Israeli police brutally arrest hunger strike demonstrators, threaten them with rape

Some of the 17 activists arrested at a demonstration in support of hunger striking prisoners outside Ramle prison are brought to court in Petach Tikva near Tel Aviv, 4 May.

Oren Ziv ActiveStills

Seventeen activists, including a minor, were brutally arrested during a permitted demonstration on 3 May in support of the Palestinian hunger strikers near Ramle prison, where some strikers are being held in the Israeli Prison Service medical center.

The protesters spent the night in Ramle police station and were brought to Petach Tikva court the following day. After reviewing the “secret evidence” presented by the police, a judge imposed three days of house arrest on them and forbade the activists to make any contact with each other for 15 days, also fining them hundreds of shekels for disturbing the peace.

On 6 May, the Palestinian human rights group Adalah submitted an urgent complaint to the head of the police investigation unit at the Israeli ministry of justice, demanding an investigation into the arrest and abuse of the 17 protesters.

According to a 7 May press release issued by Adalah, “At approximately 6:45pm, after the demonstration ended and most participants had left, several individuals attempted to continue protesting by forming a picket line, which does not require a permit under Israeli law. However, the police violently attacked the group, beating them and using tasers, even after the people were handcuffed.” Eight were arrested at the site (“Adalah Demands Criminal Investigation into Illegal Arrest and Abuse in Custody of 17 Demonstrators”).

Adalah adds, “After the initial arrests, some of protestors went to the police station to find out about the others’ status. There, the police attacked and beat the remaining protestors and arrested an additional nine people.”

Adalah emphasized that “this event is yet another example of the Israeli police’s systematic brutality against Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel who demonstrate and exercise their right to free speech.”

Demonstrator taken to hospital

Sixteen-year-old Ward Kayal, sentenced to house arrest, recalled the Israeli police’s use of force at the protest.

“We were around 200 demonstrators, and although the protest was permitted by the police, it did not stop the Yasam [a special police force unit] and police forces attacking us,” she said.

“They put us on the ground and started beating us. I have bruises all over my body. I suffer from a medical condition [related to] blood pressure, and am being treated with medicine. After they arrested us around 6pm, they hand- and leg-cuffed us all, as they continued to use tasers [electric stun guns] while cursing and humiliating us.

“I told the police, as did my mother who also participated in the protest, that I suffer from a medical condition and to allow me to take the medicine and see a doctor. While [I was] cuffed, they pushed me down the stairs, beat me with their fists and tasers, and forced me to use the bathroom while the door was open to humiliate me. Four hours later I was too weak to stand on my feet and fainted.

“When they saw that my condition was bad, they took me to a hospital nearby, while hand- and leg-cuffed, and in my medical record it stated that my blood pleasure was 150/122 and that I should take medicine. They kept me under custody and I was deprived any medicine until I was released the following day.

“During the night they interrogated me, until around 3am.”

Kayal added, “I find the support of the hunger strikers of national importance … The support should be more active, especially since it has a significant meaning for the strikers [to know] of our support, which gives them hope to go on with their struggle.”

Female activists threatened with rape

Thaira Zoabi, a 27-year-old activist from Nazareth, also suffered injuries at the hands of police on 3 May.

“As soon as the protest began, the Israeli Yasam and police forces first arrested the bus driver and eight protesters. That did not stop us from continuing our protest demanding to release them all,” she said.

“I was first attacked by a police officer when he lifted me up the ground with my kuffiyeh [traditional checkered scarf] that was around my neck, suffocating me and making it hard for me to breathe. They arrested me and eight other protesters. There were also Israeli and foreign activists amongst us.

“The Israeli forces used [taser guns] and I have bruises on my arms and legs. I saw them open a protester’s mouth by force and spit in it, and they spit in my face as well. They beat us and used massive verbal violence. They did a full body search. While being under custody, a police officer of Ramle district addressed both me and another female activist while being cuffed with verbal sexual harassment, threatening to rape us. I have to admit I burst in tears.”

Zoabi said that in spite of what happened during the protest, she will continue her activism — even more motivated than before.

“I regard the struggle of the Palestinian prisoners and their hunger strike as a personal matter for each Palestinian and human rights defenders,” she said. “The government of Israel tries to break our national spirit using psychological and physical terror.”

Sawsan Khalife’ is a political activist and journalist from Shefa-Amr in the Galilee region of Palestine.