Osama* and I headed out of our apartment yesterday at approximately 6PM to take personal accounts from refugee families whose houses are frequently occupied by Israeli soldiers. As we walked we heard repeated bursts of live ammunition fire in nearby downtown Tulkaram. Concerned that Israeli Forces or the Border Police were shooting at children—as we have repeatedly witnessed in the past—we called a third ISM volunteer, Charlotte, to the scene to witness and deter any potential human rights violations.
Upon arrival to Tulkaram’s main street we viewed a burning hummer (military jeep) stuck in the middle of the road, and three armored personel carriers (APC) and mulitple jeeps wildly circling the city. However, what most concerned us was a family’s car that included three small children under the age of twelve parked meters away from the burning vehicle. The army had confiscated the car keys and instructed the family to stay inside, effectively using the father and his small children as human shields. The crying children were clearly terrified of being shot so we agreed to stay with the family and try to speak with the soldiers in an attempt to retreive the car keys.
Two local journalists soon joined us and minutes later an army jeep started to back up in our direction. Given the Israeli Army’s recent policy of targeting and shooting internationals, I began to feel concerned for our saftey. Suddenly, the back doors of the jeep opened and soldiers jumped out grabbing Osama and the journalists and shoving Charlotte to the side. Once inside the jeep Osama reported being grabbed by the commander, who beat him in the head, after which the other soldiers threw him on the floor and forced him to cover his face with his T-shirt. While putting their rifle butts on his chest, the soldiers demanded to see his videotape stating, “We will kill anyone we see on this tape.” The journalists were also beaten on their chest and neck.
While the men were in the jeep Charlotte and I spoke to the man being used as a human shield, offering to accompany his children to the hospital. As this was happening an APC approached us and I used our megaphone to ask the soldier to return the family’s car keys, as they had nothing to do with the burning hummer and were being collectively punished. Suddenly an army jeep pulled up to us, the commander opening his door politely asking “What do you want” and “Come closer, I can’t hear you.” Sensing a trap Charlotte and I decided to distance ourselves from the jeep as fast as possible, however the army jeep, joined by a large jeep roared in front of us.
A dozen heavily armed and entirely male army force surrounded us, grabbing for our cameras and violently pushing us to the ground. Several soldiers grabbed Charlotte and I — causing bruises on our arms and legs — and forced on a jeep to the Tulkaram DCO and military base. The jeep carrying Osama and the journalists arrived approximately fifteen minutes later, and Osama dropped to the ground in pain, his leg convulsing in spasms.
While Osama was taken into a military shelter two policemen arrived demanded that we go with them to Ariel. I insisted that we would go nowhere unless accompanied by a female officer as the manner of our detention by several male soldiers had already been conducted illegally. The soldier who grabbed me had said, “you are a very beautiful peace activist” and earlier that day another soldier said, “give me a kiss”, which made me feel threatened. After much debate the policeman agreed to call a female soldier who accompanied us to Ariel police station.
Osama was released, unconscious, to Thabit Thabit hospital from the DCO after an epilepitic fit caused by the Israeli Army’s beatings. The journalists were released this morning. Charlotte and I were released under bail at 6:30PM tonight on the condition we do not return to “Samaria” for fifteen days. We await our deportaion hearing with the Ministry of Interior.
* Osama is a Palestinian volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement and a journalist. He is not involved with any political groups, but has repeatedly been harassed by the Israeli military.