The western press has been shocked by the images of 15-year-old Tarek Abu Khdeir, of Tampa, FL, following his beating by Israeli forces last Thursday in Shuafat, East Jerusalem. Israeli officials have sought to justify the treatment by saying that Abu Khdeir had hurled rocks from a slingshot at Israeli forces. The boy has denied this.
This narrative ought to be familiar to the western press. It is a very old script inside the occupied territories when Palestinian boys are suspected of throwing stones, or they are near other children who have thrown stones.
Two years ago, the Israeli human rights’ organization Breaking the Silence published a report on the brutal treatment of children, titled, “Children and Youth– Soldiers’ Testimonies, 2005-2011.” If there is one theme in the 70-page report of anonymous statements, it is Israeli soldiers beating Palestinian children “to a pulp.” The word “pulp” appears 12 times in the report.
Here are several of the references, describing boys about Tarek Abu Khdeir’s age, 15. Many other beatings, not “to a pulp,” also appear in the report (I’ve included one of the most egregious, at the end). Also, note that a Motorola Solutions device is used in one beating; the Presbyterian Church just voted to divest from that company because of its role in the occupation.
First Sergeant, Nablus, 2005:
At first you point your gun at some five-year-old kid, and feel bad afterward, saying it’s not right. Then you get to a point where… you get so nervous and sick of going into a village and getting stones thrown at you. But it’s obvious, you’re inside the village, you’ve just passed the school house, naturally the kids will throw stones at you. Once my driver got out, and without blinking, just grabbed some kid and beat him to a pulp. And that kid was just sitting in the street and looked like some other kid, or wore another kid’s shirt, or perhaps he was that kid but that’s not the point. He beat him to a pulp. Didn’t detain him. Just beat him.
And I remember they had this pool hall. These were already the more ‘serious’ guys, the ones who throw Molotov cocktails. In order to get them out, detain and interrogate them, we’d catch them – my company commander caught a 12-year-old kid there once, and made him get down on his knees in the middle of the street. Yelled like a madman – it looked like some Vietnam War movie – so that the other guys come out or else he’ll do something really bad to them. He’d do something to that kid.
First Sergeant, armored corps, Ramallah, 2006-2007
I recall a detainee being brought in, a 16-17-year-old kid who tried to stab a warden at Ofer Prison. He was shackled, blindfolded, and claimed he was beaten all the way there. I told him: “Sit down, have a drink of water, eat some fruit.” Everyone laughed at me. “What do you care?” I don’t care what he did, he’s a kid. Regardless whether he committed the worst crime, it’s not his fault. These things can still be changed. Even the worst 15-year-old settler who beats up Palestinians, I
still believe these things can be changed.
Where did he come from?
From jail. He was visiting his brother, and I was told he came with a knife, wanting to stab a warden.
So he was brought to your detention facility?
No, just brought so we’d keep an eye on him, at our quarters. He sat there shackled and blindfolded for 3-4 hours. He was scared, pissed in his pants, a little fellow, 16 years old. He claimed he’d been beaten up. It’s not really our business. I told the Border Police to come pick him up, and they said: “Don’t worry, it’s okay…”
Do you think it was passed on?
Yeah, right… his hitters were put on trial… No, I’m kidding. These are the little anecdotes. Suppose it’s right, and I’ve totally lost faith. A guy tries to stab a warden, he deserves to sit in jail. He gets beaten to a pulp on the way, and I’ve seen things like this done: A detainee is brought in, he is tied to a post at the company HQ and anyone passing by slaps him a couple.
First sergeant, Salfit, 2009:
We took over a school and had to arrest anyone in the village who was between the ages of 17 and 50, something like that. It lasted from morning until noon the next day. Anyway, all sorts of people arrived, shackled and blindfolded. What happened was that when these detainees asked to go to the bathroom, and the soldiers took them there, they beat them to a pulp and cursed them for no reason, and there was nothing that would legitimize hitting them. Really terrible things. An Arab was taken to the bathroom to piss, and a soldier slapped him, took him down to the ground while he was shackled and blindfolded. The guy wasn’t rude and did nothing to provoke any hatred or nerves. Just like that, because he is an Arab. He was about 15 years old, hadn’t done a thing
Ramallah, 2006, First sergeant
There was this incident where a ‘straw widow’ [ambush in an urban area] was put up following a riot at Qalandiya on a Friday, in an abandoned house near the square. Soldiers got out with army clubs and beat people to a pulp. Finally the children who remained on the ground were arrested. The order was to run, make people fall to the ground. There was a 10-12 man team, 4 soldiers lighting up the area. People were made to fall to the ground, and then the soldiers with the clubs would go over to them and beat them. A slow runner was beaten, that was the rule.
What does such a club look like?
It’s the simplest wooden club, straight, about 30 centimeters long. You stick it in back of your ceramic bullet proof vest, like the sword on a ‘Ninja-turtle,’ then you pull it out and pound it down.
You can kill a person. We were told not to use it on people’s heads. I don’t remember where we were told to hit, but as soon as a person on the ground is beaten with such a club, it’s difficult
to be particular.
Hebron 2006-2007, First Sergeant
… So there’s a school there. We’d often provoke riots there. We’d be on patrol, walking in the village, bored, so we’d trash shops, find a detonator, beat someone to a pulp, you know how it is. Search, mess it all up. Say we’d want a riot? We’d go up to the windows of a mosque, smash the panes, throw in a stun grenade, make a big boom, then we’d get a riot.
And the locals were praying at the time?
Yes, possibly. Everything goes. It’s best, in the middle of prayers. That annoys them the most. You know what it’s like. Soldiers are bored. They want action.
Hebron, 2006, First sergeant:
Did you work with the Border Police?
Yes, they’re the worst shits. What we do is nothing in comparison to them. They didn’t give a damn, they go around breaking people’s knees just like that. I remember once some Arab was caught throwing stones, they put his leg up against the wall as he lay on the ground and, boom, someone just stepped on his knee. No mercy. I said: “Wow.” I could never believe the level of cruelty I saw there, how could they…
We’d pass by on patrol, let’s say, and see them standing at the checkpoint, saying to someone: “Come here.” Boom boom, hit him, kick him, and it’s just a kid. “Go on, don’t talk.” “You’re talking? Get over here again.” Boom, boom. Start a stopwatch and make him run back and forth. He has 20 seconds to get me a soft drink.
What, from the grocery?
Yes. Beat him to a pulp. And then the kid gets back: “He wouldn’t give me the drink.”
“What do you mean? Go tell him now that if he doesn’t give it to you, I’ll slaughter him.” That’s how they’d speak to him.
Hebron 2006, First sergeant:
We also did such things, you know. Kids would throw stones at us, we’d catch some kid who happened to be there and beat him to a pulp. Even if he didn’t throw stones. He would know who did. “Who is it? Who is it?” Finally he’d tell us who did it. Once
we were on patrol, someone threw stones at us, nothing really serious, so we caught some Palestinian kid who had been nearby, we knew he’d seen this, he knew who had thrown the stones. Let’s say we hit him, to put it mildly, until he told us. He took us. He told us where that kid was, we wouldn’t leave him alone until he told us exactly where that kid lived. We went to that person’s home. He wasn’t there that day. We went back to ***, came out on patrol again at 6 a.m., went straight to the home of that kid. He was about 15 years old.
The kid you caught?
No, the kid that he ratted on. The kid who was the regular stone-thrower.
How old was the kid you caught?
About 10 years old.
And the one he told on was 15?
Something like that. Yes….We found the boy behind the last door on the left. He was totally scared, realized we’d caught him. At first he wanted to escape, then he saw my comrade standing at the door, and gave up. We took him out. We had a commander, never mind his name, who was a bit crazy. He beat the boy to a pulp, really knocked him around. He said: “Just wait, now we’re taking you.” Showed him all kinds of potholes on the way, asked him: “Want to die? Want to die right here?” and the kid goes: “No, no…” You know…
The commander took a stick, broke it on him, boom boom. And the kid didn’t cry. I tell you, he was tough. About 14 years old or so. Not big. The commander took a stone, gave it to him, and said: “Throw it at him,” pointing at me. I stare at him. What? “Throw it already.” Slaps him in the face. “Man enough? Throw it at him.” Boom, more beatings…
That kid was such a mess, broken apart. Then one of the soldiers said: “Listen, you’re going too far. We don’t want to come out of here with a dead body, there are still families around here.” And I tell you, that kid got punched in the face, in
the knees, kicked around…
Hebron 2010, First sergeant.
[A child is arrested for throwing stones.] How old was he?
15 years old. His name was Daoud. We stopped our vehicle, ran out, he was in total shock. We took him to Gross Post, to the Jewish side, and he began to cry, scream, he was just streaming sweat and tears. We had nothing to do with him, suddenly you end up with a crying kid. A second ago he was throwing roof tiles at the army post, and you’re dying to beat him to a pulp, and you’re alerted out there in that heat.
You want to kill him but he’s crying. We didn’t know what to do, so we put him under watch. Once someone who was with him went wild, did something to him and left.
At some point when I was with him I tried to calm him down because he was tied, blindfolded, and crying, tears and sweat streaming out all over. I began to shake him, then the deputy company commander tried. He grabbed him and began to shake
him: “Shut up, shut up, enough, cut it out!” Then we took him to the police station at Givat Ha’avot and he continued to cry because the policemen didn’t take him in for interrogation. He was so annoying, this was insane. In all that mess, while he was
crawling on the floor, the communications man took out his Motorola, his two-way radio and boom! – banged him on the head. Not meaning to be cruel, just hearing that unbearable crying for over two hours…
I remember we hated them, I hated them [Palestinians]. I was such a racist there, too, I was so angry at them for their filth, their misery, the whole fucking situation. You threw a stone, why did you do that? Why did you have to make me bring you here? Don’t do it. We were shaking him out of despair, not necessarily because we were violent. I think we even broke out laughing.
Lower Beit Ur Village, 2007, First Sergeant
“Stand in line! Who threw stones?” Everyone is scared. Five
soldiers, with guns, try to catch those two 13-year-olds who threw two stones…
The lookout said they were … they were on their way back to the village. We didn’t know exactly where they were, we got to the house and caught those three kids by their clothes, none of them confessed. We were there for about 20 minutes, they were lined up in front of the house, we were pointing our guns at them and facing a bunch of trembling kids, who’d be pissing in their pants in a moment, and the commander yells: “Who is it?!” and grabs the oldest one. “Tell me who it is and you won’t get in trouble, don’t worry, we’ll take him and bring him back.” We picked up three kids there. The mother was crying, the women were all in tears, the kids were shackled, taken into the jeep, scared. I just try to think what they must have felt, what it’s like to be taken in an army jeep. I was sitting in back with one of those kids and the jeep bumps along the road, those roads out there… I took the driver’s helmet because he doesn’t need it in front, and placed it on the kid’s head. The driver turned around, saw the kid with his helmet, and said: “What are you doing?! I can’t wear it after this!” I got annoyed, I mean, what? If he wears your helmet then it’s filthy? “You’ll wash it out for me,” he said. What a buddy… When he got to company HQ, first he washed out his helmet in soap and water, and only then put it on his head, because it had been on the kid’s head for a few minutes. And this is a guy who votes for the Labour party, claims he is a leftie, but this disgusts him. How has this happened to us?