By Amira Hass, Haaretz Correspondent 

 The response from the Israel Defense Forces spokesman came surprisingly quickly; a mere two or three hours after the query had been sent by Haaretz, the spokesman replied orally, and then in writing, that “following the reporter’s question and after receiving most of the facts, the chief [military] prosecutor, Col. Jana Modzagbrishvili has instructed the military police to look into the matter.”

The matter, according to most of the facts, was that soldiers had beaten a civilian, who was bound and blindfolded, for several hours on January 7.

Starting in the village of al-Tawani in the southern Hebron Hills, the affair continued at the military base in Sussia. The man who was beaten was Masab Rabai, aged 22.

Masab and one of his brothers had taken their sheep to graze on land in the wadi directly below their home on that Thursday. There are olive trees in the wadi and a few small plots for growing. Between the rocks on the slopes, there are weeds for the sheep to feed on.

They were accompanied by two volunteers from Christian Peacemaker Teams who, together with volunteers from Italy, are constantly in the village. The houses of the Havat Maon outpost are hidden by the trees of a thicket some 300 meters from the village and east of the wadi.

At 9 A.M. a beige Mitsubishi with two settlers appeared suddenly on the path below the thicket. One of them took photographs and the second spoke on his cell phone. That happens a lot – settlers appear and call soldiers. What is the crime? People working on their lands.

Masab saw all of this from the wadi and hastened to call some more of his brothers to come. He anticipated problems. Some soldiers arrived and began talking to the settlers.

Three of the soldiers went down to the wadi to where the shepherd brothers and those accompanying them were. When he was told that Masab spoke good English, one of the soldiers said to him, according to his testimony, that “if I see you here again, I’ll kill you.”

“Why?” Masab asked. “This is my land and I’m always here.”

The soldier demanded to see his ID card. “I told him I didn’t have one and the soldier responded, ‘You are all under arrest.'”  The brothers said that he must bring the police because that is their job.

The brothers started to move away and the soldiers followed until they caught Masab’s brother, Majdi, and reportedly kicked him in the leg. He tripped and fell and hurt himself. Other people from the village began streaming into the wadi, women and children.

Reinforcements from the army also arrived at the scene. There were some 15 soldiers altogether. Masad was among those who were carrying the injured Majdi and the soldiers again tried to catch another of his brothers as well as Masab.

The two of them escaped and the soldiers began throwing stun grenades and tear gas among the people. They also broke a camera belonging to the CPT volunteers. A police van that had been called by the volunteers arrived and stopped a short distance away.

They caught Masab and, according to his testimony, the soldiers tied his hands behind his back, threw him onto the floor of the jeep, someone grabbed his throat and some of the other soldiers beat him with their helmets and the butts of their guns and with a pipe, and others kicked him.

The jeep started driving away and after Masab tried to call the policemen in the patrol car, the soldiers bound his eyes and continued beating him. They reached the main road – Masab could hear the sound of passing vehicles – and continued to beat him.

Then they came to a dirt road – Masab could feel every pebble and bump through the continued beating.

At a certain point, they stopped and someone who spoke good Arabic appeared and reportedly said: “You are making problems for the soldiers so they have to hit you.” Finally they stopped at the Sussia base. The soldiers there gathered round him. A Bedouin soldier demanded that he identify the people in the video that the soldiers had taken from the wadi. They mainly wanted him to identify his brother Kamel. Masab refused.

He also refused to speak Hebrew (which he does not know). And then, so he says, four soldiers appeared and began hitting him with their guns.”They beat me the whole time until they had enough,” he said. “Perhaps for an hour, perhaps for two.”

He wanted to pray but “they said it was forbidden. I asked for water. They said it was forbidden. I asked to go to the toilet. Forbidden. I started to pray and they hit me. At around 5:00 someone brought me water, he took off the blindfold and gave me the water. Someone by the name of Elishai, I think, who was a Bedouin, got angry with whoever brought me water.”

At a certain stage, they took him to a small room, apparently a detention cell, and pushed him against the wall. His tooth broke from the push.

He said he was left alone for a while when their shift ended. They brought him food. He flatly refused to allow them to feed him so the soldiers took off his handcuffs and blindfold and let him eat while they kept their guns trained on him.

Late in the evening, he was taken to the police station in Kiryat Arba where they drove him away and dropped him off somewhere on the road. Bruised and hurting he started walking along the dark road until his family found him.

Last week we checked to find out what had happened with the investigation. The IDF Spokesman’s Office said it was ongoing.

Masab informed us that on January 26, he and his brothers were called to give evidence at the IDF District Coordination Office outside Hebron. The military policewoman who investigated did not know Arabic. She refused to be assisted by the translation services of Juma, one of the brothers who had lived and worked for many years in Israel.

Instead they brought an officer who does not have a good command of Arabic and had to use a dictionary all the time. Sometimes the questions that he translated were not understandable.

They say the military policewoman asked them, “Which terror group do you belong to?” Juma answered: “I don’t understand.” She said: “To Hamas, to Fatah?”

And he replied: “No, I’m in a third group.”

“Which?” she asked, her eyes lighting up.

 “The group of the small farmers.” 

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