A group of Israeli soldiers and settlers allegedly carried out a ruthless assault on three Palestinians in the central West Bank last week, days after the Hamas terror group’s October 7 onslaught in southern Israel
The reported victims told the Haaretz daily on Thursday that they were abused for hours on October 12, when they were beaten, stripped to their underwear, bound and photographed. Two of them were urinated on, one had cigarettes put out on his body and another was sexually assaulted by an assailant who tried to sodomize him, according to their testimony.
The IDF said military police opened an investigation into the incident and that the commanding officer was removed from his post.
The incident was part of a broader rise in violence across the West Bank since the outbreak of the Gaza war.
The altercation occurred in the small Palestinian hamlet of Wadi al-Seeq, 10 miles east of Ramallah, which Haaretz said was largely evacuated in recent weeks following an uptick in settler attacks on the shepherding community.
The handful of Palestinian residents in Wadi al-Seeq were preparing to also leave last Thursday morning, with the assistance of several left-wing Israeli activists and a pair of Palestinian activists from Ramallah.
בחסות המלחמה בעזה, המתנחלים מגשימים את חזונה של המדינה לייהוד שטחי C
מאז החלה המלחמה ברצועת עזה עלתה רמת האלימות בגדה המערבית. בעשרה ימים בלבד נהרגו 62 פלסטינים בידי חיילים ומתנחלים ועשרות נפצעו. > pic.twitter.com/U4atd3J8Zv
— B'Tselem בצלם بتسيلم (@btselem) October 19, 2023
Those two activists, 46-year-old Muhammad Mattar and 27-year-old Muhmmad Khaled, told the newspaper that as they got in their cars and were about to head back to Ramallah, a pair of pick-up trucks arrived carrying 20 to 25 Israelis in IDF uniforms, some of them with their faces covered.
Mattar quickly turned his car around to try and exit the other way and called the Palestinian Authority’s liaison to the Israeli military to report he was under attack.
The Israelis managed to catch up to Mattar and Khaled, pulling them from their cars and throwing them to the ground before striking them with their weapons, they said, adding the troops shoved their heads into the dirt and kicked them before later tying their hands.
The Palestinians said they recognized several of those in uniform as settlers from nearby illegal outposts and told Haaretz they could not tell which of the Israelis were conscripted soldiers, on-duty reserve troops, or just wearing partial military garb.
According to Mattar, the soldiers then pulled his bag from his car and claimed to find several large knives. He accused the soldiers of planting the knives, telling the newspaper that he would not have called for Israeli authorities to come to the scene if he possessed weapons that could get him arrested.
Armed Jewish settlers and occupation forces held for hours, Oct 12, Palestinians and Jewish activists in Wadi a-Siq, tortured them, sexual assaulted one of them "Abu Ghraib style".
The soldiers were from an exclusively Jewish-Orthodox IOF unit.>https://t.co/z9ROHzFb9I pic.twitter.com/j687Uw1rW4
— Joseph Zernik #EndJewishIsraeliApartheid ???????? (@Joseph_Zernik) October 19, 2023
Mattar said the soldiers told him and Khaled that they were under arrest and that a team of Shin Bet security service agents were en route to question them.
Khaled said a white GMC truck with a black Star of David arrived and that six to eight more Israelis in IDF uniforms, who the Palestinians believed were Shin Bet officers, exited the vehicle.
The pair said they were taken into an abandoned building and blindfolded, with one of the assailants tearing their clothes off with a knife and ordering them to lie on their stomachs wearing nothing but their underwear.
The Israelis allegedly proceeded to further beat the Palestinians with an iron pipe, dealing blows across their entire bodies, including their heads. Khaled said the soldiers put out lit cigarettes on him and tried to pull out his fingernails, and that his and Mattar’s faces were repeatedly shoved into the ground, including in excrement.
Mattar said the soldiers repeatedly asked him where he planned on carrying out a stabbing attack but he insisted he had no such plans. He said the Israelis poured water and even urinated on them, and that one of them tried to penetrate him with a poll from behind but stopped after he resisted.
After they were allegedly abused for roughly six hours, the pair were taken out of the abandoned building and thrown to the ground, at which point one of the assailants photographed the Palestinians and uploaded the picture to an ultra-nationalist Facebook group.
— ????????Shay Hershku???????? (@ShayHershku) October 19, 2023
The post was captioned, “A terror infiltration alert in the Ben Fazi farm near Kochav HaShahar. Our forces apprehended the terrorists.”
The post was later deleted but picked up by several Arab media accounts beforehand.
The photo shows a third Palestinian man whom Mattar and Khaled said they did not know was there because they were blindfolded.
The third individual, a Wadi al-Seeq resident who asked to only be identified by his first name Majed, told Haaretz that he was at home when the Israelis arrived and did not manage to flee like some of his other neighbors.
Majed said he was similarly beaten brutally by the Israelis, who tied him up and took his belongings.
Civil Administration soldiers who later arrived at the scene released the three Palestinians in the early evening after they were held for roughly eight hours.
Despite allegedly planning to carry out a stabbing attack, Mattar was not arrested or taken for further questioning, nor were the other two Palestinians.
The Civil Administration allowed them to call their families and send for an ambulance so they could be evacuated to the hospital. Mattar was hospitalized for one night, while Khaled and Majed spent two days in the hospital. The three said their phones, a car, various belongings and NIS 2,200 ($544) in cash were taken from them.
As their alleged abuse unfolded, five left-wing Israeli activists were also held for hours by the soldiers in another part of Qadi al-Seeq, Haaretz reported.
One of these activists, who requested anonymity, said that when they heard the soldiers and settlers attacking the Palestinians at the entrance to the village, they got in their car to head in that direction.
Upon being spotted by the assailants — many of whom were only partly clothed in IDF uniforms — the activists were apprehended and told they were under arrest “on suspicion of aiding the enemy during wartime,” they said.
Other activists managed to flee the scene and hid for hours nearby, during which they said they called the police but no officers came. The activists periodically caught glimpses of settlers beating local Palestinians who did not manage to escape, according to the report.
After several hours, two of the Israeli activists left their hiding spot before encountering a white van filled with IDF troops, who they said violently apprehended them and repeatedly accused them of helping “the enemy” and “supporting terrorism.”
The activists said the soldiers took their phones and proceeded to delete pictures and videos they had taken of them.
The activists told Haaretz that they too could not differentiate which of the assailants were settlers and which were soldiers, saying that at one point the soldiers left an armed 16-year-old boy to guard them while the troops briefly left the scene.
When the Israeli activists were eventually released along with the Palestinians, the assailants told them they were lucky that they did not beat them and they should leave and never come back, the report said.
The activists said the Israelis ordered them to get into their car and drive to Jerusalem, saying their phones were in their trunk but that they could not open it before reaching the capital. Upon arriving, they said they realized that one of the phones was missing along with a $3,000 camera.
Still reeling a week later, Mattar told Haaretz that the assailants wanted to convey two messages: “One, that the Jews have gone crazy after what happened on the Gaza border; and two, that we, the Arabs, dare not mess with them.”
“I told them that I was against Hamas and against Palestinian Islamic Jihad, but it didn’t interest them. They said that all Arabs are s**t and that we should be sent to Jordan,” he said, referring to the Gaza-ruling terror group and another Iran-backed armed faction in the Strip. “Have you heard about the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq? It’s exactly like what happened there.”
In a statement responding to an inquiry about the incident, the Israel Defense Forces said troops arrived at a farm in the Wadi al-Seeq area after receiving a report regarding a number of Palestinian suspects. “The force caught the suspects and found a knife and an ax after searching them,” the IDF said.
“The manner in which the arrest was carried out and the conduct of the force in the field was contrary to what was expected of soldiers and commanders in the IDF. The incident is being investigated by commanders and many discrepancies have emerged from their accounts.
“After the initial investigation, a decision was made to dismiss the commander of the unit that carried out the arrest. Due to the seriousness of the suspicions, it was decided to open a Military Police investigation,” the army said.
“In any incident of friction, IDF soldiers are expected to separate the parties involved and maintain security and order in the region.”
In its own response, the Shin Bet insisted that its agents had not been involved in the incident.
The Israel Police did not respond to a request for comment.