The Rafidya government hospital here has been labeled "the bone hospital" by local doctors because the facility is treating so many of the objects of Israel's new policy of using beatings to deal with Palestinian protesters.
According to hospital personnel, at least 30 young men, many with crushed hands, have been admitted since Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin declared last Tuesday that "might, power and beatings" would be the prime counterweapons to rock-throwing protesters on the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Government sources said that the Knesset (Parliament) will be told today that since the new policy was implemented, at least 200 people have been treated in hospitals in the occupied territories for injuries resulting from beatings by soldiers. The report was compiled by the Citizens' Rights Party.
All such patients undergoing treatment at Rafidya hospital claim that their broken bones as well as severe bruises and cuts were caused by club-wielding Israeli soldiers, hospital administrators said.
Defense Minister Rabin told the Cabinet on Sunday that "batons are used only when necessary to disperse demonstrations. They are not used for punishment, and they are not used on rioters already caught."
Other government officials, denying that brutal methods are being used, have said that official policy is that protesters are to be hit only on the legs. But a doctor at Rafidya hospital said of some of his patients that "these people are being specifically hit on the hands." He asked that he not be identified because the hospital is under government control and has been ordered, along with all other health care facilities in the occupied territories, not to comment on the beatings.
A tour of the moderately well-kept hospital showed at least 13 young Arab patients with their hands in heavy casts and held in traction. Their arms, legs, shoulders and faces were covered with heavy bruises and lacerations. Several also had broken shins, and there were at least two other patients with gunshot wounds, the results, they claimed of Israeli gunfire.
"These were not the results of someone swinging a police baton," said another doctor who treated some of the fractures. "These people's hands were deliberately crushed."
That is also the claim of the Arab patients, along with denials that they had been involved in any of the rock-throwing and other forms of Israel-baiting that has marked the several weeks of unrest in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Last Wednesday, the day after Rabin announced that beatings would take the place of tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition in dealing with protests, Ahmed Omar Rub, a 22-year-old university student, said he was taken out of his home in the West Bank village of Qabatiya by several soldiers.
"They took me into an unfinished building, and two of them held my hands on some tile," he said from his hospital bed. "Two other soldiers then came with pieces of wood (evidently two-by-fours) and slammed them down on my hands. They also hit me with gun butts and kicks."
Bucket Placed Over Head
An uncle sitting at the bedside said Rub told him that two soldiers also put a bucket used to haul cement over his head and then drummed on it with clubs.
Five other patients who claimed they were simply drinking tea Wednesday afternoon said that an army patrol broke into their house.
One of the men, who asked not to be identified, said through an interpreter that the soldiers "gave us a count of three to get out. Then they began beating us on the back, hands and head.
"When I said they had no reason to beat us," the man said, "one soldier said 'You are not a man, you are animals.' "
Another of the group said he was taken into an empty building where "they put my hands and feet into ropes and held me down while two of them smashed my hands with boards."
Homes Broken Into
The stories were the same for several other young men who claim they were severely beaten by soldiers who broke into their homes in another West Bank village called Hewara.
Nastal Tofiz Sabani said he was asleep in his house Wednesday night when some people who had been throwing stones ran by. Soldiers who had been chasing the protesters "came into my house and took me out and beat me." His account of his right hand being crushed was similar to the assertions by the patients from Qabatiya--he said that he was held down and that his hand was smashed by a large board.
Negative reaction in Israel as well as abroad has pushed officials into the paradoxical position of denying any problems with the new policy, while at the same time announcing new interpretations and modifications.
In addition to Defense Minister Rabin, Israeli military officials also deny abuses in carrying out the beatings policy.
Initial Orders 'Too Vague'
One officer acknowledged that "maybe in the first days" some troops may have exceeded the policy "because the orders were too vague." She also said that several alleged incidents are being investigated for possible discipline violations.
In addition, Gen. Amram Mitzna, the army commander for the West Bank, has ordered officers to ensure that their soldiers do not punish anyone not involved in rioting.
"Top commanders have been told to make it absolutely clear, to the last man, that (punishment is permissible) only in cases of violent protests, and not against persons uninvolved in the rioting," said the army spokeswoman.
"The orders are that in such cases," she went on, "soldiers should charge and direct blows at the legs and arrest the inciters. They must not beat passers-by."
The idea of beating protesters resulted from the failure of earlier policies, military officials said. "We used tear gas, rubber bullets and finally shooting," one said. "It didn't work. It made things worse."
Does the new policy work? "Now, it's quiet," the military spokeswoman said. "It may be too early to tell, but I believe it influences them (the protesters). No one wants to get beaten."
There also is concern in the military that those doing the beating are being harmed. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, teams of psychologists are interviewing soldiers assigned to deal with the demonstrations to study their morale.
Military officials acknowledge the study but deny it's an indication that the troops are troubled by the orders to use clubs. "We only want to find out if the soldiers think the methods are effective," one official said.
Although the government and the military deny abuses and have publicly stated a determination to keep the beating policy within bounds, there is no sign that the approach will be abandoned.
Haaretz reported over the weekend that the Defense Ministry has ordered 10,000 new clubs.