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From the field

Soldiers enter 20 Palestinian homes near Nablus late at night, unjustifiably intimidating the families and disrupting their lives

Testimonies gathered by B’Tselem indicate that in April and May 2015 the military entered the homes of twenty Palestinian families at night: sixteen in the village of ‘Awarta and four in the village of Madama, both near the city of Nablus in the West Bank. B’Tselem’s field researcher in the Nablus area, Salma a-Deb’i, found the soldiers’ actions followed the same pattern. Upon entering the house, they demanded that the entire family be woken, including children; they wrote down the names, ages and ID numbers of all the occupants. They went through the house, surveying the house, writing down the number and size of the rooms and listing the furniture. They also took photographs inside and outside the house, including the fa?ade and entrances. In most of the cases, some of the soldiers were masked. B’Tselem does not know of any arrests made in the villages during or following these incursions.

Maha Qawariq, her husband and two of their daughters. Photo: Salma a-Deb’i, B'Tselem, 26 April 2015
Maha Qawariq, her husband and two of their daughters. Photo: Salma a-Deb’i, B'Tselem, 26 April 2015

B’Tselem found that soldiers came to the village of ‘Awarta several times between 8 and 25 April, entering the homes of 16 families in total.

Maha Qawariq, 26, lives in ‘Awarta with her husband and three daughters. She related how soldiers entered their home on the night of 8 April 2015:

At around 1:30 A.M. I woke up because of loud banging at the door. Two of my daughters – Jinan, 4, and Hala, one-and-a-half years old – woke up startled and began crying. I went to their room and found them by the door. I took them in my arms to calm them. In the meantime, my husband opened the front door and several soldiers came in. One soldier whose face was covered in a mask made of black material ordered us to bring out all the chidlren. My husband told him we only have three little girls. The soldier insisted and said, “Everyone has to come and sit here”.

One of the soldiers wanted to us to go out to the yard, but my husband refused and asked him: “Why do you want to send us out of the house in this cold weather, can’t you see our girls are little?”. The soldiers told us to sit on the floor in the living room and asked for our identity cards. My husband gave them his card but couldn’t find mine. He asked if they would make do with my ID number, which is listed on his card, but they refused and insisted that we get mine. The girls clung to me and wouldn’t let me get up. In the end the soldier gave in, I guess because the girls were crying.

One of the soldiers started questioning my husband, reading from a list in Hebrew. He asked my husband for his name, occupation and phone number, and asked how many children we have and for their dates of birth. He also wanted to know the square footage of the house and the number of rooms. Meanwhile the other soldiers walked around the house and went into all the rooms.

The village of ‘Awarta. Photo: Salma a-Deb’i, B'Tselem, 26 April 2015
The village of ‘Awarta. Photo: Salma a-Deb’i, B'Tselem, 26 April 2015

B’Tselem found that on Saturday night, 25 April 2015, soldiers entered the homes of four families in ‘Awarta. On 28 April they returned to one of the homes, since they had not been able to communicate with the women in the house, who do not speak Hebrew. Sham’ah ‘Awad, 57, told B’Tselem how the soldiers came twice to her home, where she lives with her husband and one of their daughters:

On Tuesday, 28 April, at around 1:00 A.M., I woke up from very loud banging on the door. My husband woke up and went to see who it was, and I went to wake my daughter Iman, 23. It was odd, because soldiers had already come to our house on Saturday, when my husband was out working a night shift. When they came on Saturday, my daughter and I were very frightened because we were home alone and couldn’t understand what the soldiers were saying, because none of them spoke Arabic.

When they came back on Tuesday night, my husband went down to the ground floor to open the front door and then came back up to the second floor, which has the bedrooms, living room, and kitchen. Five masked soldiers came up with him. They pointed their guns at us. My husband spoke to them in Hebrew. They asked for our identity cards and for my phone number and Iman’s phone number. They took photographs of all the rooms, sketched the layout of the house on a piece of paper, and then left.

B’Tselem also documented incursions into homes in Madama on the night of 13 May 2015. B’Tselem found that sometime after midnight, soldiers came to the village and entered the four homes of the extended Nassar family, one of which is still under construction. The soldiers’ actions in each house matched the pattern reported in ‘Awarta: they wrote down the names of all the occupants and copied details from their identity cards, ordered the parents to wake their children, went through the house, photographed it, and documented its size and contents. The soldiers also documented the entrances to each house and various structures in their backyards. In Madama, however, the soldiers also questioned the residents about stone-throwing incidents. The village is located by a road leading to the settlement of Yizhar and the houses in question are close to the road, as well as to a girls’ school that at the time was also temporarily hosting the boys’ school in the afternoon while the boys’ school was undergoing renovation. ‘Abir Shtiyeh, 33, described how the soldiers entered her home, where she lives with her husband, Basel Nassar, and their five children:

Six or seven soldiers came inside. They asked for our identity cards. We gave them the cards and they wrote our details down on a piece of paper and told us to get the kids. My husband said they were asleep and would be very frightened if we woke them. The soldier said he didn’t care and that he wanted to see the whole family. After we woke the children, the soldiers searched the house and took pictures of it. Then they went outside, walked around the house and called for my husband. After they left, Basel told me that they had taken him to the sheep pen and taken photographs of the whole area around the house. When the soldiers left, they told him that if the pupils in the village school continue to throw stones at the road leading to Yizhar, they would come to disturb the villagers every night.

The testimonies given to B’Tselem, coupled with the fact that the soldiers did not carry out arrests during these incursions or detain for interrogation anyone from these households, indicate that the night raids in Madama were designed to scare the families and motivate them to take action to prevent stone-throwing at the road to Yizhar. B’Tselem is familiar with this type of activity, which is part of what the military terms “mapping” and has been documented throughout the West Bank, including in Hebron and a-Nabi Saleh. In this procedure, soldiers enter Palestinian homes and document the family members and the house itself, including size, number of rooms, and entrances. They sometimes also take photographs. Soldiers have described this modus operandi in detail in testimonies they gave to Israeli organization Breaking the Silence. The testimonies appear to indicate that the goal is to gather information about Palestinians who are not suspected of committing any offense.

On Wednesday, 20 May 2015, Israeli military radio station Galey Tzahal reported that reservists had been sent on a drill the night before to the village of ‘Awarta. According to the report, the soldiers came to the village after a week’s training “to test their readiness”, searched the village for the objectives they had been given, and entered homes to gather intelligence. Lieut. Col. (Res.) Eliezer Gittelman told the radio station that “a force carrying out a real mapping procedure goes into one of the houses and searches it – checks entrances, who lives there and who doesn’t – as part of a broader plan”. The reporter quoted an officer who had gone on the mission in the capacity of “population officer”. When asked about the impact on residents of the village, he said: “With time, they [the soldiers] have come to understand the need to address the civilian element in fighting, that at the end of the day there are also civilians in the area. They take that into consideration and very much take into account the need not to cause them any unnecessary damage.”

Contrary to this claim of military efforts to prevent harm to locals, incursions into family homes late at night are an unreasonable form of intimidation and harassment, with no justification. This is especially grave when it involves masked soldiers aiming weapons at family members. B’Tselem was unable to verify that such incursions took place on the day of the radio report or the day before. However, the striking resemblance between the activity described by the reporter and the pattern related in testimonies to B’Tselem indicates that in the latter instances, too, soldiers were sent into residents’ homes as part of training or to map the houses for reasons that remain unclear. B’Tselem asked the IDF Spokesperson regarding the matter, but has received no answer to date.

While B’Tselem cannot be sure what goal these incursions are meant to serve, it stands to reason that they are aimed at achieving at least one of three illegitimate goals: gathering intelligence on the Palestinian population in general, including violating the privacy of people who are suspected of no wrongdoing; training, in which the villages and homes of Palestinians become a backdrop and the dehumanized residents are unwillingly cast as extras; or intimidating residents with the hope that they will then pressure local youths to stop throwing stones.

The incidents described above demonstrate how the military abuses its power to disrupt the daily routines of entire families, including children, violating their privacy and intimidating people who are not suspected of any wrongdoing. This serves to entrench the reality in the West Bank in which Palestinian homes can be subjected to a military raid at any moment, for any amount of time, even when there is no reason to do so. Testimonies indicating four separate yet similar incidents of this kind in the space of a single month, in which soldiers entered twenty homes, show that this a military policy. A policy that involves such blatant disrespect for Palestinians and for their right to live their lives undisturbed by the military is unacceptable and cannot be justified on the grounds of security.