Israeli police ambush, assault, and detain relatives of freed Palestinian prisoner

Five Palestinians said they were pulled from their vehicles, violently assaulted, and detained by Israeli forces at a checkpoint in occupied East Jerusalem, after returning home from southern Israel where they had attempted to welcome home their relative who had just been released from Israeli prisons.

Moussa Darwish was set to be released from Ktziot prison in the Negev region on Sunday after completing a 12-year sentence, but the newly freed man found Israeli intelligence officers waiting for him outside the prison, who immediately redetained him.

Israeli forces prevented the group of family and friends from approaching Darwish, after they had traveled from Issawiya in East Jerusalem and arrived to the prison.

They were notified that Darwish had been taken to Israel’s Russian Compound detention center back in West Jerusalem for interrogation. After several hours, Israeli forces again released Darwish.

However, Darwish’s friends and relatives — Ahmad Darwish, 52, Ibrahim Darwish, 42, Mansour Darwish, 28, Muhammad Ubeid, 25, and Saeb Dirbas, 23 — said that upon their return to Jerusalem, their three vehicles were “ambushed” by Israeli forces who had set up a flying checkpoint at the entrance to the city.

In an interview with Ma’an on Wednesday, Mansour Darwish, the former prisoner’s cousin, said that their group encountered a crippling traffic jam caused by the checkpoint.

“When we tried to pass the checkpoint, our cars were stopped one after the other. Without even asking for our IDs or driving licenses, they made us step outside, and officers from the Israeli police special Yasam unit started to beat us violently — and we had no idea why.”

Mansour highlighted that Israeli forces were heavily deployed in and around the checkpoint while police punched and kicked the five men in the face, chest, behind the ears, and other sensitive areas, also beating them with rifle butts and batons.

The five were then taken to the Russian Compound detention center, and shortly after, Ahmad Darwish, Ibrahim Darwish, and Saeb Dirbas were released.

Mansour Darwish and Muhammad Ubeid remained in detention until the following day on Monday.

Mansour Darwish said that after spending the night in detention, he and Ubeid were taken to court on Monday and the judge decided to release them at a bail of 1,500 shekels (approximately $410) each, and placed them under five-day house arrest.

He stressed that Israeli officers continued to assault the five men while they were being transported to the detention center and also while they were inside the compound.

“At midnight (Monday) when we were referred to a doctor inside the Russian Compound, he refused to treat us even though we had blood running down our faces, which were badly swollen and bruised.”

Only in the early dawn hours of Monday were they sent for treatment at Israel’s Hadassah hospital in West Jerusalem.

The victims told Ma’an that they would file a complaint against Israeli police to the internal investigations department, highlighting that despite accusations from their interrogators that they had “harassed and attacked police officers, were driving very fast, and disobeyed police orders,” they had been travelling within the speed limit and were not given any police orders throughout the ordeal with which to comply.

Cases of discrimination, abuse, and mistreatment of Palestinian adults and children by Israeli police in occupied East Jerusalem have been well-documented and widely condemned for years.

Rights groups have also condemned the expansive network of checkpoints and roadblocks enforced by Israeli police across occupied East Jerusalem, disrupting freedom of movement for some 300,000 Palestinians, which Israeli NGO B’Tselem has said amounts to “collective punishment.”

In recent months, Israeli forces have meanwhile escalated a crackdown on Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem through hundreds of violent overnight raids, handing down harsh prison sentences to local youth, in addition to a demolition of campaign of Palestinian homes as illegal Israeli settlements in the area continue to expand.

Israeli daily Haaretz recently reported that intelligence-gathering raids in East Jerusalem were made in breach of protocol and constituted a violation of residents’ basic rights. The report said that over the course of two months, some 500 Palestinian homes had been raided in East Jerusalem by Israeli police officers who did not present warrants, contrary to proper procedures.