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From the field

Israeli security forces enter 2 homes in Hebron area, strip search family members - including children - and wreak havoc

In January and February of 2017, B’Tselem documented two incidents in which Israeli security forces, some of them masked, entered homes, ordered family members to take off their clothes in one room, and searched the house, leaving behind chaos and damage. One incident took place in the town of Dura and the other in al-Muhawel, a neighborhood in the city of Hebron.

The a-Zir home in the town of Dura. Photo by Musa Abu Hashhash, B’Tselem, 21 March 2017
The a-Zir home in the town of Dura. Photo by Musa Abu Hashhash, B’Tselem, 21 March 2017

5 February 2017, the home of Bassam and Sarah a-Zir in the town of Dura, west of Hebron:

It was about midnight when Bassam a-Zir, 52, and his wife, Sarah, 50, were awakened by loud pounding on the door of their home in Wadi Abu al-Qamra, a neighborhood on the eastern outskirts of Dura. Bassam opened the door, and a soldier grabbed his arm, twisted it behind his back, and shoved him back inside. A group of soldiers, police and ISA agents, some masked, entered the home. An officer who came with the force alleged Bassam was hiding weapons, gold and money in the house and demanded he hand them over. Bassam denied the allegation. At that point, Sarah a-Zir reached the foyer, and the officer told her and Bassam to wake up their children. The parents woke their six children - four boys and two girls, aged five to 18 - and brought them into the foyer, some escorted by soldiers. The family sat in the foyer. At that point, some 15 to 20 of the security forces personnel entered the house and searched it. Sarah a-Zir spoke with B’Tselem field researcher Musa Abu Hashhash on 8 February 2017, and related what happened next:

The officer told us he had information my husband was hiding money from terrorist organizations in the house, and that the soldiers would search the house to find it. Bassam denied there was money in the house, but didn’t object to the soldiers searching it.  The officer ordered the soldiers to conduct the search, and they split up out into the rooms. I heard them moving furniture. They walked around the house with muddy shoes, stepping on clothes, bedding and carpets.

After about 30 minutes to an hour, the security forces ordered Bassam and the boys to go into the living room one by one, take off their clothes and stay there. There were three members of the security forces and one officer in the living room, which is by the foyer. In testimony he gave to B’Tselem field researcher Musa Abu Hashhash on 22 February 2017, Bassam a-Zir described what happened in the living room:

Bassam a-ZirThe officer ordered me to strip down to my underwear, and searched me. Then I got dressed. Ahmad, 18, and Hani, 12, came into the living room. The soldiers ordered Ahmad to take off his top, and Hani to strip down to his underwear. Then, the soldiers took me outside and searched the garden, and outside, with dogs. Then they took me back to the living room. My sons Mushir, 7, and ‘Iz a-Din, 5, were there. Later, they told me the soldiers forced them to strip down to their underwear and searched them.

After they finished searching Bassam and his sons, a female soldier took Sarah into the bathroom, where she ordered her to strip down to her undergarments and searched her. A few minutes later, Sarah returned to the foyer, and the female soldier ordered the two daughters - Mari, 15 and Masra, 11 - to go to their room. There, she ordered them to strip, and searched them when they were dressed only in their undergarments. The mother and daughters were then taken to the living room. The rest of the family were sitting there, with three members of the security forces pointing their guns at them; the officer standing by the door. In his testimony, Hani a-Zir, 12, said:

Hani a-Zir, 12One of the soldiers stood in front of my brother ‘Iz a-Din, who’s five years old, and aimed his gun at him from close by. I heard my mother ask ‘Iz a-Din if he was scared. The officer who was standing by the door noticed and told the soldier to point his gun away from ‘Iz a-Din. The soldier did it. We stayed in the living room until the soldiers left, at around 2:00 A.M. 

After the soldiers left, neighbors came to our house and tidied up the mattresses and furniture the soldiers had searched. I didn’t fall asleep until 4:00 A.M. No one in our family could sleep. My sister Mari didn’t go to school in the morning so she could help my mother tidy up the house.

When the security forces left, having found nothing, the family saw they had left the house in shambles.

The home of the al-Ja’bri family in the neighborhood of al-Muhawel, Hebron, 20 January 2017:

At around 1:00 A.M., the extended al-Ja’bri family were awakened by shouting and pounding on the doors. The family lives in a two-story building, with two apartments on each floor, which houses the al-Ja’bri parents - ‘Abd al-Karim and Samira - their children and their families. The daughter, Ayat al-Ja’bri, a 32-year-old student and a B’Tselem camera project volunteer, came out of her room, on the roof of the house, and saw about thirty soldiers and police officers, some wearing masks. Some of them went into the building and knocked on the doors to the apartments. Ayat took her camera and went down to the yard, where some of the soldiers and police officers had remained with two dogs. Ayat started filming the soldiers, but one of them took her camera. When she protested and said she was a B’Tselem volunteer, the soldier told her she was not allowed to film the soldiers and police officers.

Her brother, ‘Anan, 29, also went into the yard, and when Ayat tried to go back inside, one of the soldiers blocked her path. Her father, ‘Abd al-Karim al-Ja’bri, 58, opened the door and asked the officer who was there, to let her in. The officer agreed, and told the father the soldiers were going to search the home and also conduct body searches. At that point, more than twenty soldiers entered the building and assembled part of the family in the living room of the parents’ apartment: Ayat, her two parents, several of her brothers and sisters, aged twelve to 26, and her 9-month-old niece, Sarah, who was sick. 

While they were kept in the living room, the soldiers began taking family members into other rooms to search them. A female soldier and a policewoman ordered five of the women to go into another room, where they ordered them to strip down to their undergarments, and searched them. In a testimony she gave to B’Tselem field researcher Manal al-Ja’bri on 4 March 2017, Anwar al-Ja’bri, 19, described what happened:

The policewoman and the female soldier told me to come with them. In the room, the policewoman told me to take off my clothes. I wouldn’t, but when she yelled at me, I did. I took off all my clothes, but refused to take off my undergarments. I saw the female soldier and the policewoman joking together. I felt that they were laughing at me. Then the soldier told me to get dressed. I was upset, embarrassed and humiliated. I got dressed, and the soldier took me to the room where they were holding Ayat and Warud. Later, I found out that they had also strip-searched my mother-in-law Samira and her daughters Ayat, Kifaya and Warud.

Baby Sarah’s crib, after the search. Photo by Ayat al-Ja’bri, 20 January 2017
Baby Sarah’s crib, after the search. Photo by Ayat al-Ja’bri, 20 January 2017

After the female soldier and the policewoman finished searching the women, soldiers searched the men, and then took them into the room where the women were being held, along with several other family members, including two children (a six-year-old and a nine-year-old). When they were held in the room, Samira al-Ja’bri, asked to leave the room to get a bottle of milk, medicine and an inhalator for her nine-month-old granddaughter Sarah. The officer, who initially refused, ultimately let her leave the room, with him as escort, but she could not find the bottle and the medicine because of the chaos the security forces had left in their wake.

In her testimony given to B’Tselem field-researcher Manal al-Ja’bri on 30 January 2017, Ayat al-Ja’bri described what happened next: 

Ayat al-Ja’briThe officer asked for the keys to the closets in my room. I said I had them, and he ordered me to go upstairs with him to unlock the closets. When I walked up the stairs, I saw the mess and destruction the soldiers had left behind. They had scattered the hay used to feed the sheep all over the stairs, and mixed it with the animal feed and food products in the pantry, which is across from my room. I saw the soldiers had mixed the flour, sugar and oil with the sheep feed. When we got to my room, I saw the soldiers standing there, after they had turned everything topsy-turvy. The keys were no longer needed because the soldiers had already broken the lock to the closet. The officer and the female soldier then took me back to the room where they were keeping the rest of my family.

Damage to the al-Ja’bri home. For additional images, click on the photo. Photo by Ayat al-Ja’bri, 20 January 2017

The soldiers and officers left the al-Ja’bri home at about 4:00 A.M., having searched all the apartments in the building and returned Ayat’s camera. When the family members came out of the room they had been detained in, they saw the mayhem wreaked by the soldiers. In a testimony given to B’Tselem field researcher Manal al-Ja’bri, ‘Abd al-Karim al-Ja’bri described what he found:

‘Abd al-Karim al-Ja’briThere was chaos and destruction throughout the house. The soldiers shattered two television screens, broke two toilet tanks, the washing machine cabinet, drawers in the bedroom, and kitchen cabinets. They had torn the couches and mixed the sheep feed, which is kept at the house, with food that was in the pantry on the roof. They mixed sugar, flour, rice and oil with the animal feed – fodder, hay and spelt. They scattered hay on the stairs and on the roof. They also broke three tiles on the stairs outside the house and an empty beehive.

‘Abd al-Karim called the Civil Administration the next day, and a Civil Administration officer, who arrived with a soldier detail, recommended he lodge a police complaint. On Sunday, 22 January 2017, al-Ja’bri went to the police station in the Israeli settlement of Kiryat Arba, with the Civil Administration officer, but the police officers refused to take his complaint. Al-Ja’bri ultimately made his complaint at the offices of the Civil Administration, but as far as he is aware, nothing has been done about it.

B’Tselem’s inquiries show that the Israeli security forces - unjustifiably and callously - humiliated the families, including young children: They compelled individuals to strip and conducted demeaning body searches; confined them in a room in their home, in one case until 4:00 A.M.; and wreaked inexplicable destruction throughout the house.

According to the military law applicable in the West Bank, soldiers and officers may enter any Palestinian home at any time, without any need for a warrant or an explanation. Security forces use this power indiscriminately, citing flimsy security pretexts to justify frequent, arbitrary incursions to the homes of residents.

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