A mother and son, both American citizens, were savagely beaten last week by Israeli security at the Israeli entry point into the Palestinian West Bank from Jordan: Allenby Bridge. The victims were 47 year old Tina Hannouneh and her 17 year old son. Their crime? Michael, the 17 year old, did not understand Arabic commands shouted at him by Israeli officers who assumed he was a Palestinian.
Hannouneh, who was born in the West Bank, moved to Arizona in 1986, where she now works as banker. She and her son Michael had come to Palestine on holiday, to visit friends and family.
The incident occurred because 17 year old Michael, who suffers form a chronic heart condition, was listening to his i-pod.
Tina underwent surgery last week in Beit Jala. Afterwards, she spoke to PNN about her ordeal:
“We were entering through security when a guy dressed as a civilian approached Michael He grabbed Michael’s neck with his right hand and reached for the i-pod with his left hand, shouting ‘give me that’ in Arabic.”
Michael, who has spent most of his life in the US, does not speak or understand Arabic. He was unaware that the man choking him was a security officer, and refused to give him the mp3 player. Hannouneh added, “The security officer was not wearing a uniform. My son couldn’t have recognized him as army or police. He payed $400 for that i-pod, he’s not just going to give it to anybody.”
Confused and bewildered about what was happening, Michael held on to his i-pod. It was then that the officer became violent. Hannouneh explained that “the guy punched him, dropped him to the ground, and started banging his head against on the floor.” She continued, “He shouted in Arabic ‘you can’t say no to a police officer.’”
After trying to protect her son, the officer turned on Hannouneh. She commented, “As hard as he could, he hit my face. I fell to the floor and hit my head on the metal bar in the security fence. I have two stitches and my nose is really smashed. My shirt and my pants were covered in blood”.
The terrorized family’s ordeal only came to an end when other officials realized they were American. Like other Palestinian-Americans who have been discriminated against, beaten, and denied entry in recent months, Hannouneh and her son were victims of institutional racism at the heart of the Israeli security service. Hannouneh told PNN, “They did this to me because of the color of my skin, because I’m Palestinian”. She continued, “I can’t even travel through the checkpoint and complain to the US Consulate in Jerusalem because I am Palestinian. It’s humiliating”.
Adi Dagan, from Machsom Watch, an Israeli human rights organization that monitors checkpoints, told PNN: “To them she is just a Palestinian. Palestinians are without protection. In 2004 we documented 100 complaints of violence and we only received about 10 responses, sometimes soldiers are punished, but often nothing happens. This is what ordinary Palestinians go through everyday.”
Machsom Watch has documented shocking cases of physical violence, including one incident where a Border Policeman attacked a Palestinian man in the face with a screwdriver. Yet Machsom Watch admit that they have difficulty getting the full picture. Dagan added, “it’s clear to us that the soldiers act cautiously around us, the watchers and reporters, but lose their restraint when we are absent.”
PNN has learned that often Palestinians are too afraid to make complaints, especially as it would involve further contact with Israeli security officials. PNN contacted the US Consulate and the Israeli police, but as of yet has failed to receive any response.
Internationals at checkpoints
The assault follows a report in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz stating that for the first time since 1967, Israel is implementing a new policy in the West Bank that prevents the entry of Palestinians with foreign citizenship, most of whom are Americans. As always, the reasons are connected to “security,” though the harassment and restrictions separate families and weaken humanitarian organizations.
Israeli writer Amira Hass likened the recent policy change towards Palestinian-Americans and others an ‘expulsion order’. Hass did manage to get an answer from the U.S. Consulate about Israel’s new policy that discriminates against Americans based on their country of origin. Their answer? "The U.S. Consulate says it cannot intervene in the sovereign decisions of a state. And that is the issue: Israel – by its very control over entry via the international borders (including Rafah, where only Palestinian residents may cross), and over the Palestinian population registry – continues to be the sovereign in the Gaza Strip and on the West Bank."
Nidal Ibrahim at the Arab American Institute (AAI) in Washington, DC told PNN, “We at AAI are disturbed by continued reports that we’re getting of Israeli mistreatment of American citizens of Palestinian descent, including both being denied entry as well as the rough treatment and harassment.” Referring to Hannouneh’s case, the AAI stated “it speaks of the lack of restraint and understanding on the part of Israel in general and the Israeli border guard specifically. Ultimately, these types of actions do nothing to but cast a black eye on the state of Israel itself.”
For Hannouneh and her son, the trauma will have a lasting effect. Hannouneh said “My son was so excited. He was listening to the Bible on his i-pod. He wanted to come a day earlier. He wanted to go everywhere- where Jesus Christ was, where he was born. Now he doesn’t want to go into town because he is too scared. He can’t look me in the eye because he feels responsible, that it’s his fault. He never wants to come back, neither do I. I’m never coming back for this again. That’s probably the point, they don’t want anybody to come back.”
Hannouneh, who is seeking legal action both in Israel and the US, ended the interview with a plea to the US government: “We need some help here, at least come and see how Palestinians are suffering.” Unfortunately, Hannouneh’s plea is not the first of its kind, and it certainly won’t be the last.
For Israeli officials have said they are in the process of formulating a new policy, which will call for the expulsion from the Palestinian Territories, and refusal of entry, for the following groups of people: "Palestinians born in the territories (including East Jerusalem), whose Palestinian residency was revoked after 1967; Palestinians born abroad; non-Palestinians who are married to Palestinians; and foreign citizens who work in academic institutions or humanitarian organizations in the territories."
No matter how blatant a violation of international law this discrimination may be, it is unlikely that any nation in the international community will stand up to Israel to challenge these policies. Instead, the United States, despite the fact that discrimination against American citizens based on their country of origin is a violation of U.S. and international law, seems to be fully supportive of Israel in this latest step of its implementation of an apartheid state.