There has been a marked increase in incidents of abuse and violence by soldiers against Palestinian civilians at West Bank checkpoints over the past six weeks, since the army launched military operations in the Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon, the human rights organization B'tselem reported Monday.
While most of the incidents recorded did not involve severe bodily harm, there were six cases in which the victims were severely beaten and required hospitalization, the report said.
B'tselem said the checkpoints most prone to violence were located in the Nablus and Tulkarm districts and stemmed from increased restrictions on Palestinian movement because of the fighting in the South and the North.
The soldiers' alleged brutality was said to be stirred by reports of the casualties sustained by soldiers and civilians in the North.
"This aggravated the rage and frustration of security forces, which was then expressed in increased aggression towards Palestinians, including various remarks and insults directed at them," wrote B'tselem.
Secondly, the soldiers allegedly felt they could get away with this behavior because public attention was riveted to the fighting in the North, the report said.
Most of the incidents involved a few slaps or kicks, curses and threats, or deliberately prolonged delays as punishment.
However, matters went much further in six cases, including that of Mater Khamaiseh, a vegetable dealer from Jenin. Khamaiseh was on his way home from the village market in Beita, south of Nablus. Because the army did not allow Jenin residents to cross the Anabta checkpoint, he tried to bypass it. However, a jeep with four soldiers overtook his truck.
The soldiers took him to a nearby olive grove, where one of them allegedly fired a long volley of bullets over his head for no reason. Then the soldiers beat him all over his body, punching and kicking him and hitting him with their rifle butts. One soldier shot at his hand and stomach with blanks. Then they dragged him back to his truck, beating him on the way, and sat him in the cabin, the report said.
In another incident, an army jeep with four soldiers caught Naim Ashtiyeh, 34, trying to get to his job in Tubas by bypassing the Asira a-Shamaliya checkpoint. The army does not allow residents of Nablus District to cross the checkpoint going north and the other two checkpoints are closed to males aged 17 to 35. As he was walking, the jeep pulled up behind him. Without saying a word, one of the soldiers ran out of the jeep and hit him on the hand with a club, causing pain and swelling. They took his identity card and ordered him to come to the checkpoint to retrieve it. When he got there, one of the soldiers wrapped him in barbed wire and ordered him to sit at the checkpoint. They left him there for an hour and a half, the report said.
Asked by The Jerusalem Post to comment on the B'tselem report, the IDF Spokesman said it would read it and respond Tuesday.