From the Worldwide Faith News archives

[PCUSANEWS] Beating the odds?

Date 7 Feb 2003 16:16:33 -0500

Note #7588 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:

Beating the odds?
February 6, 2003

Beating the odds?

Rock-throwing Palestinian boys risk brutal Israeli reprisal
by Alexa Smith
HEBRON, West Bank - Mohammad Shaker Dana, 12, is curled up on the couch in
his family's living room. Outside, the street is full of loitering boys,
their pockets full of rocks, waiting for an Israeli patrol to pass. Not far
away, Army bulldozers are demolishing houses. Nobody knows where they'll go
Dana's head is swathed in gauze. Doctors took 11 stitches to close the cut
that runs from his hairline to his nose. He suffered the injury, he says,
when an Israeli soldier slammed the butt of his rifle into his forehead.
It happened on Jan. 23, at 7:45 a.m., while he was on his way to school. A
Jeep pulled up and two soldiers got out, asked him where he was going, called
him an SOB and said he wouldn't be in school that day. Then one of them hit
him with the rifle butt and told him not to move, just to stand there and
Usually, Mohammad's mom climbs up to the roof of the family house and watches
him walk to school. But he'd left early that day.
After the soldiers drove off, a storekeeper took the boy inside and bandaged
his head.
In chair across the room from Mohammad, his father, Shaker Dana, has a
fistful of papers in neat plastic covers: Papers from psychologists, doctors,
lawyers. All useless, he says.
"I have piles of receipts and documents (and) statements from lawyers," he
says. "I've made lots of complaints, and nothing happens."
Some of his 12 children wander into the tiny room; others peek from bedroom
doors while an older sister serves tiny cups of Arabic coffee to the guests. 
"It looks like we've run away from settler assaults only to face assaults
from soldiers," Shaker Dana says.
This time he isn't going to bother to file a complaint. 
Shawqi Issa, the director of a Palestinian human-rights group called the Law
Society, says he has witnessed this scene too many times in too many living
rooms. A battered boy, a helpless father.  
The only recourse is a system that by all accounts does not work. 
"This is not unusual. It happens all the time," Issa says, referring to
beatings of Palestinian boys by Israeli soldiers and border policemen. "It
seems like the idea is to make someone afraid - regardless of whether he's
done anything or not. And that supposedly will make others afraid. 
"It is using someone as an example. Soldiers know they won't be punished  so
they do what they like. If the army wanted to stop these actions, they could
stop it immediately. They could punish the offending soldiers seriously." 
Staff workers at B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, echo that
complaint. They say police and soldiers are rarely disciplined for brutality
on the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. Of the 49 cases reported to B'Tselem
since the Palestinian uprising began in September, 2000, only one has ended
in a conviction. 
In Hebron, a city of about 200,000 Palestinians, beatings of civilians aren't
unusual. Hebron became one of the most violent places on the West Bank when
400 settlers moved in to establish a Jewish settlement, bringing with them a
large contingent of Israeli troops and civilian border police.
The area, near the supposed burial site of Abraham and Sarah, is sacred to
Muslims and Jews alike.
Case workers here say it does seem that an inordinate number of the beating
victims are young boys, including one who was found dead on Dec. 30 (see
related story).
Since 14 Israeli soldiers, police officers and security guards were killed
here in November and December, life here has grown steadily more difficult.
Hebron residents say they've been under nearly constant house arrest, have
been subjected to house-to-house searches and endured many beatings. Right
now, Israeli bulldozers are at work demolishing 22 Palestinian houses and
other buildings near a place where three IDF soldiers were killed in a Hamas
shooting last week. They're piling up dirt to close one of the main roads.
The other day the bulldozers leveled the produce market downtown.
Abu-Hashash has a signed affidavit from his sister, a nurse, who says she saw
 soldiers pummeling a 7-year-old yesterday at the nearby Al Fawar refugee
camp. When she yelled at them to stop, she says, they tossed the boy into a
jeep and drove away. He was seen later, crying, apparently pointing out the
homes of rock-throwers.
 "There are hundreds of complaints," says Abu-Hashash, adding that one of the
tough parts of his job is getting people to file complaints, so that B'Tselem
can document the cases. Most people have so little faith in the process that
they don't bother. "Why complain? They already know the answer," he says. 
One problem is figuring out who to file against - a soldier, or a border
police officer, a civilian who works closely with the military. Both groups
drive armored Jeeps and dress in military gear. It can be hard to tell
between the two, especially for kids. 
But the biggest problem is that "the soldiers are not supervised,"
Abu-Hashash says, adding, "Even if the army investigates, there is no
sufficient punishment. So soldiers  (who) do bad things believe that, even
if they are investigated, there will not be a penalty." 
That's why another aggrieved father, Rajae Shrawi, won't file a complaint
about an incident in which a soldier broke an index finger of his 14-year-old
son, Wasem, who was caught going for milk after curfew. 
There is a story making the rounds in Hebron: A Palestinians is stopped and
ordered to choose one from a pile of bits of paper. Written on them are body
parts. Whatever part you pick, that's what the soldiers will break. A
22-year-old says he got a slip of paper that said he was to be beaten and
then his car was to be burned. Two soldiers beat him, two others torched the
"I didn't see them.  I was surrounded," he says. "One (soldier) spoke fluent
Arabic, and he told me that they were going to break my hands and legs. He
took four pieces of paper out of his pocket and asked me to grab one. Another
soldier opened it and said, 'Now, we'll break your hands and legs.' But, they
twisted my finger and I started crying." 
Was it soldiers or border police? Shrawi isn't sure.
He says he doesn't go outside much any more because he's afraid.
Shrawi's father says: "I'm worried all the time about the children. Sometimes
I can't sleep, thinking about all of this."
Law's field worker, Sharbati, doesn't think it is boredom that is driving
soldiers into brutal pasttimes. "Bored soldiers hold you up at a checkpoint,"
he says. "They delay you from going home. They keep asking you questions.
They might beat you a little bit. I don't think these are bored soldiers. 
"I think these are nasty soldiers." 
Still, across town, there are dozens of little boys in the streets. They
slink along, pockets loaded with rocks, waiting for a tank to chug by in a
cloud of dust. They chunk rocks off the metal sides of the tanks, lobbing
them from behind. One kid holds out a handful of rubber bullets shot at them
Why are they here? 
"We're resisting," says Zakaria Mojahed, a cocky 12-year-old.
Asked, "Do your mothers know where you are?" the boys send up a chorus of
"No!" They all have to be home by suppertime. 
They know what's in store if the soldiers catch them.
"You're going to get it if you're caught," says Sami Elkhayyat, 14. "You'll
get hit, maybe thrown in jail."

So, are you going home soon?
"Nope," he says, shaking his head emphatically. "I'm here all day."

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