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http://www.independent.co.uk

 

Israeli police 'carry out routine, organised cruelty'

Robert Fisk In Jerusalem
The Independent
August 14, 2001, Tuesday

THE ARABS called it a "day of rage" but the Israelis were the ones demonstrating their rage outside Orient House yesterday. The Palestinian youth who dared to hold up a Palestinian flag made of paper was seized by six border guards and plain-clothes police, kicked, beaten, punched in the face and back and then kneed in the groin in front of us all.

Many of the police had been brought down from Haifa, where a Palestinian suicide bomber had blown himself up a few hours earlier in a vain effort to murder Israelis in a cafe, and there was a tangible desire to inflict pain on some of the crowd.

A tall, thin young man with shaggy brown hair who tried to escape a policeman's grasp at the iron security barriers was dragged back into the police lines and set on by eight men. There must have been 20 television cameras and a score of photographers running level with the Shin Bet intelligence boys as they dragged the man screaming up the road towards Orient House, kicking him in the chest and forcing back his head until he choked. The moment he was in the back seat of a white police van, an Israeli plain-clothes man in a red shirt set upon him. As he was held down from the other side of the vehicle, the Israeli kicked him again and again between the legs until the young man was crying in a high, animal voice.

It was, as one of the foreign protesters muttered, enough to turn a Palestinian into a suicide-bomber. It was also very, very weird. Here we were, perhaps a hundred journalists watching a hundred "peace" demonstrators, European, American, Christian and Jew, and Palestinian, and every few minutes, on a signal from a fat policeman in a blue shirt, his colleagues would run amok.

After all the talk of Israel being a peace-loving state among the nations, founded upon the rule of law, the police would suddenly prove that those constant Palestinian complaints of beatings and brutality were true, right in front of us. A border guard became so fascinated by the beating of one man - he could not take his eyes off the fists that were hammering into the man's stomach and ribs - that he forgot to keep the press at bay and allowed me to walk up to the van as one of his colleagues viciously assaulted another man.

Every police force can lose its cool - we have our bad eggs in Britain - but this was calculated, routine, organised cruelty. A lot of the border guards were grinning when the Palestinians screamed. After a while it was obscene to watch.

I walked over to the Israeli mounted police. One of the officers was sitting in the saddle, smoking a cigarette and laughing as he talked on a mobile phone. A Shin Bet man patted the lead horse. "Most of these are Hannovers," he said of the breed. "We've got Hannovers and quarters. They take really good care of them."

Up the street, closer to Orient House, his colleagues were taking good care of their prisoners. In front of the horrified eyes of a group of humanitarian workers, one of them American, they beat the captured Palestinians all over again.

The crowd had no chance of seizing back Orient House, occupied by Israeli troops and police after Thursday's Jeru- salem suicide bombing that massacred 15 Israelis.

They were kept all of a quarter of a mile from the building. But the horses were ridden into the crowd; a couple of stun grenades were fired into it. Just one officer realised, after more than an hour, that this piece of state bullying was a public relations disaster.

"Stop carrying them," he shouted as two Palestinians were dragged past the cameras under a rain of blows. "Let them walk."

But they could no longer stand upright. One of them had his shirt dragged over his head to reveal a back covered in red welts. A thought kept recurring in our minds: if this is what the Israeli police do to Palestinians in front of us, what do they do to them behind our backs?

Nor was it difficult to guess what these young men were thinking. Just a few hours before, they had heard that a 10-year-old Palestinian girl had been shot dead by Israeli troops in Hebron, in another of those notorious "clashes", as the press likes to call them, and that, after a night of grieving, her 60-year-old grandmother had died of a heart attack.

A little after midday yesterday, the little girl and her grandmother were buried together in the same grave.


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