Israeli Justice and Prisons,
an unfortunate first hand report

    June 1999         
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Opinion & Society

The Arrest and Liberation of Jordan F.

By Jordan F.

Being an overseas student studying for a year in Israel, I decided to visit the Ultra Orthodox section of Jerusalem and I spotted a protest demonstration. Being a lover of "action," I eased my way into the center of the protest to see what was happening.

There were many children, teenagers and some men with long side locks, long black coats and hats stopping traffic, yelling things and burning garbage. Having a spirited side to me, I decided to join the crowd in their yelling of "gevaldt," which is Yiddish and literally means something like a terrible situation is at hand. It turned out that the protesters were protesting the arrest of three young men who were accused of breaking into the apartment of missionaries who for some stupid reason, rented an apartment in the heart of Mea Shearim the ultra orthodox center of Jerusalem. (This is probably stupider than the whole protest demonstration). These men have been in jail for three months with out being given due process of the law or even a chance to be let out on bail. Such dangerous characters!?

At first the police appeared and just noted the protesters' actions and then left with out any warning or commands to the crowd.

Suddenly approximately 40 Israeli police with big sticks came running towards the crowd and started chasing the children, teenagers and men who were assembled to protest, plus anyone who appeared to be religious irregardless if they took part in the demonstration. Startled and frightened to death at the sight of these vicious looking police, who looked like they were out for blood, I took off running with the rest of the crowd. I never thought that I would be apprehended.

However as I approached a corner to my surprise, the Israeli police had planted a trap and another group of police in full riot gear (as if we, the assembled, possessed some sort of threat to them!- we were all unarmed, and no one there had a thought to try to harm another Jew) were there to block our escape.

Realizing that I did not know the lay of the land and I am not a large fellow, I decided not to attack the ten hefty, well-armed policemen coming towards me. Instead, I tried to play dead by falling to the concrete ground, in hopes that they would pass by me, looking for a more healthy and strong orthodox subject in place of me.

But they didn't. I was just fine for their designs. One huge office, the only nice one in the lot, picked me up by my collar and threw me into the back of the Jeep. He was the nice guy! In a minute, four other ultra orthodox fellows were tossed in aside me. One fellow before he was thrown in the back of the Jeep, was punched in the face for no reasonable reason. When he touched his cut face, the police said to him, "So you want to see blood? I'll show you blood!" Terrified, he was then thrown into the Jeep, and the Jeep drove off with this poor chap half in and half out of the Jeep.

We were taken to the notorious Russian compound, an ancient prison that dates back longer than any one seems to know. They forbade us from speaking and handcuffed us together in pairs. From there, they took us to the investigation offices where they used scare tactics to intimidate us to give them information about something which I really can't figure out. Big tough policemen began questioned me as if I stole government secrets. We were handcuffed, arms and legs, our faces against the wall. One of the arrested happened to have been in the area due to his brothers wedding party and was returning home when he was apprehended. Another was a foreign student who emerged from a restaurant after his lunch only to have been pounced upon by crazed policemen in a frenzy to make arrests.

After three hours of intense interrogation, during such time no was allowed to move, we were walked handcuffed to a holding cell. We first had our pictures taken, searched and one poor fellow had to drop his pants for no apparent reason.

Since I have had a history of stomach problems and was seen the night before by a doctor, (I had the note in my pocket) I was taken to a doctor, to determine if my heath would permit me to stay in jail over night. The doctor glanced at me for a split second, and pronounced that I was fine. The doctor then instructed to police to incarcerate me in the cell with the homosexuals!

The policeman took me, still in my handcuff first to the Arab prisoners' cellblock. He said if you misbehave, we will put you in here! Then he took me to the homosexual's cell and said that he was going to put me in there. To be honest, I was very scared and nervous. The cop thought that this was a great joke. He started to laugh and took me to a cell which was reserved for the dangerous "rioted" It may be difficult to believe this, but there was a seventy five year old holocaust survivor that is suspected of embezzling a large sum of money. He has been in this cell for three months, with no decent living accommodations.

The cell, which is a remnant of the British cruelty towards Israelis, is a composed of ten hard metal beds, with a two inch thick dirty rubber mattress, a filthy blanket, and a "bathroom." The bathroom was comprised of a hole in the ground with a faucet above it. This faucet is the same faucet that is used to shower. Nice, huh? The police came in to check us every several hours to see if we escaped.

It is interesting to note that all of us captives were Americans. Not one was an Israeli. Five guys, all Americans here visiting. One of the fellows wanted to call his wife, who was pregnant, but the police would not permit us to make any call out nor would they help us to call us. We were held in custody for some fifteen hours, with no food, and no water.

The next morning we were taken for intermediate sentencing. That means to charge us with some sort of crime. As we were taken into the court with handcuff on our hands and legs to have a hearing, the judge read all of our names. The judge was a lady who had no interest in our case. Bail was set at five thousand shekels for each person a large sum for a poor student like me. But lo and behold, a Rabbi with a graying beard, whom I never met nor saw before appeared like an angel from nowhere and posted bail for four out of the five fellows who had no one to help them. A different Rabbi came and tried to give us food, but the police would not allow us to receive the food, shades of Russia, huh?

After being let out on bail, I felt that my Israeli experience was totally demoralizing. I had difficulty in fathoming that my Jewish brethren could be so cruel for really no reason.

Interestingly enough charges were dropped against the other fellows who did not speak Hebrew, but I, who used the little Hebrew that I know, was indited and eventually charged with inciting a riot, and a list of other wild crimes that I certainly didn't commit.

Since the punishment was twenty days in jail or a thousand shekels, and the price of a good attorney would be more that double this, I opted to admit to crime that I didn't commit and just get out. So I heartily recommend to anyone coming to Israel, don't speak Hebrew to policemen. Don't watch protests, unless you are a track star and stay away from the police, they are not sympathetic!

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