Monday, April 03, 2006
Peaceful demonstrators attacked by the Israeli State: An Australians Experience
By James Crafti.
I was arrested last week by the Israeli army's special operations unit. The demonstration started as usual with the march to the wall. The army didn't just send the soldiers and border police in this week adding to the fold a large number of police and special operations unit personnel (army can't arrest Israelis or Internationals).
With Bil'in's usual flair for creative action they brought bridge parts so they could scale over the wall (having been told by soldiers that it is their land on both sides they just aren't allowed to touch the wall). When we arrived at the wall straight away we were confronted with sound bombs one of them landing near my leg causing a brief burning sensation (thankfully I was wearing solid jeans).
The army made their usual attempts to aggressively halt demonstrators, however along with the special unit they were particularly brutal. I am used to soldiers grabbing me and even kicking wasn't to be unexpected (Australia's Victorian police sometimes did the same thing). What I wasn't expecting was to have fingers digging into sensitive areas around my back, sides and nipples. The people of Bil'in moved the ramp section of the bridge to the wall and I along with several Israeli and Palestinian activists were trying to protect the bridge when I was grabbed again by several soldiers and delivered by them to the special unit.
The special unit pushed me to the ground and threatened to hurt me if I refused to walk. I agreed to cooperate but they still twisted my arms behind my back. Behind me was an Israeli activist who was clearly being hurt by the soldiers who had grabbed him. When I turned around to look, the officer threatened to break my arm and twisted it further to near breaking point (so I believed him).
I was then kept near the army jeep in the sun for about an hour with 3 Israeli activists. They started off with my hands being bound behind my back with plastic rope ties. When I asked if I could have my hands in front like the others they cut the plastic tie and shackled my legs instead. There I was told by the Israeli activists who translated the soldiers conversations that my crimes were:
1. Assaulting a police officer.
2. Being in a closed military zone.
3. Resisting arrest
4. Destruction of property
We were then taken in jeeps to the police station (along the route of the wall). The police station was in a nearby settlement. When we got there we waited for ages and my individual shackles were hancuffed to those of a fellow activist.
We waited for ages and they finally called me in for interrogation. My charges had been reduced. I was no longer charged with assaulting a police officer (surprise, surprise) and the charge of property damage was changed to interfering with army operations (for protecting the Bil'in bridge).
When I refused to comment without speaking to a lawyer they agreed to let me speak to a lawyer called Gabby who is the lawyer for the Israeli activists. After speaking to her for 2 minutes on the phone in front of the interrogator and the station chief he pulled the phone away from me saying that I had no right to speak to my lawyer, only to notify my lawyer (I am still not quite sure what the use of that is).
I continued to refuse to speak so they threatened to take me to hold me and take me to a judge. Normally they are only able to hold you 24 hours before taking you to a judge but it can actually be longer if you get detained on a Friday as the following day is Shabbat. When I left the interrogation room I tried speaking to friends on my mobile. The soldiers caught me on my mobile and confiscated it informing me that I had no right to use my mobile and that it was a further offence. At no stage did they explain to me my rights prior to this infraction.
They then called one of the Israeli activists into a private room to advise me to co-operate. They told him that if I did not give a statement I would be deported
I had to meet someone the following morning so I agreed to make a statement, on the condition that I would be released and I would only have to talk about the events of that day. I told them that I was aware it was announced as a closed military zone but that I didn't think I had to leave as I was in a Palestinian village not in Israel. I said I should be directed by the PA not the Israeli army.
I told them that I was arrested for peacefully demonstrating and that the wall was illegal under international law and it was there to protect settlements that were even illegal under Israeli law. They also recorded the bruises on my body. which covered my back, front, neck and arms. The interviewer spoke to me in English put wrote in Hebrew and I am convinced she didn't write down everything, especially the things that she thought were irrelevant to my crimes such as the Israeli that was beaten behind me etc. So when she handed me the statement to sign I told her I would only sign it if it was in English. Later that evening I had to sign something saying that I would not go near the route of the wall near Bil'in for 15 days.
If I was Palestinian I would have gotten much worse. It was 8pm in the evening by the time I was released (I was detained about 2.30pm). The outlawing of peaceful demonstrations and the assaulting of peaceful demonstrators makes it no suprise that so many Palestinians feel the need to be involved in more militant resistance, because even doing what we were doing was enough for the Israeli government to treat us like 'terrorists.'