‘I tried not to scream, I was afraid they’d hit me even harder’

An Israeli raid on Al-Aqsa compound earlier this year turned violent when hundreds of Palestinian worshippers were beaten, arrested, and marched barefoot through the streets of Jerusalem. Now two young men describe the brutality they faced that night, and the humiliation they encountered while in custody.

By Yali (Yael) Marom

Police arrest a Palestinian demonstrator in the East Jerusalem neighborhood Wadi Joz, July 21, 2017. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)
Police arrest a Palestinian demonstrator in the East Jerusalem neighborhood Wadi Joz, July 21, 2017. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

This past summer, two weeks after Al-Aqsa compound was closed following a lethal attack by three Palestinian citizens of Israel against Israeli police forces, worshippers were allowed to return to pray in the area.

This came following the eruption of widespread popular protests, after which Israel removed the metal detectors it had erected at the entrance to the compound. At the end of the first day back at Al-Aqsa, on Thursday, July 27, at 10:30 p.m., the police used loudspeakers to call on the worshippers to evacuate. They acquiesced, aside from a group of around 120 men who were at a closed mosque at the edge of the compound and who claim they did not hear the police’s demand.

Large police forces then raided the mosque, violently beating and arresting worshippers. A hundred of them, including teenager boys, were bound and beaten as they were marched barefoot through the streets of Jerusalem’s Old City. They were then loaded one after another onto a bus that took them to the police station.

A month later, 10 of those worshippers — among them three medics who were inside the mosque that night — filed a complaint with the Police Internal Investigations Department, Israel’s equivalent of an Internal Affairs unit, as was first reported on Local Call. In the complaint, filed by Attorney Noa Levy from the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, they described how the police burst into the mosque while firing stun grenades and sponge-tipped bullets at the worshippers. Their testimonies included descriptions of brutal violence and humiliation, as well as attacks against the medics and indiscriminate arrests.

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Not much has happened since the complaint was filed. The Internal Investigations Department has yet to take testimony from the complainants, and the case remains on the attorney general’s desk, and it is unclear whether a proper investigation will be undertaken. Meanwhile, Amer Aruri, a field researcher for Israeli anti-occupation group B’Tselem, collected testimonies from teenagers arrested during the raid. The testimonies of two of the teens who were at the mosque that night offers a snipper of Israel’s treatment of East Jerusalem’s youth. The testimonies, just two out of hundreds of Palestinian teenagers arrested every year in Jerusalem, illuminate the scaremongering tactics and the use of jailing and interrogation techniques that allow the authorities to put pressure on teenagers to force confessions.

A recent report published jointly by B’Tselem and HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual, an Israel human rights organization included statistics on the authorities’ frequent arrests of teenagers between the ages of 12-17 in East Jerusalem, and the way in which their rights are systematically violated.

Testimony by N.A., 17, from Beit Hanina:

On Thursday, July 27, the metal detectors installed at the entrance to Al-Aqsa Mosque were removed. Like many other people, I went to the mosque to pray, but I didn’t leave after the prayer as I usually do at around 8:15 p.m. This time, some people decided to stay overnight at the mosque, thinking that they might not let people of all ages in the next day.

About half an hour after the prayer ended, the power in the mosque went out. I decided to pray and begin the rituals. As I was praying, I heard people speaking Hebrew, and then saw a lot of occupation forces (police officers and Special Patrol Unit officers) raid the mosque. I don’t know how they got in, since the worshippers had locked the door.

Dozens of Muslim worshippers hold a mass prayer outside the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif compound in Jerusalem's Old City, July 16, 2017.
Dozens of Muslim worshippers hold a mass prayer outside the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, July 16, 2017.

The officers fired stun grenades inside the mosque. I was scared. They hit people with clubs, knocked them down on the floor, and twisted their arms. I stopped praying and just stood where I was; I didn’t know where to go. Suddenly, a few officers pushed me to the floor violently. They grabbed my arms and dragged me to a corner of the mosque. They took my ID card and tied my hands behind my back with a zip tie. I heard people screaming in pain. I tried not to scream because I was afraid they’d hit me even harder.

About half an hour later they had us all arrested and led us out of the mosque, single file. I was barefoot, like everyone else, because they wouldn’t let us put our shoes on. They took us out through al-Mughrabi Gate and made us sit on our knees for an hour, at most. Then they took us to two buses.

When I got to the bus, they made me spread my legs and frisked me. Then they took away my personal belongings and my cellphone, and took a photo of me. The officers forcefully dragged me to the bus and threw me onto a seat inside. The bus set off after about 2o minutes, stopping a short while later.

The officers started taking us off the buses and into the Russian Compound police station. Some officers pulled me by the arms and led me off the bus. They put me in a room where a lot of detainees were sitting on their knees, facing the wall. They forced me to join them and sit like everyone else. I stayed on my knees without eating, drinking, or being allowed to go to the bathroom for a long time. My back hurt, and every time I tried to stand up to stretch my back and legs, they hit me and kicked me in the legs until I fell over and sat back down on my knees, facing the wall.

They then took me out of the room, and someone who said he was a lawyer asked for my personal information. I asked him what time it was, and he said it was 4 a.m. Then he left and I was taken into a room where a man in civilian clothing was sitting. He told me in Arabic that I was accused of disobeying police orders and refusing to leave Al-Aqsa Mosque after prayers. I said my hand hurt because of the zip tie. Then I told the interrogator: “I never heard any police officers asking the worshippers to leave the mosque, and I didn’t see the officers before they raided the mosque and started arresting worshippers.”

Israeli forces fire tear gas at Palestinian worshippers in Ras al-Amud, East Jerusalem, July 21, 2017. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)
Israeli forces fire tear gas at Palestinian worshippers in Ras al-Amud, East Jerusalem, July 21, 2017. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

I was interrogated for about 15 minutes, and then I signed some kind of document written in Hebrew, which the interrogator said was my statement. They took my fingerprints, and when I left the interrogation room I told the police officer: “If I don’t go to the bathroom now, I’ll pee my pants.” He took me out of the building, led me to a tree and told me to pee there. So I did.

Then the officer took me into a room where there were about 30 people sitting on chairs. They handcuffed my hand to the hand of another detainee whom I did not know. The officers gave each pair of detainees who were cuffed together a bottle of water, a piece of bread, a piece of cheese, and yogurt. After I finished eating, I asked to go to the bathroom again. I was taken to the bathroom together with the detainee I was tied to, without taking off the cuffs. I urinated and he did the same. It was humiliating to urinate in front of a stranger, but I had no choice. The officer refused to untie our hands.

At around 2:00 p.m., they took every pair of detainees to a room where there were a lot of shoes. They must have brought our shoes from the mosque. The officer gave each detainee five minutes to look for his shoes, which, of course, wasn’t enough, so I picked shoes that were more or less my size and put them on. The guy who was cuffed to me did the same.

Then, they released anyone who had found their shoes. My family was waiting outside. They told me there was a police order forbidding me to access the Old City area for 15 days, and that I was only allowed to remain in Beit Hanina and Shuafat. If I broke the terms of my release, my family would have to pay a NIS 10,000 fine.

Testimony by B.S., 17, from Issawiya:

I sat at the mosque and saw the police officers shooting stun grenades and sponge-tipped bullets at people. It is a large mosque and people were running around inside, trying to flee. I tried to run away but the officers caught up with me. They knocked me down to the floor and tied my hands. I don’t remember how many people assaulted me. They tied my hands behind my back with a zip tie; after that an officer hit or kicked me every once in a while. I stayed that way for about an hour, until the officers gained control of the situation and detained everyone in the mosque.

Then they lifted me off the floor and led me outside, barefoot. I saw some worshippers who had been injured and were bleeding from the head or the face. They took all of us through Al-Mughrabi Gate toward the plaza in front of Al-Buraq (the Western Wall), where they made us sit on our knees near the gate. After about an hour, they took us to two buses that were parked nearby. When I got onto the bus, I couldn’t find a seat, so I stood stuck between the other detainees who were crammed.

Palestinians fly the Palestinian flag Islamic flags atop Al-Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem, July 27, 2017. (Activestills.org)
Palestinians fly the Palestinian flag Islamic flags atop Al-Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem, July 27, 2017. (Activestills.org)

The bus drove to the Russian Compound police station, and a few minutes later the officers dragged us out. I was put in an interrogation room that, according to other detainees who were with me, is called “Room Number Four.” My hands were hurting a lot because of the zip tie. I saw a few guys try to tear off other detainees’ zip ties with their teeth. At some point, the officers noticed and beat, kicked, and slapped them.

After that, the officers tied everyone’s feet together. My feet were bound with metal cuffs. I asked to go to the bathroom, but the officers wouldn’t let me. I was thirsty, and every time I asked for water they told me, “go to your mom — drink there.” I sat there on my knees with my hands tied for about an hour, and then I was taken with two other people into a room that had lots of shoes in it. They told us to choose shoes that fit. I couldn’t find the ones I had left in the cabinet at the mosque, so I chose a random pair. I asked the officer to free my hands and feet, so I could put the shoes on, and he did. Then he tied my hands and feet again and led me and the two others to a police car, which took us to the Kishleh police station [in the Old City].

When we got there, they put us in a room with four detainees. There was also a toilet. They brought us a dish with chicken and rice, but it smelled disgusting and I didn’t eat it. At night, they untied my hands and I went to sleep.

The next morning, before they brought in breakfast, they took me to another room where they tied my hands in front of me with metal cuffs. From there, they took me to another room where a man in plain clothes was sitting. He told me in Arabic that I was accused of throwing stones at the occupation forces. I told him that wasn’t true and that I was in the mosque when I was arrested. I was in interrogation for a long time. The interrogator accused me of carrying a knife and using it to threaten the lives of the security forces. I denied everything and signed my statement, which was written in Hebrew.

Then they took me back to the room where I had slept. I didn’t eat lunch, either. It was the same rice and chicken with the disgusting smell. I only drank water. The next morning, the police officer told me I would be taken to court, but nothing happened and I stayed in the room with the other detainees. Later, a police officer came and took me out of the room, and then they released me. Some members of my family were waiting for me outside. It was Saturday afternoon, at around 3 p.m.

I was released under the condition that I stay away from the Old City for a month. In addition, if I got arrested again within six months, they would jail me for two years. After I was released, I went to Hadassah Hospital, because I had pain in different parts of my body from the beating I had received, and I was exhausted. I also had abdominal pain, but the medical tests showed only minor bruising.

Yael Marom is Just Vision’s public engagement manager in Israel and a co-editor of Local Call, where this article was originally published in Hebrew.