Israeli security forces in Hebron have allegedly forced Palestinians to submit to a macabre "lottery", in which the victim had to choose their own "punishment" by picking a slip of paper out of a pile. On the pieces of paper were written various acts of violence, including having a hand or leg broken, and, Palestinians say, being beaten to death.
An Israeli military source said yesterday that the matter had been passed to the police, after the allegations surfaced in the local media. That was confirmed by Liat Perl, a spokeswoman for the Border Police, a military-style Israeli security force against which the allegations have been made.
The Independent spoke to four independent Palestinian witnesses who all claimed they were forced to take part in the "lottery". All four identified the Jeep used by the Israelis involved. They said it was marked with the number 113. All the alleged incidents took place in the Fahs neighborhood. Three of them said one of the men involved had dark skin.
Three of them said the men spoke to each other in Arabic, not Hebrew. Although the majority of Israel's 1.2 million Arab citizens do not serve in the Israeli security forces, two communities, one of Bedouin, the other of Druze, a religious group, do.
Fahid abu Isbeh, a young Palestinian, said he had been forced to take part in the "lottery". "I was in the main road," he said. "I saw Border Police, so I ran away, they followed me and caught me. I ran about 100 meters, they followed me in a Jeep. I stopped when I thought it was impossible for me to keep going. I'd heard about the lottery and I thought they'd do it to me so I kept running.
"One of them was carrying a box about 20 centimeters by 30 centimeters Written in Hebrew on the box was 'Earn and gain for free from the IDF [Israeli army]'. They spoke to me and said, 'Come.' I went. They spoke Arabic. One of them slapped me in the face twice. He said: 'Did you hear about the offer the IDF is running?'
"I said, 'No.' He said take a paper. I played dumb, I said I don't have any money for it. He said, 'It's for free. Take it.' Then I asked him what the prizes were inside. He said: 'Very poor prizes.' I said: 'Like what?' He said: 'Break your hand, break your skull, beat you to death, push you out of a Jeep at a 120km/h and good luck another time.'
"I refused. He said, 'I'll shoot you if you don't take it.' I had to read it out. It said, 'Break your hand.' They had a big stick, like the shaft of an axe. I saw blood on it. They hit me three times on the left hand. I had terrible pain.'
Mr abu Isbeh pretended he fainted. They left him in the street, and he was able to run away. He said this was on 10 December.
Salem Hejazi, a middle-aged father of nine, told us he was forced to take part in the lottery when he went to a small local mosque to pray. "There were two Jeeps. Eight Border Police were in the street. They had two boxes, one yellow, the other orange. They told me to take a slip. I took one and he opened it. He didn't let me see it.
"They took me to the quarry where I work as a guard. There is a deep pool of mud there. They made me stand in it, it was really cold. Then they pulled me out and made me lie on my back. Two of them stood on my arms and hit me with rifle butts all over my body. One put his boot on my face and pressed down. I felt like a cockroach." The Border Police officers saw a car and went after it, and Mr Hejazi was able to escape.
Parar abu Hamad said in December Border Police came into his family gift shop, breaking open the door with a Jeep. They smashed up the shop and beat him, he claimed, but a crowd gathered. "They put me in the Jeep and drove me to Fahs. One had maybe 12 slips of paper in his hat, maybe more. They made me pick one. He read it and told me it was beating and leg-breaking. They started beating me and I fell to the floor. Then they left me."
Sixteen-year-old Ziad Banat said on 18 December he was stopped by four Border Police officers with a friend. "They ordered us to line up against the wall. They told us we had to take slips, but we said, 'No.' Then one took my head and hit it against an iron door. I thought he had broken my forehead. He hit me with a bayonet but it only cut my jacket. Then I ran away."
The most serious allegations concern Amran al-Hamdiyyeh, a teenage Palestinian. Local residents said he was taken away by Border Police in Jeep number 113, and they later found him dead, badly beaten, but we did not find any direct witnesses to this.
An official from the Israeli Justice Department said its Internal Affairs Unit was keen to investigate the allegations if any Palestinian witnesses were prepared to come forward.
© 2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd