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IDF concerned about soldiers' abuse of Palestinian civilians at roadblocks

By Amos Harel

Ha'aretz, July 23, 2001

Officers have expressed serious concerns about the phenomenon of abusive behavior of soldiers toward Palestinian civilians, mostly at roadblocks. The officers were speaking during a series of meetings held recently at Central Command and at various Israel Defense Forces headquarters in the West Bank.

Among the cases of abuse recently reported are the following:

l Soldiers held up Palestinians for hours at roadblocks as part of a punishment they call "hours off." This is a traditional form of punishment which is used against new army recruits for insubordination: They are held up for several hours before being allowed to go on leave.

l Palestinians were ordered to stay inside their cars, with the windows rolled up, without air conditioning, during the hottest parts of the day. The car keys were confiscated. This is the "punishment" used by soldiers against Palestinians who approached them more than once, asking when they would be let through the roadblock.

l The soldiers asked for "passage fees" from the Palestinians wishing to cross, in the form of cigarettes and drinks.

l Palestinians have complained of beatings they suffered in some of the roadblocks by the soldiers manning them.

l Palestinians have also reported that soldiers puncture the tires, or confiscate the keys, of vehicles whose drivers attempt to bypass the roadblocks in order to travel between villages under siege.

This form of behavior toward the Palestinian population is reportedly rampant among several infantry battalions belonging to Central Command that are in fixed deployment in the West Bank. However, there are reports and evidence that abuses of this kind also take place in reserve units and other battalions of conscripts serving in the territories.

In some cases, soldiers were tried for abusing Palestinians and for demanding payment to gain permission to pass through IDF roadblocks.

Officers have expressed grave concern that the incidents which have so far exposed are the mere "tip of the iceberg" in what is actually a much broader phenomenon.

Speaking to Ha'aretz, officers serving in the territories said that the IDF is finding it very difficult to combat this phenomenon. "Every hour there are dozens of such roadblocks throughout the territories, under the command of a sergeant, or in a good case, a first lieutenant. Despite the strict orders passed down by the more senior officers, and despite the efforts to ensure that activities are carried out as they should be, in practice it's not difficult for a group of soldiers to abuse Palestinians," the officers say.

"Only in rare occasions are these cases exposed, when Palestinian residents complain to the IDF or to a passing officer who notices that something is amiss. Now that there is fighting on the ground, it is even more difficult to keep an eye on things compared to periods of calm," the officers said.

"If the soldiers coordinate their versions of events, it is very difficult to catch them. Abuse is a direct result of the continued control over Palestinians. It is also clear that the minute tension between Israelis and Palestinians rises, [for example] if there are many injuries, the soldiers' motivation to harm the residents grows," the officers noted.

In response, the IDF spokesman said that "the instances described are not known to the IDF as a phenomenon." He added that "over time there were a number of instances in which Palestinians were delayed are roadblocks for several hours. The process of checking with various authorities their IDs and authorizations to cross takes a long time. The commanders continuously emphasize to the soldiers the value of human respect, and the difference between terrorists and Palestinian civilians who suffer from the difficult daily reality."

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