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Israeli Soldiers Force Palestinian to Play Violin at Checkpoint

Israeli soldiers forced a Palestinian to play his violin at a West Bank checkpoint before allowing him to pass. The incident was recorded by a volunteer from an Israeli human-rights group, which says this type of humiliating behavior is indicative of the situation at the military roadblocks within the Palestinian territories.

Members of the human-rights group, Machsom Watch (Checkpoint Watch) confirmed that the incident occurred earlier this month at the Beit Iba checkpoint near the West Bank town of Nablus.

Horit Herman-Peled was one of the volunteers at the checkpoint on November 9 and she recorded the incident on videotape. She says hundreds of Palestinians were waiting to get through the roadblock and dozens had been put into a cubicle waiting for the soldiers to check their documents.

"The situation was extremely tense because there were about 70-80 in this cubicle," she said. "And the soldiers were really abusive against them [shouting], 'Get in!' They were pushing them and [shouting], 'get inside.' So, I was standing there totally horrified and suddenly I see a Palestinian starting to play the violin and it was going on for two minutes."

Ms Herman-Peled says the Palestinian man was forced to open his bag, as is customary at all checkpoints, and then to take out his violin. She says when the man began to play, an officer and soldiers standing there laughed. She says all the time other Palestinians were kept waiting in line.

The Israeli military declined a request for an interview about the incident, but faxed a statement, saying that a thorough investigation had been conducted and revealed a lack of sensitivity among the soldiers involved. The statement goes on to say that soldiers at checkpoints deal with complex and life threatening situations every day and that the military continues to try to improve the conditions at checkpoints to facilitate the passage of civilians.

Military sources later told VOA the young man was asked to take the violin out to make sure there were no explosives.

Machsom Watch viewed it differently. Spokeswoman Adi Dagan says the November 9 incident is indicative of the kind of behavior often seen at military roadblocks where Palestinians are routinely harassed and humiliated. She says the searches have little to do with security concerns but end up severely disrupting the daily lives of Palestinian civilians.

"Most Palestinian young men are forbidden from passing through the checkpoints," she said. "The rest of the people, elderly people, children, women - they have to wait hours and hours in lines to cross. Many times they are detained at the checkpoints. Sick people are detained and have lots of problems to get to the hospital. So, this is an ongoing sort of abuse and violation of human rights."

The military has set up many checkpoints in the Palestinian territories, saying they are needed to prevent Palestinian militants from traveling freely to carry out attacks against Israelis. Palestinians and human rights groups say they constitute a form of collective punishment. Machsom Watch is made up of Israeli women volunteers, who monitor soldiers' behavior at checkpoints.