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Israeli police officers in the Al-Aqsa compound. Photo by Mu'ammar Awad, Reuters, 27 July 2017
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Israeli police violently arrest dozens of Palestinians, including minors, at al-Aqsa Mosque

On 27 July 2017, about 120 Palestinians, some of them Israeli citizens, remained at al-Aqsa Mosque after the evening prayer. They were planning to spend the night there, for fear they would not be allowed back into the mosque compound for Friday prayers the next day. This took place the day that the metal detectors installed at the entrance to the compound some two weeks earlier were removed, ending a two-week restriction on worshipper entry into the compound that began after three Palestinian citizens of Israel shot and killed two Israeli police officers at the compound on 14 July 2017.

At around 8:45 P.M. that evening, the power supply to the mosque was cut off and many regular Israeli police officers and Special Patrol Unit officers (known by the Hebrew acronym Yasam) entered it. The mosque had been locked, and it appears that the officers forced one of the doors open. They threw stun grenades, fired sponge rounds, assaulted the worshippers with clubs and kicking, and handcuffed them. Within 30 to 60 minutes, the officers had arrested all the worshippers. They led them barefoot to one of the compound gates and forced them to kneel for about an hour. Then the officers led them to two buses and an Israel Prison Service transport vehicle that awaited them. The buses were very tightly packed. At the police station, the detainees were once again forced to kneel for a long time – some of them for many hours, during which time they were not given any food or drink, and the officers denied them access to bathrooms.

This incident is exceptionally grave. Scores of police officers forced their way into a religious site after dark, violently detained more than 100 people for no reason, forced them to kneel in a painful position for hours and humiliated them at a police station. Some of the detainees were released with no charges after less than 24 hours.

While this incident took place several months ago, we investigated the arrest of minors that night as part of a recently-published project focusing on the detention of Palestinian teenagers in East Jerusalem. The testimonies reveal, once again, the harsh reality that B’Tselem and other human rights organizations have reported at length. In East Jerusalem, the arrest of Palestinian teens is almost always the go-to measure – rather than the last resort, as required by law – and their rights are violated and trampled underfoot until they are released. While in custody, the youths remain on their own, without the protective presence of their parents or any other adult they can trust. They are cut off from their families and snatched from their daily lives without knowing what will happen next. This is justified by formalistic adherence to the law and the exceptions it allows – thereby effectively draining the law of its substance and nullifying the protections it is supposed to provide minors. All this is part of a policy designed to allow Israeli authorities to continue this treatment of Palestinian youths while lending a cloak of legality to systematic, well-documented abuse of the fundamental human rights of hundreds of minors a year, for decades.

This reality is part of the underpinnings of Israeli control over the Palestinian population of East Jerusalem. So long as this control continues, Israeli authorities will in all probability continue to treat Palestinians in East Jerusalem as unwanted people who are not entitled to equality, with all that implies. Real change will come only if the reality in Jerusalem is completely overhauled.

 

All the testimonies were given to B’Tselem field researcher 'Amer 'Aruri.

In a testimony given on 6 September 2017, N.A., a 17-year-old from Beit Hanina, related:

On Thursday, 27 July 2017, the metal detectors installed at the entrance to al-Aqsa Mosque were removed. Like many other people, I went to the mosque to pray, but I didn’t leave after the prayer as usual at around 8:15 P.M. This time, some people decided to stay overnight at the mosque, thinking that they might not let people of all ages in for prayers the next day.

About half an hour after the prayer ended, the power in the mosque went out. I decided to pray and began the rituals. As I was praying, I heard people speaking Hebrew, and then I saw a lot of occupation forces (police officers and Special Patrol Unit officers) raid the mosque. I don’t know how they got in, because the worshippers had locked the door.

The officers fired stun grenades inside the mosque. I was scared. They hit people with clubs, knocked them down on the floor and twisted their arms. I stopped praying and just stood where I was. I didn’t know where to go. Suddenly, a few SPU officers pushed me to the floor violently. They grabbed my arms and dragged me to a corner of the mosque. They took my ID card and tied my hands behind my back with a cable tie. I heard people screaming in pain. I tried not to scream because I was afraid they’d hit me even harder.

About half an hour later, they had us all arrested and led us out of the mosque, single file. I was barefoot, like everyone else, because they wouldn’t let us put our shoes on. They took us out through al-Magharbeh Gate (the Moors Gate) and made us sit on our knees for an hour, at most. Then they took us to two buses.

When I got to the bus, they made me spread my legs, and frisked me. Then they took away my personal belongings and my cell phone, and took a photo of me. The officers forcefully dragged me to the bus and threw me onto a seat inside. The bus set off after about twenty minutes, and stopped a short while later.

The officers started taking us off the buses and into the Russian Compound police station. Some SPU officers pulled me by the arms and led me off the bus. They put me in a room where a lot of detainees were sitting on their knees, facing the wall. They forced me to join them and sit like everyone else. I stayed on my knees, without eating or drinking or being allowed to go to the bathroom, for a long time. My back hurt, and every time I tried to stand up to stretch my back and legs a little from the frog crouch, they hit me and kicked me in the legs until I fell over and sat back down on my knees, facing the wall.

They then took me out of the room, and someone who said he was a lawyer asked for my personal information. I asked him what time it was, and he said it was 4:00 A.M. Then he left, and I was taken into a room where a man in civilian clothing was sitting. He told me, in Arabic, that I was accused of disobeying police orders and refusing to leave al-Aqsa Mosque after prayers. I said my hand hurt because of the cable tie. Then I told the interrogator: “I never heard any police officers asking the worshippers to leave the mosque, and I didn’t see the officers before they raided the mosque and started arresting worshippers”.

I was interrogated for about fifteen minutes, and then I signed some kind of document written in Hebrew, which the interrogator said was my statement. They took my fingerprints, and when I left the interrogation room I told the police officer: “If I don’t go to the bathroom now, I’ll pee in my pants”. He took me out of the building, led me to a tree and told me to pee there, so I did.

Then the officer took me into a room where there were about 30 people sitting on chairs. They handcuffed my hand to the hand of another detainee I didn’t know. The officers gave each pair of detainees who were cuffed together a bottle of water, a piece of bread, a piece of cheese and a yogurt. After I finished eating, I asked to go to the bathroom again. I was taken to the bathroom together with the detainee I was tied to, without taking off the cuffs. I peed in his presence and he did the same. It was humiliating to pee in front of a stranger, but I had no choice. The officer refused to untie our hands.

At around 2:00 P.M., they took every pair of detainees cuffed together to a room where there were a lot of shoes. They must have brought our shoes from the mosque. The officer gave each detainee five minutes to look for his shoes, which, of course, wasn’t enough, so I picked shoes that were more or less my size and put them on. The guy who was cuffed to me did the same.

Then, they released anyone who had found their shoes. My family was waiting outside. They told me there was a police order forbidding me to access the Old City area for 15 days, and that I was only allowed to be in Beit Hanina and Shu’fat. If I broke the terms of my release, my family would have to pay a 10,000 shekel fine.

In a testimony given on 13 September 2017, S.S., a 17-year-old from the Old City of Jerusalem, stated:

I was really spooked when I saw the officers raiding the mosque, especially because I’d been arrested before and had no desire to repeat the experience. They assaulted me. One of them slapped and kicked me, and then he pushed me down on the floor and tied my hands behind my back with a cable tie. Then he made me sit on my knees. After about an hour, they managed to get a hold of everyone who was in the mosque and tied everyone’s hands. I was led, barefoot, toward the al-Buraq (the Western Wall) plaza, while they pushed me with a rifle butt. There were two buses there and one prisoner transport vehicle. I was put in the vechile and taken with other detainees to the Russian Compound police station.

When we got there, I was dragged out of the vehicle and nearly fell on my face. Inside the station, I was forced to sit on the floor, on my knees, in a room with two other detainees. They left me like that for seven hours, until 5:00 A.M., and it was really painful. My back, knees and neck hurt. The only chance I got to relieve the pain was when I went to the bathroom, after about three hours – they took off the cable tie and then tied my hands behind my back again. When I asked to go again, they refused. I asked for a drink of water, but they didn’t bring me any. I was very hungry, but I didn’t ask for food because I was afraid of the cops. While I was sitting there, I saw other detainees getting beaten, slapped and kicked for trying to stand up or change position to relieve the pain.

An officer took me out of the room, and an Arab lawyer came to talk to me. I asked him what time it was, and he said it was 5:00 A.M. He wrote down my name and my father’s telephone number. While I was talking to him, an officer came and led me over to the entrance to the room where I had been sitting crouched before. He wouldn’t let me keep talking to the lawyer. Then he took me into a room where an interrogator in plain clothes was sitting. As soon as I went in, I refused to talk until they freed my hands, and the interrogator agreed to release them.

The interrogator asked me in Arabic: “Why didn’t you leave al-Aqsa Mosque after the prayer ended, at around 8:45 P.M.”? I said, “Because people locked the door and wouldn’t let me leave”. He said: “You are accused of failing to obey police instructions to leave the area”. I said, “I didn’t hear that instruction”. I was interrogated for about half an hour. The interrogator wanted me to admit to having disobeyed police orders, but I refused. He was agitated. He yelled and banged on the table. I’ve had experience with arrests, so I didn’t give in. At the end of the interrogation I signed my statement, which was written in Hebrew, and then I was taken back to the room where I’d been crouched, together with other detainees.

At around 6:30 A.M., a police officer came and took me to a different room with lots of shoes in it. He said, “Pick shoes that fit you”. I could hardly find a pair that fit. Then the officer said to me: “Release”, meaning they’d decided to let me go without any conditions or restrictions.

After I got home, I had pain in my neck, back and legs for about two weeks because of the long time sitting in the “frog” crouch. I took painkillers.

In a testimony given on 7 September 2017, B.S., a 17-year-old from al-'Esawiyah, related:

I sat at the mosque and saw the police officers shooting stun grenades and sponge rounds at people. It’s a large mosque and people were running around inside it, trying to escape. I tried to run away but SPU officers caught up with me. They knocked me down to the floor and tied my hands. I don’t remember how many people assaulted me. They tied my hands behind my back with a cable tie and after that, once in a while an officer hit or kicked me. I stayed that way for about an hour, until the officers gained control of the situation and detained everyone who was in the mosque.

Then they lifted me off the floor and led me outside, barefoot. I saw some worshippers who had been injured and were bleeding from the head or the face. They took all of us through al-Magharbeh Gate (the Moors Gate) toward the plaza in front of al-Buraq (the Western Wall), where they made us sit on our knees near the gate. After about an hour, they took us to two buses that were parked nearby. When I got onto the bus, I couldn’t find a seat, so I stood stuck between the other detainees who were crammed into the bus.

The bus went to the Russian Compound police station, and a few minutes later, the SPU officers dragged us out. I was put in an interrogation room that, according to other detainees who were with me, is called “Room Number Four”. My hands were hurting a lot because of the cable tie. I saw a few guys try to tear off other detainees’ cable ties with their teeth. At some point, the SPU officers noticed and beat them, kicked them and slapped them.

After that, the SPU guys tied everyone’s feet together, too. My feet were bound with metal cuffs. I asked to go to the bathroom, but the officers wouldn’t let me. I was thirsty, and every time I asked for water, they told me “Go to your mom. Drink there”. I sat there, on my knees, with my hands tied, for about an hour, and then I was taken with two other people into a room that had lots of shoes in it. They told us to choose shoes that fit. I couldn’t find the ones I’d left in the cabinet at the mosque, so I chose a random pair. I asked the officer to free my hands and feet, so I could put the shoes on, and he did. Then he tied my hands and feet again and led me and the two others to a police car. It took us to the Kishleh police station (in the Old City).

When we got there, they put us in a room where there were four detainees. There was also a toilet. They brought us a dish with chicken and rice, but it smelled disgusting and I didn’t eat it. At night, they untied my hands and I went to sleep.

The next morning, before they brought in breakfast, they took me to another room where they tied my hands in front of me with metal cuffs. From there, they took me to another room where a man in plain clothes was sitting. He told me in Arabic that I was accused of throwing stones at the occupation forces. I told him that wasn’t true and that I was in the mosque when I was arrested. I was in interrogation for a long time. The interrogator accused me of carrying a knife and using it to threaten the lives of the security forces. I denied everything and signed my statement, which was written in Hebrew.

Then they took me back to the room where I’d slept. I didn’t eat lunch, either. It was the same rice and chicken with the disgusting smell. I only drank water. The next morning, the police officer told me I would be taken to court, but nothing happened and I stayed in the room with the other detainees. Later, a police officer came and took me out of the room, and then they released me. Some members of my family were waiting for me outside. It was Saturday afternoon, at around 3:00 P.M. I was released under restrictions – to stay away from the Old City for a month. In addition, if I got arrested again within six months, they’d put me in jail for two years. After I was released, I went to Hadassah Mt. Scopus Hospital, because I had pain in different parts of my body from the beating I’d taken, and I was exhausted. I also had abdominal pain, but the medical tests showed only minor bruising.