Shin Bet detains Arab activists — to stop them from attending funeral

Three well-known Bedouin activists were detained and interrogated on the way to the funeral of Yacoub Abu al-Qi’an, who was killed by police last week. Attorney Gaby Lasky: ‘This has all the marks of a police state.’

The three Palestinian activists detained by the Shin Bet before Yacoub Abu al-Qi'an's funeral. From right: Fady Masamra, Amir Abu Qweidr, and Raafat Awaisha.
The three Palestinian activists detained by the Shin Bet before Yacoub Abu al-Qi’an’s funeral. From right: Fady Masamra, Amir Abu Qweidr, and Raafat Awaisha.

Israeli police and the security authorities continue to persecute the Arab residents of the Negev. On Tuesday, the Shin Bet detained three well-known Palestinian activists from the area as they were making their way to the funeral of Yacoub Abu al-Qi’an, a resident of the Bedouin village Umm el-Hiran who was shot and killed by police last week.

The three were detained midday in Be’er Sheva while they were traveling by car. “We drove at 10:30 in one car on the main road in Be’er Sheva,” Amir Abu Qweidr told +972. “We reached the traffic light in front of Ben-Gurion University, and stopped at the red. We noticed that our friend was standing near the entrance to the university and was waving at us. All of a sudden, three civilian vehicles approached and surrounded us. A group of men with police hats stepped out of the cars and announced that we were detained for questioning.”

“They took two of us and put us in one of their cars. Our third friend was left in our car, where two police officers joined him. They led us to an abandoned parking lot, there they took us out of the vehicles, searched us, checked our ID cards, and told us once again that they were taking us in for questioning.”

Fady Masamra, 39, is the owner of the vehicle. “After we were detained in the lot, they put my friends in a different car, leaving me in my car. A police officer drove my car like a maniac. It’s an old car and I was seriously afraid that it would break down. I also noticed we were getting close to a police checkpoint (one of many the police erected to make it difficult for people to get to the funeral, r.y.). I explained that I was afraid they would shoot us, since a car hurtling toward a police checkpoint is dangerous. They ignored me completely.”

Thousands hold a funeral for Yacoub Abu al-Qi'an in the Bedouin village of Umm el-Hiran. Abu al-Qi'an was shot dead by police as security forces demolished homes in the village, January 24, 2017. (Keren Manor/
Thousands hold a funeral for Yacoub Abu al-Qi’an in the Bedouin village of Umm el-Hiran. Abu al-Qi’an was shot dead by police as security forces demolished homes in the village, January 24, 2017. (Keren Manor/

The three were taken to a nearby police station; they were not allowed to contact their family members or attorneys. Abu Qweidr was the first to be questioned, after undergoing an invasive body search. “They put us in a tin shack in the station. They wouldn’t give us water or allow us to speak to one another. The three of us sat with our faces to the wall. After the body search, they took us to the interrogation room where there were four people. One of them identified himself as Captain Taher and told us in Arabic, ‘Welcome to the Shin Bet,’ in order to intimidate us.”

Raafat Awaisha, 23, a law student and one of the three detainees, describes the many questions he was asked about the Negev “Youth Movement,” a political movement of young Palestinians from the area. The three humorously describe the entire experience, which teaches us something about the activists’ lack of fear from the Shin Bet’s absurd scare tactics.

“They asked us about Umm el-Hiran and the recent events,” Awaisha says. “At a certain point, one of the interrogators said that he is interested in Youth Movement, since in the past the group invited people to ‘events where there was potential for rioting.’ I got the feeling that they were comparing Youth Movement to Hamas, and then one of the interrogators told me: “Don’t play with your father’s dick,” likely as a way to hint that I shouldn’t upset him. This stupid sentence was hilarious to me.”

The three activists responded that their activities were legal, and demanded to know what they were being accused of and why they were not allowed to meet with their lawyers. The interrogators claimed that they were the Shin Bet, and therefore did not owe them any explanations.

Illegal activities

Attorney Gaby Lasky, who specializes in human rights, describes how a human rights organization informed her of the incident. The detainee’s friend who waved at them from the entrance of the university saw what transpired and immediately informed other activists.

The police have a known history of “preventative arrests,” in which they detain activists in the run-up to demonstrations or other events. Lasky argues that this case is different.

“This goes beyond preventative arrest,” she says. “This was kidnapping for the purpose of instilling fear. There is no reason for a body that is meant to function according to the law to detain citizens of its own accord, without any suspicion or warrant. This isn’t the first time the Shin Bet has done this. Since the detainees are normative people, there was no justifiable reason for this kind of illegal activity.”

Lasky calls the Shin Bet’s practice illegitimate, saying it is intended to prevent people from gathering. Moreover, she was unable to locate the detainees, even after calling all the police stations in the area. Each station claimed that they had no idea what she was talking about. Friends of the three understood the latter were being detained at the “Ayarot” station, after they recognized Masamra’s car as they passed by on the way to the funeral.

“This wasn’t a protest — it was a funeral. What kind of justification do the police have for putting up checkpoints on the way to a funeral in order to make it difficult for people to pay their respect to the deceased?” Lasky asks angrily. “And in general, the police’s conduct from the beginning of this story: putting an end to negotiations over the fate of the village on the night of the demolitions, the killing of and lack of medical assistance to Abu al-Qi’an, the deceitful press releases, withholding the body from the family, strange and illogical conditions for the funeral, and now the illegal detention of the activists. It’s all crazy. This has all the marks of a police state.”

We sent the Shin Bet a request for comment, which will be published if and when they respond.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

Newsletter banner