The Death of Husni Amer

Gideon Levy

An IDF soldier repeatedly beat a handcuffed Husni Amer with the handle of a hoe, says Amer's brother. He died in detention a few hours later. The IDF Spokesman says the circumstances of his death have `yet to be clarified'


HA'ARETZ

14 June 2002

Mohammed Amer with the children of his brother, Husni. For close to two months, nobody knew of Husni's death.
(Photo: Miki Kratsman )

 

   Who killed Husni Amer? Was it the soldier who beat him with the handle of a hoe while he lay handcuffed on the floor of his home, following the order of the officer standing next to him, as his brother, an eyewitness, swears? Why did the soldier beat him? Was it because of the chalk drawing on the wall showing houses and trees which the soldiers took to be a terrorist map? Are the soldiers also interrogators? And why has his body been kept at the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute for over two months? Why didn't the IDF inform the family about the body in all this time? And on what basis did the IDF publish a statement a month ago saying that "Arabs" beat Amer to death? And why does the IDF Spokesman now say that the circumstances surrounding Amer's death "have yet to be clarified"? 

All of these questions hover in the small house in the Jenin refugee camp, which was entered by soldiers a little over two months ago. The soldiers handcuffed and beat the owner - sanitation worker Husni Amer, 45, and a father of five, who worked for the Nazareth Municipality for 25 years. Amer and his brother Mohammed were taken into custody. Only Mohammed returned. 

For two months, the family had no idea what had happened to Amer. Last Sunday, a letter from the Palestinian Office of Civil Affairs arrived: "To whom it may concern: We have been informed by the Israelis that Husni Amer of the Jenin refugee camp is dead and that his body is at Abu Kabir. We will take care of having the body transferred to you." 

A few days before, someone had brought them a printout from the IDF Spokesman's English Web site (www.idf.il/english/news/jeninkilled/stn) dated May 10. Amer is included on the list of "terrorists killed in the Jenin refugee camp: Husni Amer, 45, died of his injuries on April 7. Before he died, he told those present and those who tried to help him that he had been beaten by Arabs." 

"Welcome to hell," reads the graffiti on the concrete blocks of IDF Checkpoint 250 at the northern entrance to Jenin, perhaps the most remote and desolate of all the checkpoints. 

Amer's eldest son Nidal is 15. His body is small and frail because of his heart disease. He is treated at the Anglican hospital in Nazareth, in the city whose streets his father swept for a quarter of a century - a sanitation worker who had an entry and work permit until all access was closed off last July. Since then, Amer had been unemployed, apart from two months when he made coffee and tea in the UNRWA offices in the camp for NIS 50 a day. The second son, Mustafa, 12, says he heard his father's screams on that awful day, coming from the apartment beneath theirs, which his unemployed father built in the hope of being able to rent out. "Then they took my father away," the boy said softly. Husni Amer also left behind three daughters - Yasmin, 10, Hana, 8, and Samah, 5. 

On Sunday, April 7, the family woke up at about 7 A.M. Helicopters hovered over the camp and tanks were encircling it. This was a few days after the IDF entered the town, but before the camp was occupied. There was some gunfire and then Mohammed heard loud knocking on the door. When he opened it, he saw his brother Husni with a large contingent of soldiers right behind him - he estimates that there were 20-25 of them. The family was asked to leave the house. The soldiers were nervous, says Mohammed, Husni's senior by six years, who also worked in Nazareth for 25 years. 

After the soldiers searched the house and a grove next to it that belongs to the family, they ordered the brothers to go into Husni's house and to sit on the floor. "What's this drawing?" one soldier asked, pointing to the drawing on the wall. "Is it a map for the hoodlums?" Husni tried to explain that it was children's artwork. The soldier handcuffed both of the men. Then he started to beat Husni. Young Mustafa was sent to bring the hoe with which his father was beaten. While the beating was going on, Mohammed was standing handcuffed by the door, surrounded by soldiers and helpless to do anything. According to Mohammed, an officer in the room ordered the soldier to administer the beating. The soldier beat Husni in the back of the neck, the stomach and the back. Mohammed says it lasted about 45 minutes, maybe an hour. Every once in a while, they stopped and asked Husni about the drawing on the wall. "Say that these drawing are for the hoodlums and we'll stop the beating," he was told. Similar drawings are found in many homes in this refugee camp, where the children have nothing else to play with except a piece of chalk and the wall. 

Mohammed says that Husni kept shouting, "My stomach, my stomach!" and "My back, my back!" until the beating stopped. Then the soldiers ordered the brothers to leave the house. Husni leaned on Mohammed and they walked toward the entrance to the camp as directed. There, they were put into an armored personnel carrier that ferried them to Kafr Sa'adi, west of the town. There, they were again made to sit on the floor, and stayed that way until the afternoon. The whole time, Husni complained about the pain from his injuries. Every so often, he screamed or burst into tears. His stomach seemed to hurt the most. They were taken to the detention facility at Salem where many other detainees were being held. 

Mohammed was blindfolded and handcuffed, but he heard his brother's cries. "Quiet, quiet," the soldiers ordered. After a while, he heard them taking Husni aside. When his turn came, Mohammed was brought in to the Shin Bet interrogator, whom he says asked him how many children he had and proposed that he work with the Shin Bet. "If you help us, we'll help you and get you a work permit," the interrogator offered. Not a word about the drawing on his brother's wall. "Send him home," the agent said in the end. 

Outside and blindfolded once again, Mohammed was asked if Husni was his brother. They sat him down on the gravel, next to Husni. His brother was crying. His stomach hurt. The soldiers kept telling him to be quiet. "No talking allowed," they said, and Mohammed didn't even dare to try to calm his brother. 

Suddenly, Husni's head dropped on the shoulder of the prisoner next to him. Soldiers came and moved all the prisoners away and they started to take care of Husni. Mohammed managed to shift his blindfold enough to get a peek at what was happening. An Israeli ambulance soon arrived and took Husni away. Mohammed asked one of the soldiers how his brother was. "His condition is very serious," was the reply. That night, they slept on the gravel and in the morning Mohammed was sent home. Before he left, he again asked the soldiers about his brother. "Wait a minute," said one soldier, who went to check. When he returned, he told Mohammed: "No one knows where he is or what his condition is." Mohammed: "I went home and, until now, I had no idea what happened to Husni." 

The family kept searching and asking questions. What happened to Husni? Is he alive? Is he in prison? Is he dead? They turned to the International Red Cross for help, to Hamoked: The Center for the Defense of the Individual and to B'Tselem investigator Raslan Mahajneh, who is well known around Jenin. They asked every prisoner who was freed from Mahaneh Ofer, Kfar Salem and any other facility. They hired two lawyers, Abdullah Az-Zilani and Shaqer Aboushi, but all their efforts came to naught. For close to two months, Husni's wife, children, siblings and friends did not know of his death. The whole time, his body was there at the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute, where it was brought on April 8, the day after his arrest and death. It has remained there until now. 

Ha'aretz health reporter, Haim Shadmi, made inquiries this week and found that the autopsy performed on Husni Amer determined that he had died as a result of "serious contusion injuries, caused by beatings." The IDF Spokesman, this week: "Husni Ali Amer was brought to the detention facility in Salem by IDF forces on April 7, 2002. While awaiting interrogation, the subject passed away under circumstances that have yet to be clarified. The IDF has opened an investigation into the incident by the military investigative police." The spokesman chose to ignore a number of questions directed at him, such as why the family was not informed for all this time and why the body was not returned. 

The apartment in which Husni Amer was beaten to death now stands empty. The remains of the hoe, broken in two, lay on the floor. Instead of the suspicious chalk mural, now the only thing the kids draw on the wall are math equations.
 

 

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