Friday, January 15, 2010

Testimony 5: Ghazi Abdel-Fattah Al-Ashqar

“They were hitting me with their hands and legs and with sharp objects all over my body; my head, neck, chest, and legs. The beating continued for a few minutes, after which I lost consciousness.”

Ghazi Abdel-Fattah Al-Ashqar, 38, from Shati refugee camp in Gaza City

“At about 9am on 11 August 2004, I was on my way to Khan Younis town. When I arrived at the Abu Holi checkpoint in Matahin area, Israeli soldiers ordered the driver of the car to stop. A soldier called out, "Ghazi! Get out of the car". I got out. One of the soldiers ordered me to put my arms up, then a soldier ordered me to undress. I took off my jacket. He then ordered me to take off my trousers, but I refused. Immediately after that I heard shooting and felt bullets hitting [the ground] around my legs. Then some soldiers cuffed my hands and legs. One of the soldiers led me into a jeep and blindfolded me. I felt the jeep driving for nearly 30 minutes before it stopped. I was taken out of the jeep and a soldier took off the blindfold. I found that I was in a military site where there were many soldiers and military vehicles. A female soldier asked if I was okay. I said yes. Then she asked, "How can you be a saboteur and be okay?" Then she took the blindfold off and slapped me on my face many times; after that I felt many soldiers hitting me and I fell down. They were hitting me with their hands and legs and with sharp objects all over my body; my head, neck, chest, and legs. The beating continued for a few minutes, after which I lost consciousness. When I woke up, I found myself lying on the ground.”

Ghazi was then taken to Erez detention center and examined by a doctor: “The doctor looked at me and pointed to bruises on my legs and face and asked me what it was. I said it was because of the beating by the soldiers. The doctor then spoke Hebrew and I didn't understand what he was saying. I saw him writing down my name on a form while saying some words in Hebrew. Another detainee said to me that the doctor wrote that my state of health was good.”

Ghazi was held in a cell for a short while and then taken to the interrogation room: “He [the interrogator] tied my hands to the chair's back and my legs to the chair’s legs. The interrogation continued until the early hours of the next day, after which I was led back to the cell. I remained there for 14 days. Every day at sunset I was taken to the interrogation room where I would remain until the morning of the next day. During the interrogations, my hands and legs were kept tied to the chair. This caused me so much pain in my back and my hands and legs, especially on the parts where they tied the cuffs. Throughout, the interrogators were insulting me with rude and humiliating language.”

Ghazi was then taken to Ashkelon Prison for further interrogation: “I was taken to the interrogation room for about twelve hours, and then back to the cell. On the third day, I was taken to the interrogation room and the interrogators wrote on the board ‘36 hours’ and they said to me that I would remain there for 36 hours. I was kept for 36 hours in that room tied in a stress position on the chair. In that room there was a metal appliance blowing out extremely cold air. Every time I tried to sleep on the chair the interrogator would shout in my face and wake me up. When I had been in that room for nearly 36 hours I was taken back to the cell for an hour during which I tried to sleep. Then, I was taken again to the interrogation room. I spent forty-four days in Ashkelon prison in that manner: the interrogation continuing for 36 hours after which I would be taken back to the cell for an hour or two, then I would be taken again to the interrogation room. During the interrogation, I always felt heavy pain all over my body; my body and teeth were shaking from the cold. Once, I lost control of myself so they removed the cuffs and brought a doctor to the room. Then I found myself lying on a bed and being tended to by doctors. I remained at that place for about five hours and then I was taken back to the cell. This happened three times. The interrogators kept offering to turn off the cooler on the condition that I confess what they wanted me to say. While I was in Ashkelon prison I submitted two complaints to the prison administration against the interrogators and the army for beating me and turning on the cool air during the interrogation, but nothing happened.”

Ghazi was subsequently sentenced by an Israeli military court to seven years in prison. He was released in December 2008 in deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Testimony 4: Samir ‘Asfour

“I said that my son is sick and that he came to Erez to go for medical treatment. One of the security guards told me that my son had been arrested and that I had to go back to Gaza without him.”

Samir ‘Asfour, 52, from Khan Younis

“On 9 January 2009, my son Ahmed, who is 19, was injured by Israeli shelling. After this attack he was referred to Egypt for treatment because of the severity of his condition. He underwent medical treatment in Egypt for seven months during which he was operated on several times. The fingers on his left hand were amputated and the doctors in Egypt told me that Ahmed needs surgery on his right hand and arm to transplant bones and an elbow joint. This surgery can be done in Germany.

I made several calls to the Bochum Hospital in Germany and while I was in Egypt, I applied to the German embassy to arrange travel. They told me that because I entered Egypt using my ID card, I had to go back to Gaza, then return to Egypt using my passport and have it stamped at the border. [Note: because it is difficult for Palestinians in Gaza to renew their passports, Egypt allows urgent medical cases to enter its territory using their ID cards]. I returned to Gaza in July 2009.

After 15 days I managed to travel to Egypt again and have my passport stamped. I went to the German Embassy in Cairo again. This time, they told me that I could only get a visa to travel to Germany through the German Embassy in Israel. I returned to Gaza. I went to Dr. Bassam Al Badri, Director of Department of Referrals Abroad at the Ministry of Health and told him about my son’s condition. We continued Ahmed's medical treatment at the Gaza European Hospital.

I started the procedures to obtain a referral abroad again. We obtained a referral and an appointment at Saint Joseph Hospital in Jerusalem. At approximately 10am on Wednesday 25 November 2009, I received a phone call from the Palestinian Liaison Office informing me that I had to go immediately to Erez Crossing because my son and I had been granted permission to pass through Erez Crossing so my son could receive medical treatment. We arrived there at around 11am.

After ten minutes, the Palestinian liaison officer told me that we could enter Erez. My son Ahmed and I went in. The Israelis directed us through a loud speaker. They ordered me to take off my clothes, except my underwear. They also ordered my son to do the same. I told them that my son cannot take his clothes off by himself because of his health condition. I asked if I could help him and I did.

After that, one of the Israeli soldiers entered and searched my son using a hand-held electronic device. I heard him asking my son, “Are you holding a gun?” I intervened and said that my son is sick and he came to Erez to go for medical treatment. They ordered me to wait outside the searching room. After three hours, I started to worry. I shouted at the security guards and talked to them in Hebrew. I learnt Hebrew through my work in trade. One of the security guards came and told me to wait for a little bit longer. Then he brought my clothes and my son’s clothes. I had a heated argument with him. He told me that my son had been arrested and that I had to go back to Gaza without him. They forced me to return and confiscated three mobile phones, USD 2,500 NIS1,500, our passports, and my son's medical reports and X-rays.

Ahmed’s health condition is very serious and he needs continual care and monitoring of his blood sugar levels. He cannot go to the bathroom or eat by himself. He needs a permanent accompanier.”

Ahmed remains in detention at this time and has been provided legal representation by Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights. Physicians for Human Rights - Israel is following his medical condition.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Testimony 3: Abdel Kareem Al-Atal

“My hands were fastened to the chair's back from behind and my legs were tied together and fastened tightly to the chair's legs. I felt severe pain in my back, legs and hands.”

Abdel Kareem Al-Atal, 28, from Jabalia refugee camp, north Gaza

“Two years ago I started to get pain in my left eye and my sight became much weaker. I underwent treatment in Gaza but as time passed my condition became worse and the doctors decided that I need surgery to transplant a cornea. This operation cannot be carried-out in Gaza. On 3 August 2009, I obtained a referral from Palestinian doctors in Gaza to Saint John Eye Hospital in Jerusalem. After that, I applied for permission from the Israeli authorities to go to Jerusalem. The Israeli intelligence summoned me for an interview at Erez Crossing on 6 September 2009 after which they were supposed to decide whether or not I would be allowed to exit Gaza. On that day, I entered Erez Crossing. Two people in civilian clothes searched me, handcuffed and blindfolded me and led me to a nearby room where they undid the handcuffs and the blindfold.

After nearly an hour, two people came into the room, one of whom blindfolded and handcuffed me. They led me to a nearby place where they took off the blindfold and the handcuffs. I found myself in a room where there was a desk and a computer. Behind the desk sat a tall, slim man wearing eyeglasses. He asked me why I wanted to go to Israel. Then, he asked me about my relationship with a relative who had been a member of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the armed wing of Fatah. He accused me of helping move weapons. I denied these allegations categorically and told him that I was very sick, and could not do such things.

Then he accused me of forging all my medical papers. I told him that he could get a doctor to check me and see if I was ill or not. But he repeated the allegation that I was a forger. Then he said that he wanted to help me and let me go home, but on the condition that I watch my relatives and collect information about them for the Israeli intelligence. I said that I couldn't. He said that if I refused they would arrest me. I said I refused to do these things.” Shortly after, Oday was arrested and taken to a prison inside Israel.

“[In prison] they gave me an orange uniform to wear, blindfolded me and led me to another place and took off the blindfold. I saw two people in civilian clothes sitting behind a desk. One of them asked me what my name was and then said to me, ‘You're rubbish; a dog; a mean and ugly person.’ Then, he ordered me to move to an iron chair which was fixed firmly to the ground and he bound my hands and legs and fastened them tightly to the chair. My hands were fastened to the chair's back from behind and my legs were tied together and fastened tightly to the chair's legs. I felt severe pain in my back, legs and hands. He said, ‘You must speak,’ and he brought his face close to mine and said, ‘You are wanted for killing Israeli soldiers and shooting at us. You kill us and yet you want us to offer you medical treatment.’ I denied all these allegations. The interrogation continued for about another hour, after which he [the interrogator] picked up a remote control and raised the air-conditioning cooling degree to the highest and left me alone in the room. I began to shiver from cold.” Oday was then interrogated a further two times before being taken to court.

“In court I was told that my detention had been extended for another ten days. They took me back to the same prison. After ten minutes, they led me to the interrogation room where one of them interrogated me while I was sitting on the chair in a hanging position like the first time. The interrogation went on for two hours. They left me alone in the room for about five hours while I was fastened to the small chair with the air conditioning set to very cold. For five days, I was taken to the interrogation room for two interrogation sessions each day. The first interrogation session started at about 7am and finished at about 7pm and the second session was from 7:15 pm to 3:00 am. All the time I spent in the interrogation room, I was tied to the chair. I couldn’t sleep in that position and also because it was so cold. On the last day of the ten days that my detention had been extended for, they brought me before Bir Sheva (Bir As-Sabea) court again and informed me that I was banned from receiving lawyer visits. I was brought before the judge without a lawyer and my legs were shackled. The police officer told me in Arabic that my detention had been extended for another eight days.”

Oday was released without being charged with an offense and sent back to Gaza on 23 September 2009. He was subsequently allowed to enter Israel for medical treatment.

Testimoy 2: Adham Al-Habeel

“Then soldiers shot at our boat and hit the front part of it despite the fact that we were waving to the soldiers with our clothes so that they wouldn’t shoot at us.”

Adham Al-Habeel, 22, from Shati (Beach) refugee camp in Gaza City

“On 30 September 2009, after I prayed the Al-Fajr (dawn) prayer in the mosque, my father, my uncles and I went to the fishers' port in Gaza City. My brother, my cousin and two workmates were there. We all boarded my father's boat. The boat is 20 meters long and 5.75 meters wide. It cost us USD$ 60,000. At about 7:30am we started the boat and headed west for about 400 meters. The Israeli military boats were far away in the sea and I could scarcely see them. We spread our nets and moved the boat northwards dragging the fishing net for nearly half an hour until we were in front of Al-Sudaniya area in the north of the Gaza Strip. There, we changed the boat's track to the south.

After moving southward for nearly five minutes, I heard the sound of engines approaching. I looked behind me and saw two Israeli military boats which were flying the Israeli flag moving quickly towards us. They stopped about five meters away. I saw five soldiers wearing green military uniforms and holding automatic rifles on each boat. The soldiers began to shoot at the fishing boats that were beside us. I could hear the bullets hitting the bodies of the boats. Two boats beside us were hit. Then soldiers shot at our boat and hit the front part it despite the fact that we were waving to the soldiers with our clothes so that they wouldn’t shoot at us.

I kept looking at one of the military boats and I saw a soldier holding a grenade. He inserted it into a launcher which he directed towards us and fired. The grenade fell on our boat and set it on fire immediately. We jumped out of our boat into the sea and swam for about 20 meters to another boat and got on board. Then I saw the two Israeli military boats retreating toward the south. After that, we went by the boat that we were on to our boat that was on fire and tried to put the fire out. We couldn't control the fire because the fuel tank had caught alight. After about 15 minutes, I saw a big Israeli boat advancing towards our boat. They tried to extinguish the fire with a thin water pipe, but couldn’t. Then, many other boats and fishing runners [small fishing boats commonly known as hasaka in Gaza] belonging to our friends came to where we were and together we tied the burning boat to the other boats and towed it to the port. When we reached the port, four fire engines waiting at the shore extinguished the fire.”

Testimony 1: Ashraf S

“A soldier asked me if I was a terrorist then he pointed his gun at my stomach and threatened to shoot me.”

Ashraf S, 15, from Jabalia refugee camp in north Gaza

“On 4 November 2009, at about 9am, I was near the sea shore in north Gaza visiting a friend of mine. I went to the beach and sat there for a while before I heard the sound of shooting; it appeared to be coming from the Israeli military boats in the sea. I rushed to escape towards the north where I saw two Israeli tanks in front of me. I heard a voice through a loudspeaker saying in English: ‘Stop’. I looked behind me and saw dogs running towards me, so I ran to escape from them. Then I fell down and I felt my neck hurt and felt it was bleeding [Sami had been shot in the neck].

One of the dogs attacked me and tore my trousers. I got up and tried to escape, but I fell down again. Then I saw a soldier wearing a green military uniform approaching me. He kicked me in the mouth and I lost consciousness. When I woke up, I saw three soldiers and three doctors around me and I realized that I was inside a helicopter. There was a respiration appliance on my mouth. A soldier asked me about my name, whether I was affiliated with Hamas, and whether I was a terrorist.

Then the helicopter landed and they carried me out on a stretcher. I saw a lot of soldiers around me in what seemed to be a military base. They put me inside an ambulance in which there was a male nurse who gave me first aid. The ambulance drove for some time before it stopped. They took me out of the ambulance and two girls began to search my clothes. A soldier asked me if I was a terrorist then he pointed his gun at my stomach and threatened to shoot me. I said that I was a school student, not a terrorist. I saw one of the girls arguing with the soldier, telling him that I was a student and asking him why he didn't believe me. Then they carried me for a while after which I saw a Palestinian Red Crescent ambulance. Six nurses got out of it. Then I saw a soldier saying to the people who were carrying me not to give me to the Red Crescent. The solider began to argue with the Red Crescent team. The argument went on and I remained waiting for half an hour after which three of the Red Crescent team came and carried me to their ambulance.

The ambulance drove until it reached Shifa Hospital in Gaza City where doctors treated me. A doctor put a waxy substance on my entry and exit wounds. The doctors told me that I had a fracture in the fourth and fifth cervical vertebra [bones in the neck]. Consequently, I was referred to Wafa Hospital, which is located east of Gaza City, for rehabilitation and to continue my medical treatment. I don't understand why the occupation soldiers would shoot at me and wound me in the neck while I was sitting on the beach about a kilometer away from the Israeli borders.”