By Eti Abramov, YNet – 1 Sept 2010
‘She grabbed me by beard, called me a terrorist.’ Palestinians from Eden Aberjil’s photos tell their story
The photographs posted by former Israeli soldier Eden Aberjil on her Facebook page caused a great storm around the world and embarrassed the State of Israel. Everyone focused on the image of the soldier who violated the dignity of the bound security prisoners, but no one showed any interest in who these prisoners are.
Ever since Gilad Shalit’s kidnapping, Israelis, including journalists, have been banned from entering Gaza. At the request of Yedioth Ahronoth, B’Tselem journalists were allowed into the Strip to located the men in the photographs. They are three members of the same family, the Abu Salah family, and live in the al-Amal neighborhood in Beit Hanoun.
Ex-soldier from Ashdod who caused worldwide stir by posting photos of herself posing with cuffed Palestinian detainees taken during her army service says she received death threats on Facebook. ‘The IDF let me down, I wish I never served in such an army,’ she says. Meanwhile, PA planning to take legal action against her.
Asad Abu Salah, 47, is the bearded man Aberjil nicknamed “Osama bin Laden”. He is married and a father of 10. Said Abu Salah, 44, is Asad’s brother, and is married to two women and fathers 18 children.
The young man in another picture is Eid Abu Salah, 25, Said’s son. He is unemployed due to a disability, is married and a father of two. The three were arrested along with four other family members on the charge of membership in Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
March 19, 2008, the date that appears on Aberjil’s pictures, was the eve of Purim. But while in Israel people were preparing for festivities and costumes, the defense establishment was preparing for security incidents. That same weekend, the mourning period for the death of Hezbollah officer Imad Mughniyeh came to an end.
Picture with Eid Abu Salah, posted on Eden Aberjil’s Facebook
On the night of March 18, 2008, the Abu Salah family’s house was encircled. “At one point, we heard from the loudspeakers that the house was surrounded and that we must turn ourselves in. Father asked us to go down to the house’s ground floor and sit there,” Eid says. “Then we heard the sounds of heavy equipment near the house. I looked out the window and saw the Israeli soldiers speaking with my uncle Asad, who lives right next to us. Next we heard a knock at the door and my uncle Asad saying: ‘Open up Said.’ Father opened the door and we saw Asad with a number of soldiers behind him holding his hands back with a gun to his back. We all left the house and the soldiers went in with dogs to search. We went to Asad’s house and sat there. At four in the morning it was decided who would go with the soldiers: Asad and his two sons, 23-year-old Fahmi and 20-year-old Salah, and my father, myself, and two of my brothers, 21-year-old Ghassan and 20-year-old Muhammad.”
‘I felt sexually assaulted’
After over an hour of driving, in a tank and bus, with their eyes covered and their hands cuffed – according to Eid – they reached Zikim. “The soldiers untied the cuffs in the back and cuffed me in the front. Then they seated us on concrete blocks, ” he says. “Father sat on the block next to me and moaned with pain from the cuffs. I heard a soldiers telling my uncle Asad, ‘Tell your brother to shut up, or else you’ll be crying over him.’ We sat like that for half an hour.”
During that half hour, a group of female soldiers arrived. One of them was Eden Aberjil. “I heard the voices of several female soldiers laughing and shouting,” says Eid. “Guessing from the sound there were about 10 of them. One of them sat next to me and asked, ‘What’s your name?’ I answered, ‘Eid’.
“She told me, ‘You are a terrorist’. Then she told me to sit on another block, next to my uncle Asad, and she sat down between us. She told my uncle: ‘You are Osama bin Laden.’ Then she grabbed me by my beard and said, ‘You are Osama bin Laden’s son and are a terrorist just like him.’ Then I heard to the clicks of cameras and the soldier told her friend, ‘Sawri, sawri,’ which means ‘take a picture’ in Arabic.”
All the soldiers were Jewish, why did they speak to each other in Arabic?
“I don’t know why. They spoke to each other in mixed Arabic and Hebrew. She stuck to me and asked her friend to take a picture. At one point the soldier grabbed me by the head and planted a kiss on my right cheek. There was the sound of a camera then as well.
How did you feel when she kissed you?
“I cried. It was difficult. I was already married and the father of a son. I felt scared, sad. She posted one photo on the internet, but there were no less then 10 pictures with me.”
Did you try to resist verbally? To tell the solider something?
“What could I say? Every time I tried to say something, the soldiers hit me.”
How did it end?
“They questioned us, and in the end me and my brother Muhammad were released.
“What did they want from you?
“To know things about Hamas, about the launching of rockets. We told them that we have nothing to do with these things.”
Muhammad Abu Salah, 20, Eid’s brother, told the same story. “She took pictures with us, one by one. When the soldier approached me and while she was taking pictures I felt like she was getting very close to me. I felt sexually assaulted because she was touching my leg, neck and back in a provocative way. Then more soldiers came, started to mock us and insult us with crude remarks. They started to beat me. I asked to go to the bathroom. One of the soldiers took me. I was unable to go from the fear.”
‘Father fell ill after seeing pictures’
Two-and-a-half years have passed since Aberjil’s photos were taken. The soldier has already been discharged from the military and moved on with her life. This is not the case with the Abu Salah family. Out of the seven family members arrested, only the two brothers, Eid and Muhammad, were released. Their uncle, Asad Abu Salah, was tried and sentenced to 25 years in prison for security offenses. His two sons, Fahmi and Salah are being held in the Beersheba prison, awaiting trial over their alleged membership in Hamas. Said Abu Salah, Muhammad and Eid’s father, is also currently at the Beersheba prison, also awaiting trial along with his other son Ghassan.
Aberjil posing in front of bound detainees
The family learned of the publication, and the soldier’s name, from neighbors. “After we returned from the post I forgot about it. I decided that if I don’t have proof, I’m better off keeping quiet,” says Eid. “We only told the family what happened there, including the fact that we were photographed. Some two weeks ago family members called me and said my pictures were on the television and internet. I was very surprised. And then we got a letter from prison, that my father saw the pictures in the newspaper, fell ill and was hospitalized. It’s understandable. Those pictures aren’t exactly cheerful.”
A similar reaction was felt in the house of Asad Abu Salah, who Aberjil nicknamed ‘bin Laden’. His wife Muna says she heard about the incident on TV. “I actually collapsed,” she says. “I cried a lot, because I couldn’t do anything. My husband is a well-known man in the village, and when the pictures were published, everyone recognized him.”
Eid, in interviews she gave to Israeli media, Eden says she brought you something to eat and drink.
“Not at all, I swear she didn’t bring us anything.”
She says she didn’t talk to you, and only brought you food and water.
“She cursed at us, called us terrorists, and didn’t bring us anything.”
What would you tell her if you would meet her?
“I would tell her that if she gets married and has children, she should behave appropriately. They say treatment begets treatment, maybe one day she will feel the way I felt over there. This life is fickle, maybe some day she will experience something similar and feel what I felt.”
The Abu Salah family came to Beit Hanoun from Damra, a town near Majdal Shams. Most of them live in the same house, or in neighboring houses. “No one at home works,” says Eid. “We live from hand to mouth. But thank God, we get by. There are people in much worse situations.”
What changed in your life since the arrest?
“For me, personally, nothing has changed. But I am worried about my relatives who are still in detention, because they will only harass them more now that the pictures are out.”
Would you like Eden to receive some sort of punishment?
“I would like the war crimes being committed to be exposed.
Do you send things to the prison?
“No, they don’t let us take anything in. They tell us that this is the case with all detainees, not just us.”
Aberjil: He’s a liar
This week, when we called Eden Aberjil to get her response, she said a day after the story was published a member of the Abu Salah family phoned her and asked her, “Why are you taking pictures with my uncle?”
What did you do?
“I hung up on him. Where could this conversation possibly lead?
Is it true that you told your friend to take the picture in Arabic?
“I don’t know Arabic. How does he even know it was me?
And what about the sexual assault?
“I caressed his leg? He’s a liar. I would never touch him. On the contrary, I took the picture from a distance so as not to be close to them, because they stink. It’s a simple as that. If you know anything about body language, you can see that I am disgusted by them.”
So, you didn’t kiss him, you didn’t touch his leg?
“They are ingrates and of course they wouldn’t say that I gave them food. Of course they would slander me.”
Did you hear that one of them, Said, was hospitalized after the pictures were made public?
“No, but he is a liar. Let him bring documents.”
Iman Agbaria contributed to this report