Video: Security forces weld door to Hebron home shut on unfounded grounds and use violence

10 Sep 2017

Bassem and Rania al-Muhtaseb live with their three children on the second floor of a two-story building in the old city of Hebron.  The building is owned by the extended al-Muhtaseb family. The Hebron Rehabilitation Committee is currently conducting restoration and conservation work on the first floor of the building.

The door welded by security forces. Photo by Musa Abu Hashhash, B'Tselem, 7 Sept. 2017

The building has two entrances. The main entrance opens onto the square in front of al-Haram al-Ibrahimi (Tomb of the Patriarchs). It is located about thirty meters away from the Tomb of the Patriarchs Checkpoint-West. The back entrance, a one-meter-high door, faces the Hebron market. The building’s occupants often use the back door to avoid the hassle of crossing the checkpoint, which is only open from 5:00 A.M. to 10:00 P.M. Going in and out of the house from the direction of the Tomb of the Patriarchs at night, when the checkpoint is closed, involves a long detour through Checkpoint 160 or the Pharmacy Checkpoint, and requires taking a taxi or climbing over neighboring rooftops. 

On Sunday, 13 August 2017, Israeli soldiers and Border Police officers arrived at the al-Muhtasebs’ home at around 3:30 P.M. and informed the family of their intention to weld the back door shut, as it is used by suspects fleeing security forces.

Rania al-Muhtaseb, 24, related what happened in a testimony she gave to B’Tselem field-researcher Musa Abu Hashhash on 5 August 2017:

At around 3:30 P.M., I heard knocking on the door that faces the Tomb of the Patriarchs square. I asked who it was and gathered it was Border Police officers. I asked why they wanted to get into our house. One of them said they suspected a guy they had been chasing had come into the house and was hiding in it.

A few male officers and one female officer came in carrying tools: a hammer, a drill, and so on. At first, I didn’t understand why they’d brought the tools. They went through every room in the house until they reached the one with the small door that faces the market.

I called my aunt Zleikhah, who lives in the Old City and is one of the building’s owners. She arrived within half an hour. The officers were trying to screw the door shut just as she came in. She went up to them and tried to stop them. She pressed herself against the door and held on to it. The female soldier tried to get her away from the door, but couldn’t.

The video footage of what happened next, shot by Rania al-Muhtaseb, shows a female soldier and a female police officer trying to forcefully drag away 55-year-old Zleikhah al-Muhtaseb, who is sitting on the ground, to handcuff her and move her away from the door. The forces eventually screwed the door shut and left the house. At around 9:00 P.M., Border Police officers returned and welded the door shut.

The sealing of the back door has made life very difficult for the al-Muhtaseb family. Every day, they now have to endure the lengthy and humiliating experience of crossing checkpoints, when these are open, or the long taxi ride or climbing across neighborhood rooftops when they are not. 

Bassem al-Muhtaseb, 31, spoke about the effect this has had on the family:

Bassem al-Muhtaseb. Photo by Musa Abu Hashhash, B'Tselem, 13 Aug. 2017

I work as a driver in a plastics factory in the H1 area in Hebron. I leave for work very early in the morning, at 3:30 or 4:00 A.M. The gate of the Tomb of the Patriarchs checkpoint is still closed at that time. I often get home late, after 10:00 P.M., when the checkpoint is already closed.

Before they welded the back door shut, I would go in and out of the house through the market. Now, I have to get by home walking on the rooftops of the houses near the market. It’s dangerous at night, because the military watches the rooftops in the area.

The other option is a very long alternate route that requires taking a taxi and crossing the Pharmacy checkpoint or Checkpoint 160, which are far from my house. At that time of night, the Border Police is very meticulous with its security checks at the checkpoints. The officers ask me why I’m coming home so late. It takes me more than 45 minutes to get home that way.

On top of this, my wife is pregnant, and I’m worried she’ll go into labor at night and we’ll have to get to hospital. I’m especially worried it will happen when I’m not home. In our experience, the Border Police agree to open the emergency gate that’s near the checkpoint only in extreme cases, and only after several calls are made and passage is coordinated. My aunt Zleikhah and I plan to file a complaint with the police and with various organizations.

Israel imposes extreme restrictions on the movement of Palestinian residents in downtown Hebron, forcing them to constantly undergo security screening at checkpoints and denying them access to vast parts of the city. As though this were not enough, in this particular case security forces sealed off a door inside a private home while using violence – an invasive violation that denies residents the ability to lead a normal life. The excuse provided by the security forces that the measure was needed to prevent “suspects” from going through the house is unfounded and has no basis in reality. Even if there were any truth to it, it could not justify such severe harm to the al-Muhtaseb family. This case is another example of Israel’s policy of segregation and restrictions on Palestinian movement in central Hebron, coupled with abuse, violence and daily harassment by security forces and settlers. All this has made life in the old city of Hebron intolerable for Palestinians, and thousands have moved out of the area as a result. 

Zleikhah al-Muhtaseb on the inner side of the welded door. Photo by Musa Abu Hashhash, B'Tselem, 15 Aug. 2017
Zleikhah al-Muhtaseb on the inner side of the welded door. Photo by Musa Abu Hashhash, B'Tselem, 15 Aug. 2017