RAMALLAH, JAN. 25 -- Some were beaten outside their shops, they said, when they did not open them fast enough. Others were taken to a vacant lot behind a pastry shop on Main Street and hit with lead pipes and wooden clubs, according to witnesses.
Still others were dragged into the bus parked off Menara Square, their hands tied behind their backs, and they were carried out on stretchers after witnesses heard screams.
For nearly a month, shopkeepers in this Arab city on the Israeli-occupied West Bank, a few miles north of Jerusalem, had been caught in the middle of a vicious contest between soldiers and Palestinian youths, with the youths demanding that the shops close and soldiers insisting they remain open.
But for the past week, witnesses here charge, many merchants, shopkeepers and store employees have become special targets of a new Israeli crackdown in the occupied territories.
Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin today defended his week-old policy by which the Army is to use "force, power and beatings" to smother the nearly seven-week-long wave of Palestinian revolt in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Medical sources say that in all, 56 residents have been treated for broken bones -- mostly arms and hands -- and deep bruises and cuts at Ramallah Hospital in the past week. The Los Angeles Times said today that 30 more were treated for similar injuries at Rafidiya Hospital in Nablus, 25 miles north of here, and two Israeli legislators from the left-of-center Citizens' Rights Movement told parliament that more than 200 Gaza residents have been treated.
In Ramallah today, Marwan Kishek said he was standing outside his father's jewelry shop last Tuesday -- the day the new beatings policy was announced -- watching a locksmith repair a door lock damaged by a soldier the day before when an Army jeep pulled up.
The Israeli soldiers wanted to know why the door was closed and started yelling, said Kishek, a civil engineer with a doctorate from Cambridge University. When he refused to give them his identity card, he said, one of the soldiers struck him repeatedly on his head, arms and shoulders until he lost consciousness. His father, a prominent local businessman and former vice mayor, watched in horror.
"That soldier looked me right in the eye and I could see he had hate," said Kishek, who is still nursing a bump on his head, cuts on his arm and a big purple welt on his shoulder. "He hit me like I was a beast. There was no reason for it."
Other soldiers took one of the shop's employees, Abed, 25, to an empty storefront, the employee said. The soldiers tied his hands behind his back and beat him with clubs and lead pipes, he said.
Two taxi drivers and two shopowners who refused to give their names said they had seen several youths taken to the garbage-cluttered lot behind the pastry shop and beaten. Joel Greenberg, a Jerusalem Post reporter, interviewed a furniture shop owner, Abdel Baset Hamdan, at Ramallah Hospital, who said he had been taken there by soldiers and handcuffed, beaten and kicked repeatedly in the face.
Greenberg said he saw fresh blood on the ground at the lot yesterday and was told by a soldier, "You're late. You should have come earlier. That's when there was action."
Rabin today told reporters he still believed the beatings policy in general was "the right one" and that it had helped produce "a relative calm" in areas wracked by civil violence in recent weeks. The Army has lifted curfews on seven of Gaza's eight refugee camps and thousands of residents have streamed back to work.
Rabin also said, however, that the beatings were to be used only against rioters and only "while the violence is going on -- not after, not before." Soldiers who beat Palestinians in other instances were "exceptions," he said, and would face disciplinary action.
The beatings policy has come under broad international attack, and today some members of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, also expressed outrage.
Abba Eban, chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and a member of Rabin's Labor Party, told reporters: "If there are Cabinet ministers or Knesset members who are enthusiastic about the idea of taking Palestinians to a certain place, ordering them to put out an arm, taking a baton and breaking the extended limb with precision, why do they not volunteer themselves instead of ordering soldiers to do it?"
Yossi Sarid, one the legislators who compiled the Gaza statistics, said, "When you see a man 75 years old and he is very, very severely beaten, you necessarily come to the conclusion that we are not talking about self-defense."
Although Rabin announced the beatings policy last week, Palestinians contend assaults have been one tactic used by soldiers ever since the violence erupted Dec. 9. In the first days, residents of the Balata refugee camp outside Nablus said Border Policemen and soldiers had rounded up young men they said had been involved in rioting, taken them to a house used as a military observation post and beaten them.
The week of Dec. 21, medical personnel at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City said they were treating up to 30 assault victims daily, many of them with broken arms and many from the Ansar II military detention center.
At the Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza, residents pointed to a fenced-in area and said they had been taken there in predawn roundups and beaten.
But Rabin's endorsement of beatings last Tuesday elevated this tactic to a policy and encouraged soldiers to use their clubs more frequently, Israeli analysts say.
"A wave of anti-Arab sentiments has been washing over" the Israeli Army, wrote defense commentator Zeev Schiff in the Haaretz newspaper. Some soldiers, drained physically and emotionally by having to police women and children in the refugee camps, were succumbing to "the desire to settle accounts" with Palestinians, he wrote.
In Ramallah, the beatings began just after Rabin and an entourage of security men and journalists pulled out of town following a tour last Tuesday morning, witnesses said.
Mohammed Halil, 20, said he was hit by a rubber bullet in the thigh during a disturbance here yesterday. He said he tried to hobble away but soldiers caught him and beat him. He said they beat him again at the post office and again at a police station. Altogether, he charged, he was beaten for nearly three hours before being admitted to a hospital, where he is recovering from deep cuts on his mouth, cheek and head.
An Army spokesman said Halil was beaten during the riot while resisting arrest, not afterward.
A spokesman for the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem said three U.S. citizens -- one living in Ramallah, one in nearby Mazraat Ech Sharqiya, and one driving on the Jerusalem-Ramallah highway -- have complained that they were assaulted by soldiers.
According to an affidavit filed by one of them, Ahmad Abdel Aziz, 34, a clothing salesman from Flushing, N.Y., soldiers came into his house in Mazraat Ech Sharqiya while he was eating lunch, pulled him outside and beat him and his two teen-aged sons, even though he produced an American passport. He was treated at a hospital for bruises and cuts that required two stitches.
Witnesses said some of the Ramallah beatings took place in a military bus. The bus was parked in front of the pastry shop today and soldiers sat inside eating lunch. The soldier sitting in the driver's seat laughed when he was asked if beatings had taken place there.
The soldiers do not beat anyone, he said. "We give them candy and cookies. I even brought my camera to take their picture."
A military spokesman said the Army would check all accounts of beatings but that no one had filed complaints. Residents say they are afraid to go to the Army.