, territory where Palestinian Authority is tasked with ensuring security.  Additionally, the Oslo Accords (supposedly) prevent Israelis from conducting operations in Area A without coordination with the PA. So either the PA allowed Israeli forces to stop and search cars in Yatta (quite likely, given the PA is corrupt, unelected and held up with US money) or Israel was in contravention of the Oslo accords (also not hard to believe).

After being stopped in Yatta, the men were thrown in the back of the Border Police Jeep.  Officers then took the men's keys and drove their cars out to Area C, near at-Tuwani. After arriving in the Area C, the officers could conduct their operation in accordance with the Oslo Accords and other agreements that resulted from the (non)peace process. The officers, with the help of the Israeli police, called in the vehicle identification numbers (VIN's) and determined the cars were stolen.

Both men swore they didn't know the cars were stolen, and ended up signing statements to that effect.

The Border Police officers had meanwhile stopped a friend of ours, Mahmoud, who was driving his tractor to take his daughter to her university classes in Yatta.

Mahmoud's daughter sits on wheel well of the trailer.

The soldiers photographed his tractor and called in his VIN.

Border Police officer photographs VIN, Mahmoud watches

Mahmoud was eager to get his daughter to university punctually -- I'm sure she was even more eager to get there punctually -- so he suggested leaving his wallet and ID card with the officers while he dropped off his daughter in Yatta. His return would, of course, then be guaranteed and he would be return to answer any questions or face any consequences deemed appropriate by the Israeli forces.

Mahmoud's suggestion was not accepted.  His daughter was probably late to class.

The two men, who we originally came upon, were later arrested after sitting in the bitter cold for 3 hours.  The men were taken to Kiryat Arba Police Station and there cars were taken away by a toe truck.  During their detention, one of the men had to pee in public several times, with a soldier standing guard about 12 inches behind the urinating man.

Whenever I tried to speak with the men, I was told to be quiet, that it was forbidden to talk to the men.  The officer would then yell at the Palestinians in Hebrew, telling him not to speak with me. Despite the unlawful nature of the request, the detained men asked me to go along with it so as not to make matters worse. During moments when the officers were busy joking around, smoking, or eating snacks I got information from the men about the detention and their knowledge of the legality of their cars.

The most insulting part of the encounter was one Border Police officer coming over every 30 minutes, or so, and asking the men, "Kull shi tamaam?" [Is everything alright]. The men never responded verbally but one would flip his palms upward, as if to say, What are we supposed to say, man? It's freezing cold, we're not allowed to talk,  we've been here for three hours, and I have to pee in public while you stand guard. Not to mention the fact I am going to lose the car I paid money for, not knowing it was stolen. Does it sound like everything's alright?

1 comment:

Brit said...

Your account takes us there with you and them, and I come away angry. There are so many things wrong with what happened in this situation. And, the information regarding the "legality" of the cars is coming from a "law enforcement" body acting illegally, or at least corruptly, and these men - and so many others - are bearing the brunt of it in dehumanizing and belittling ways. It really makes me sick.