From the Worldwide Faith News archives

[PCUSANEWS] 'He never hurt anyone'

Date 7 Feb 2003 16:22:38 -0500

Note #7591 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:

'He never hurt anyone'
February 6, 2003
'He never hurt anyone'

Family wants to know why 17-year-old Palestinian was killed

by Alexa Smith
HEBRON, West Bank - When friends found 17-year-old Omran Abu Hamdieh's dead
body in a puddle of blood near a deserted industrial site here, the only
surprise was that it was him.
Hamdieh wasn't political, his friends and family say.
The high school senior disappeared on Dec. 30. There was no curfew that day.
He had just left the mosque, where he may have prayed for his father, who had
died of heart disease exactly 40 days before.
Hamdieh was standing outside a store with a group of other kids when four
border policemen drove up in a Jeep and ordered him to get in. He didn't
resist. The other youngsters shouted to the cops, "Don't give him a hard
time, his father has just died." The officers said nothing, just drove away.
A little while later, Hamdieh's friends followed on foot, figuring that he'd
probably taken a beating and might need help. 
They found his body in the road. They flagged down a passing car and got him
to a hospital, where a doctor determined that he had died because of injuries
to his head and face. 
In Hebron, beatings are routine. The people here say the border police, a
civilian group that works in tandem with the Israeli military in the West
Bank, is the worst. (The regular police, known as "the blue police" for their
uniforms, are less involved with the military.)
The thing that makes Hamdieh's case unusual is that his family, with the help
of an Israeli human-rights group, has filed an official complaint and
demanded to know who killed the boy and why.
The residents of Hebron say the border police and the Israeli army do nothing
to punish officers who abuse civilians; and Israeli rights activists back
them up. 
Israeli officials say they have begun an investigation of the Hamdieh killing
and will discipline any border police officers found to have been involved in
"That same day, four incidents happened," says Jamal Hamdieh, the dead boy's
uncle. "One had his hand broken. One had a leg broken. Another hand was
injured. Our nephew was the fourth case."
The uncle is in the family home in a rough neighborhood on Hebron's east
side, near the site of the tomb of Abraham. He is speaking on behalf of the
victim's mother, who, by Muslim custom, may not be in the company of men
while mourning her husband's death.
"When the children leave school here," the uncle says, "the soldiers throw
tear gas, fire rubber bullets."
"When the children leave school here, the soldiers throw tear gas, fire
rubber bullets." 
Just moments ago, a military Jeep skidded to a stop in front of the Hamdieh
house, siren  blaring, and soldiers jumped out, guns in hand, scattering the
children and adults who'd been standing on the sidewalk. Just as quickly, the
Jeep disappeared and people emerged from behind closed doors and barricaded
courtyards, peeping cautiously around corners before stepping into view. 
Another uncle, Bajes Hamdieh, says the soldiers grabbed a 7-year-old boy and
took him away to a military checkpoint.
"We are afraid all the time here," says the uncles' mother, Omran's
grandmother. "You're always wondering if something will happen to a child.
All the mothers, from the time the children go to school, are worrying, 'He
should be back by now.' And they're worried until they see him." 
That worry has intensified in the past two months because of an Israeli
campaign to squelch resistance in Hebron, where 14 Israeli soldiers, border
police and security officers were killed in November and December. The
curfews are longer now, the interrogations more intense, the beatings worse. 
Pearl Liat, spokeswoman for the border police, says the Hamdieh case is being
investigated by the Internal Affairs Department, part of the Ministry of
		"We will find out if there is truth in it," she said of the
family's complaint.
Liat said Palestinians often complain about abuses by the border police, but
seldom go to the authorities. In that case, she says, "There is nothing I can
do about it."
In Hamdieh's case, the ID number given by Palestinian witnesses didn't match
any of the numbers of police Jeeps. And Hamdieh was buried quickly, according
to Muslim custom, so police didn't get a good look at the body.
But here's another thing that makes the case atypical: The family authorized
the authorities to exhume Omran's body for a forensic investigation. It's
under way now. Justice Department spokespeople say they hope it will help
determine what kind of weapon was used. If it was a nightstick, they say,
there ought to be fragments embedded in the corpse.
Nimrod Amzlak, a representative of B'Tselem, the Israeli rights organization,
doesn't have much hope that the investigation will lead to an arrest. "An
autopsy determines the cause of death, not the perpetrator," he says,
sounding like someone who has been through this before. 
"I suspect, in the end, they will reach some general conclusion  but I doubt
they will prosecute the responsible people," Amzlak says.
Hamdieh's grandmother throws up her hands and says: "Omran never fought. He
never hurt anyone." She cannot imagine why the border police would hurt him.
She says she'd like to march to the checkpoint and demand to know whether he
did something to invite a beating.
It is too much: her son dead, her grandson beaten to death, all in six weeks.
Uncle Bajes says: "There have been others killed here by the Israelis since
Omran. But the thing about Omran is, he wasn't doing anything. He was not
shooting back. They just took him. Furthermore, when they called him, he went
to them. He didn't run away. He didn't resist getting into the Jeep."
Bajes says he was part of the crowd that fateful night, and when the Jeep
drove up, he ran away.
A Justice Ministry spokesperson says the Hamdieh family's cooperation has
been critical in the case, but so far there are no suspects.
"The border police are young," he says, "and we've seen brutality (from
them), that is no secret. Whenever there are troubles with the police, they
are somehow involved." 

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