In addition to cutting them off from their sources of livelihood in the West Bank, denying them water and demolishing their homes, another way to harass the Bedouin/Palestinian inhabitants of the Palestinian Jordan Valley is to conduct false arrests.
Every few days, youngsters there are taken into custody and detained for varying lengths of time – from three hours to eight days. Held over eight days they have to be arraigned by a judge in court, so the army avoids this. No charges are ever brought against them. They are held in an army camp or at a checkpoint, at a police station or in the Huwwara detention facility (military base near Nablus). Usually no one bothers to explain to them the grounds for their arrest. Without fail they are finally released at a great distance from their home, sometimes in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere. From there they have to make their way home where no public transportation exists, no taxis, their encampment distant from any road or other locality.
I hold numerous testimonies of such arrests, sometimes including beatings, intimidations and more.
On Monday, September 5th, 2011, at 8:30 a.m., four young Palestinian men were thus picked up by the army near Roi (Jewish) settlement in the Palestinian Jordan valley while grazing their flock. Three of them are of the Salamin family. They were taken away by an army jeep and released two and a half hours later, very far from their home, one by one, each at a different spot! One was left near Tyassir checkpoint, the second near the Jewish settlement of Mekhola, the third near the Palestinian village of Bardalah (it remains unclear, nor does it matter, where the fourth was left). 20-year old Saddam, left alone next to Mekhola, is a young mentally-disabled manwhose level of development resembles that of a 3-year old. In spite of his brothers’ pleas, the army would not let them accompany him and he found himself alone and helpless in unknown terrain, by the roadside of a main thoroughfare.
As soon as they were released, Saddam’s brothers began to search for him, later joined by other family members. In vain. The fellow disappeared in the 40-degree centigrade blazing desert, unable to care for himself, not knowing where to go.
At 13:00 I called the Civil Administration and got their usual reply, “we’ll look into it.”
Then came the denials: “We don’t know anything… we didn’t arrest anyone… we didn’t see anything… we didn’t hear anything…”
Throughout that day and night we appealed to every military echelon we could reach, trying to convince the army to accept responsibility and look for the guy. We were told they were searching, but Saddam’s family members, out on the ground, said they noticed no army action in the area. Perhaps the family was looking somewhere, and the army elsewhere…
The family continued its searches all night, called the police – both Israeli and Palestinian – and … nothing! There were rumors galore, that he had been seen in Wadi al Bidan near Nablus, that he got to Tubas. In real fact there was no sign of the poor fellow. The family was distraught.
Only at 13:30, the next day, one of the brothers told me he had heard that the Palestinian police was holding him, and he was heading out there. At 16:00 he found his brother. The man was indeed seen wandering Wadi al Bidan near Nablus, but no one bothered to find out where he belonged and whom to notify.
Two days after this incident, on September 8th, 2011, once more at the same spot, two of Saddam’s brothers were arrested – one who had been picked up with him the first time, and another brother, a 15-year old minor. They were taken from their flock’s grazing area and held without interrogation for four hours at Hamra checkpoint. At 12:30 they were released upon our intervention, but it took them another hour and a half to make the 15 kilometer way home. As mentioned above, there is no public transportation in the Palestinian Jordan Valley.
This case is extreme – what meanness is required to leave a man like Saddam on his own by the roadside so far away from his home (his facial features and speech leave no room for doubt – he is visibly, seriously disabled, with special needs). But this incident is merely another episode in the ongoing, never ceasing harassment and bullying that is the everyday lot of non-Jewish residents of the Palestinian Jordan Valley. Groundless arrests, no charges pressed, no interrogation, threats and intimidation at the whim and fancy of Israeli uniform-wearers or Jewish settlers.
This is the face of Israeli Occupation in the Palestinian Jordan Valley.
Witten by Daphne Banai
Translated by Tal Haran