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From the field

Israel’s security forces punish residents of the village of Kobar for an attack perpetrated by a Kobar resident, July-August 2017

Nearly three weeks after the stabbing attack in Halamish, the military continues to impose collective punishment on the residents of Kubar, the village where the assailant lived. Very early this morning, 9 August 2017, the security forces once more arrived at the village. They surrounded it, re-closed the main entrance at the southern end of Kobar, arrested the perpetrator’s father and another of his brothers, entered three homes - leaving chaos behind, and took over rooftops. Clashes then ensued between the troops and village residents.

On Friday, 21 July 2017, Omar al-‘Abed, 19, from the village of Kobar, went into the Salomon family home in the settlement of Halamish, Ramallah District where he stabbed four members of the family, killing Yosef Salomon, 71, his daughter Chaya, 46 and his son Elad, 35, and inflicting moderate to serious injuries on the mother, Tova, 68.

For four days after this incident, security forces collectively punished the entire village of Kobar. The military imposed severe restrictions on movement and forces raided village homes at night, leaving chaos in their wake. They arrested several villagers and in at least one case, assaulted a person, causing him severe injuries. Travel restrictions were also imposed on nearby Palestinian communities.

The village of Kobar, which is located 11 kilometers north of the city of Ramallah, is home to some 6,000 people. Many of them are farmers, and they cultivate some 500 hectares of land. About one thousand residents work in Ramallah and nearby villages, and some fifty work inside Israel.

Restrictions on movement:

The military’s immediate response to the incident was to introduce sweeping restrictions on Palestinian travel in the area. For four days, soldiers set up flying checkpoints at the entrances to villages near the settlement of Halamish and at intersections in the area. On Saturday, the troops closed the gates the military had installed at the entrances to two villages in the early days of the second intifada. The gates were kept closed for the day. Also on Saturday, soldiers were posted at the ‘Atarah Checkpoint – which is normally not permanently staffed – and carefully checked all passersby. Located at the northern entrance to Ramallah, ‘Atarah Checkpoint lies between the city and the northern West Bank. In the days that followed, security checks were conducted intermittently.

Earth mounds the military used to block off the eastern entrance to Kobar. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem, 23 July 2017
Earth mounds the military used to block off the eastern entrance to Kobar. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem, 23 July 2017

As for Kobar itself, the troops blocked off with rocks and mounds of earth the four entrances to the village, including a dirt path that only serves farming vehicles. Soldiers were posted for part of the day around the village. Tents serving as headquarters for the military were erected near the eastern entrance. For the four days immediately following the attack, soldiers remained in the vicinity of the village, entering and leaving it time and again.

On Saturday morning, after the soldiers left the village temporarily, local residents partially opened the main entrance at the southern edge of the village. The military closed it again the next day. This cycle repeated itself over the course of the four days following the attack, with residents opening the road and the military closing it off again.

After four days of closure, residents gradually opened the roads, and the military did not reseal them. Nevertheless, the military continues showing up at the village every few days, carrying out patrols and entering residents’ homes. As noted above, this morning the troops once again closed two of the entrances to the village.

The closure has affected all residents. Although it was possible to leave the village for a few hours every day – once soldiers left and until they resealed the road, many residents were afraid to leave for work, remaining confined to their homes and the village. Some of the persons affected were patients in need of medical services in Ramallah and about twenty to thirty university students. Travel restrictions also hurt residents of other communities who work in Kobar and could not get to work – both for fear of encountering soldiers and for fear they would not be able to return home at the end of the day – and the village residents who rely on the services provided by these individuals.

For four days, the military disrupted the lives of thousands of people, although they stood accused of no personal wrongdoing. This type of response has become incorporated as a standard part of military policy, with the military cynically abusing its power to mistreat civilians. This kind of collective harm is morally and legally indefensible.

Raids and confiscations:

On the night of the incident, large military forces, numbering hundreds of soldiers, entered the village. Twenty to thirty of them went to the assailant’s home and searched it. They arrested his brother, who is still in custody, and measured the home in preparation for its demolition. Three days later, the forces returned to arrest the assailant’s mother, and she was released on bail on 3 August.

Soldiers confiscating equipment, Kobar, 24 July 2017Over the course of the four days immediately following the attack, forces raided at least 53 more homes in the village. The raids, each lasting an average of two to three hours, were carried out in the middle of the night by dozens of security forces personnel. The soldiers left the village every morning and returned at nightfall.

Most raids ended with the house in shambles. In one of them, soldiers confiscated the owner’s car and in five other homes, they confiscated various sums of money. One of the homeowners said in a testimony he gave to B’Tselem, that security forces took NIS 5,200 [approx. USD 1,425], which he had saved up for months, for eye surgery his daughter is scheduled to undergo soon. In another home, the soldiers attacked the homeowner, beating him so severely he required hospital care.

B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad took testimonies from people who live and work in the village:

On 24 July 2017, Iyad Hadad took the testimony of 35-year-old ‘Abbas Ibrahim Barghouti. A married father of three who lives in Kobar, he spoke about how soldiers raided his workshop and confiscated thousands of shekels’ worth of equipment, alleging he had received money from Hamas. The next day, Hadad took another testimony from Barghouti, after he had been assaulted by soldiers in his yard. In the second testimony Barghouti said:

My wife, Maram Shehadeh Rayan and I have three young children. I’ve been working as a teacher in the village of Turmusaya for thirteen years, and I also have a sign-making printing workshop, which is located near my and my brother Ashraf’s home.

Today, at 2:40 A.M., I was sitting with my wife in our backyard. Suddenly, my wife heard noises by the house. I asked her to go inside because I was afraid she’d get hurt. At first, I thought it was wild boars. That happens here sometimes. Then I followed my wife, meaning to go inside, when I suddenly saw three soldiers walking toward me. I hadn’t even noticed they’d come into the yard. They attacked me right away. They pulled me by the shirt from behind. They never asked for my name or my ID card. They tackled me down to the ground and started kicking me and hitting me with their guns on my back, legs and head. One of them had his foot on my neck to keep me from moving. I asked them why they were hitting me and said I had little children. One of them told me to keep quiet in Hebrew. About three minutes later, one of them tied my hands behind my back with plastic zip ties.

In the meantime, my wife, who had heard the voices, came back out and started shouting at them. The soldiers told her to get back inside and stay there. My brother Ashraf who lives next door also heard my cries then. He stepped out onto his balcony and started shouting, calling out to the soldiers to stop beating me. The soldiers aimed their guns at him and told him to get back inside his apartment.

‘Abbas Barghouti whose eye was injured when he was beaten by soldiers. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem, 24 July 2017After that, one of the soldiers stood me up and pushed me, in front of him, to another section of the yard. A soldier covered my eyes and ordered me to sit down, and then they kicked me again and beat me with their hands and their guns. One of the blows was really strong, and I started bleeding from my eye. I saw flashes and felt dizzy. I felt I had to protect myself. I managed to get out of the zip ties, and got up, but they pushed me back down and pinned me to the ground. They hit me again, and I shouted. I couldn’t defend myself or counter the blows I was getting in the head and the face. One of them sat on my back to keep me in place.

Suddenly, one of them asked me for my name. After I had answered, he got off my back, and all of them stood far away from me and started talking on their radio. Maybe they realized they’d attacked me by mistake. I don’t know what happened to them, but they stopped beating me as soon as they found out my name. Then they told me to get inside. I asked for my phone back. I had dropped it when they first attacked me, and they took it. They refused to give it to me and told me to get in. Later, I found the phone on the ground. I went inside, and my wife and my mother were there. My brothers came after the soldiers had left. I washed my face. I was bleeding profusely from the right eye and the face. My right eye had swollen shut, and I couldn’t see anything out of it. I lay on the couch. The soldiers left the area after about 15 minutes.

I still can’t see through the eye because of the swelling, but if I pry it open with my hand, I have blurred vision through it. I’m worried my eyesight has been damaged. My shoulder is bruised and I have scratches on my right elbow, and on my nose and forehead. I still don’t know why they attacked me.

Adibah Yusef Barghouti, ‘Abbas Barghouti’s 75-year-old mother, spoke with B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad on 7 August 2017. In her testimony, she recalled how she heard her son crying out in pain:

I hurried over to his house, and his wife came running toward me. She was crying and trembling with fear. She hugged me and said soldiers were beating ‘Abbas in the backyard. She tried to stop me from going out to him. I refused. I went to the kids’ room and opened the window. I saw a soldier with a gun. When he saw me he immediately shut the window in my face and ordered me to get inside. I opened the window again and started shouting at them: ‘Why are you beating him? What do you want from him? Isn’t it enough you came here two days ago and confiscated equipment?’

And then, it’s not clear what happened. They must have had their fill, and they let ‘Abbas go home. When I saw him, his eye was sealed shut and bleeding. I almost fainted when I saw him. It was a shocking sight. He was exhausted and went straight away to wash his face. The soldiers cleared off in the meantime. We called an ambulance that took him to the hospital in Ramallah.

‘Abbas Barghouti was taken to the Palestine Medical Complex in Ramallah where the injuries he had sustained from the beating were examined. He went home against medical advice, because the doctors thought his eye should be examined by a specialist. Barghouti went to the Musallam Hospital, a private ophthalmology hospital: he was diagnosed with damage to the cornea, and the cuts in his eyebrow were stitched.

‘Assef Omar Barghouti, a 40-year-old married father of four who lives in Kobar, works for the Palestinian Authority Water Authority. In testimony he gave on 25 July 2017, he told of the soldiers’ raid on his home:

I live in the village with my wife, Yafa Mansur and our four children – the eldest is 13 and the youngest is four. Over the last four days, military forces have been coming to the village every day and raiding homes for no reason. This morning, at about 6:00 o’clock, I was standing on the porch, and I saw about 25 soldiers coming to us. I shouted for them to wait for me to open the door. They didn’t wait. By the time I ran to the front door, I saw they had broken in. The soldiers came in, armed and wearing bullet flak jackets. They looked frightening. They told me to face the wall and put my hands up. One of them spoke Arabic. A soldier searched me and then asked me who else was home. I said, my wife and children. He told me to wake them up and get them all in the living room. I did.

Then they spread out in the rooms and started searching. The officer asked me if I had a car and I said I didn’t. I asked why they were searching our home and he said it was their business and that I should keep out of it. He told me to keep quiet. I did.

Ten minutes after they came in, the officer asked for my ID card, and I gave it to him. There were 70 shekels [approx. USD 20] in its covering and some documents. When they finished searching, after about 30 minutes, and were about to leave, I asked the officer about my ID card. He said: there it is on the table. I took it and saw the 70 shekels were missing. I went after them to demand the money and called out to the officer, but they had advanced a little, and the officer ordered me to get back. He didn’t give me a chance to complain or demand the money back. I gave up and went home because it was a small sum.

I started checking what they had done in the house. It was a complete mess. They had torn the upholstery on couches and broken dishes in the kitchen. I think this was just meant to make our lives miserable. I’m not active in any political organization, and I just live with my family and go about my business. I work as a clerk for the water authority in Ramallah. This raid by armed soldiers for no reason is serious, infuriating and repugnant. It took us hours to get the house back in shape, and I’ll now have to pay to have the couches fixed. The seventy shekels that were stolen aren’t much, but it’s immoral, and it says something about these soldiers.

Alaa Mahmoud ‘Abd al-Mahdi, 28, lives in Ni’lin and owns a pharmacy in Kobar. In a testimony she gave on 24 July 2017, she spoke about the atmosphere of fear after the incident:

Alaa ‘Abd al-Mahdi at the pharmacy. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem, 24 July 2017Every morning, I take public transportation from home in Ni’lin to my pharmacy in Kobar, and my father picks me up in the evening. On Friday, 21 July 2017, at around 11:00 P.M., my brother Muhammad, 18, and I were still at the pharmacy, when we heard about the attack in Halamish on the news. When I realized the person who had done it was from Kobar, I got very worried. I was worried about the trip home and followed the situation on the roads on social media and through telephone conversations with my family. I was afraid the military and the settlers would take revenge as they had done before. I thought about staying at the pharmacy, but I was also scared the soldiers would come into the village and the pharmacy and find us there.

Ultimately, we decide to get out of the village before the soldiers came. We drove through Ramallah in my father’s car, which I had that night, and managed to get to Ni’lin at about midnight, without running into any soldiers.

I couldn’t sleep that night. I stayed in touch with my friends in Kobar. I understood large military forces went into the village and some homes, and that they had blocked off the entrances with dirt mounds so no one could get in or out of the village.

I was worried about my pharmacy which is in the center of the village. I didn’t go into the pharmacy the next day even though I’d heard the soldiers had left the village because I knew they hadn’t gone far.

The day after that, yesterday, I also didn’t open the pharmacy because I heard the soldiers had gone into the village in the middle of the night again. Today, the third day, I understood the situation has calmed down a little and that some young people had opened one of the entrances to the village again, so I took a taxi and came here and opened the pharmacy. I’m very stressed and scared the military will come into the village again while I’m still here and that clashes will start with the young people. The situation is confusing and stressful, and – quite simply – very dangerous.

The streets are almost empty, as if there’s a curfew. Very few people have come to the pharmacy. People leave their homes only in emergencies or to buy something they really need. I hope and pray the situation calms down, and everything goes back the way it was. I’m very distraught and constantly stressed.

Ahmad Nassar Amira, 20, lives in Kobar and runs a grocery store in the village with his father. In a testimony he gave on 24 July 2017, he spoke about the hardships brought on by the travel restrictions:

When the military closed off the village as punishment for the attack in Halamish, travel stopped almost completely. The only way out of the village was a narrow passage some young people had made in the roadblock and people used it only in emergencies.

The grocery relies on the supply of food items from Ramallah and we couldn’t get anything from any of the suppliers during the closure. Items in the grocery store have sold out, and other supplies are running low as well. There was not a lot to sell. The grocery store is my family’s main source of income, and this is a small village, so there aren’t too many customers to begin with.

One of the gaps the young men made in a roadblocks to  Kobar. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem 6 August 2017One of the gaps the young men made in a roadblocks to Kobar road. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem 6 August 2017

Despite the danger, my father went to Ramallah through the narrow opening the young people had opened up to bring some basic items for the grocery store like bread, canned goods and baby formula, which families can’t go without.

On top of this, last night the military raided our house. They arrived at about 3:00 A.M. and trapped us in the living room until 5:00 o’clock. Since there isn’t much furniture in the house, they didn’t destroy anything. One of the officers interrogated my father, asking if he had any connection to the person who carried out the attack or if he had any information about him. Then they left. The also raided the home of my brother, Amjad Nassar, which is next to ours.

Our lives have been completely disrupted, and we don’t know what to do. It feels like they took our freedom away. If the closure goes on, we’ll lose a lot of money and might have to shut down the grocery store, and then we’ll have no income. We’re being punished for something we didn’t do and had no part in.