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The village of 'Azzun. Photo: Courtesy of village council.
From the field

Israeli soldiers raid Palestinian village of ‘Azzun at night, entering homes, threatening and intimidating families and their children

The Palestinian village of ‘Azzun, home to some 10,000 people, lies east of the city of Qalqiliya, adjacent to Route 55 – the main road that runs between Qalqiliya and the city of Nablus. Early on in the second intifada, the Israeli military installed a n iron gate at the main entrance to the village, as it did in most West Bank villages. In recent years, the military has several times imposed collective punishment on the village by closing the gate, on the grounds that young men from the village had thrown stones and Molotov cocktails at passing cars along Route 55. In addition, military jeeps are often stationed at the entrance to ‘Azzun.

On 15 August 2018, at around 2:00 A.M., about twenty soldiers and an Israel Security Agency (ISA) official raided ten homes in the village. The troops had at least two dogs with them. They woke the inhabitants, kept some confined to rooms in their homes, threatened teenagers of the consequences should they throw stones, intimidated children and conducted violent searches. In one home, the parents awoke to find soldiers in their bedroom. In another, soldiers questioned a person about the possession of arms but left without arresting anyone.

Soldiers invading Palestinians’ homes in the dead of night, waking entire families – including small children – and ransacking their houses, has long since become part of the routine that the occupation regime imposes in the West Bank. The soldiers are not obliged to obtain or present any kind of warrant to raid these homes. They can do so whenever and wherever the military sees fit, in keeping with the broad, sweeping powers it has granted itself. These actions, which are clearly intended to intimidate and menace the population, are unjustified and are but another example of what daily Palestinian life under occupation is like.

Following is a description of several of the raids and some of the testimonies that residents gave B’Tselem field researcher Abdulkarim Sadi regarding that night’s events.

The Sweidan family’s home

At about 2:00 A.M., soldiers raided a two-story building with three apartments in the eastern neighborhood of ‘Azzun. Ilham (47) and Majdi (51) Sweidan live on the first floor; they have nine children, five of them married. In the adjacent apartment lives one of their sons, Muhammad (31), with his wife Amal and their two children. On the second floor lives another son, Ahmad (23), with his wife Dunia and their baby daughter. Wafa, Majdi’s sister, lives in a one-room apartment in another building that opens onto the shared yard. She was woken by the soldiers’ voices and woke the rest of the family. The soldiers entered Ilham and Majdi’s apartment and Muhammad’s apartment. They violently searched the premises, kept the family confined for about two hours, threatened several members of the family that they would be arrested and their home demolished and frightened everyone. They departed, leaving destruction and disorder in their wake.

Mahdi Sweidan next to a wall damaged by soldiers at his home. Photo: Abdulkarim Sadi, B'Tselem, 15 August 2018

In a testimony she gave later that day, Ilham Sweidan described the raid on her home:

My sister-in-law Wafa woke us up and said soldiers were surrounding the house and about to break in. We jumped out of bed and got dressed. I had barely managed to put on my head-covering when I saw soldiers barge into our living room with two police dogs. They spread out in our apartment, which has three bedrooms, a living room and a bathroom. My son Mahdi (25) came out of his room, and the soldiers immediately went over to him, asked for his name and took him into the living room. There, they made him stand with his face to the wall and frisked him. Mahdi was very weak because he has the flu. My husband asked the soldiers to take pity on him and let him sit down because he’s sick, but they didn’t care. They ignored my husband’s plea and took Mahdi out to the yard. That made me nervous and got me worrying about Mahdi and about my other children and grandchildren.

The soldiers ordered me, my daughter Hiba (13), my son ‘Omar (6), my sister-in-law Wafa (53), my daughters-in-law Amal and Dunia and their babies – a five-month-old, 15-month-old and two-year-old – to go into one of the rooms they had finished searching. They held us in there for two hours. My grandchildren wanted to go to the bathroom and asked to eat, but the soldiers wouldn’t let them. We didn’t dare move because we were afraid of the soldiers and of the dogs roaming the house. Meanwhile, they kept my husband and three of my sons – Muhammad (31), Ahmad (23) and ‘Abd a-Rahman (16) – confined to the living room. During the search, the soldiers emptied the contents of the closets onto the floor, broke the tiles on one wall and rummaged through our things in the bedroom, kitchen and bathroom. While we were in the room, I heard the soldiers order my youngest son, ‘Abd a-Rahman, to get dressed because they were going to take him with them. In the end they didn’t take him or Mahdi. After more than two hours, the soldiers left, leaving a complete mess behind them. Their behavior was barbaric and inhuman. There was no cause for them to be act so aggressively.

In a testimony he gave that day, Mahdi Sweidan (25), described the raid on his family’s home:

Mahdi Sweidan. Photo: Abdulkarim Sadi, B'Tselem, 15 August 2018

After they frisked me inside the house, one of the soldiers ordered me to go down to the yard and stand facing the wall with my hands up. When I went out, I was surprised to see more soldiers. They had spread out in the yard and around the house. They frisked me again and one of the soldiers started questioning me. He asked for my personal details and started asking me whether I had any weapons in my possession. I told him I didn’t and that all I’m interested in is finding work and making a living.

The questioning in the yard lasted about fifteen minutes. Each time, a different soldier came up to me and asked me the same questions. They tried to scare me, threatening me that they’d arrest my mother, demolish our house and arrest my brothers. The soldiers shouted at me and swore at me, and one of them brought the dog real close to frighten me.

They kept me in the yard, facing the wall with my hands up, for about two hours. They also brought my little brother ‘Abd a-Rahman – he’s 16 – out to the yard so we’d think they were arresting him, to pressure us. I heard them knocking things over as they ransacked the house, and I heard my nephews crying. In the end they didn’t arrest any of my brothers, but it was a rough, wild raid. They left our homes in a total mess and destroyed things.

The home of Rashid and Khawlah Radwan

At about 3:00 A.M., about ten soldiers came with an ISA offical to the southern neighborhood of ‘Azzun. They entered the two-story home of Rashid (53) and Khawlah (38) Radwan. The Rashids have four children, three of them are currently studying abroad. The soldiers made Rashid and his son Yihya (16) sit in the living room, accused the boy of throwing stones at military jeeps and threatened him that the next time he did such a thing, he would be arrested or simply shot.

In a testimony he gave on 16 September 2018, Rashid Radwan described the raid on his home:

About ten soldiers and an ISA agent were at the door. The ISA guy asked me who was home and asked about my kids. I told him that the only ones home were me, my wife and our youngest son, Yihya , and the my other sons are at medical school abroad. Then he ordered me and my son into the living room, and the soldiers ordered my wife to go back to the bedroom and stay there. The ISA guy started accusing Yihya of throwing stones. He threatened him that he’d arrest him, or that the next time he was caught throwing stones, he’d simply be shot. Yihya answered that he’s concentrating on his studies so that he’d be able to follow in his brothers’ footsteps. But the ISA agent kept on threatening him. He said that this time the raid’s relatively calm, but that if they came again, they’d really search the house, turn it upside down, and arrest Yihya. This lasted for about half an hour, and then they left and went on to nearby houses. They didn’t search the house, but they did wake us up in the middle of the night, scare my son and harass us. I can’t understand this behavior and what they hope to achieve by scaring young kids.

The home of Isma’il and ‘Abir Radwan

Soldiers raided the home of Isma’il (41) and ‘Abir (37) Radwan, who have five children between the ages of five and nineteen, in the southern neighborhood of ‘Azzun. They did not search the house but did threaten one of the children, Walid (13), saying that he would be arrested if he threw stones at Route 55.

In a testimony he gave on 3 September 2018, Isma’il Radwan described the raid on his home:

I opened the door and saw about eight soldiers there. They all came straight inside. My wife and I woke the kids up so they wouldn’t be woken by the noise and get a fright from seeing the soldiers inside the house. The soldiers ordered me and my son Walid into a room. They put my wife and the other kids in the living room. The officer started warning Walid that he shouldn’t go with the other kids in the village and take part in their stone-throwing. He threatened him that if he’d be caught doing something against soldiers, or anywhere near Route 55, he’d be sent to prison or the soldiers would shoot him. The questioning and threats lasted about half an hour, even though Walid tried to explain to the officer that he doesn’t do that kind of thing and that the most important thing for him is to help us because he’s the eldest son. The soldiers left without searching the house. My brother, who lives next door, told us that the same thing happened in their house. The soldiers have no actual allegations against us, they just came to harass and intimidate us.

The home of the Abu Haniyehs

At about 2:00 A.M., the Abu Haniyehs woke up in a fright to find five soldiers in their bedroom. Iyad Abu Haniyeh asked the soldiers to leave the room and let him and his wife get dressed. The soldiers went out and after the couple dressed, kept them and their five children – between the ages of two and eleven – in the children’s room for about an hour and a half. After the soldiers left the house, the family learned that they had only searched the storage shed and the yard.

In a testimony he gave later that day, Iyad Abu Haniyeh described the raid on his home:

I was shocked to be woken by five soldiers while I was in bed with my wife. I didn’t understand what was happening. I opened my eyes and saw the soldiers standing over me. My wife also got frightened. She was in shock at finding soldiers in our bedroom. I started shouting at them and asking how they had gotten into our house without permission and without my opening the door. I asked them to leave the room so my wife and I could get dressed. They went out and let us get dressed.

The soldiers ordered us to sit in one of the rooms. We were in there for almost an hour, until they finished the search. During that time, I heard a stun grenade go off outside and also the firing of tear-gas. I guess people were protesting against the soldiers coming into our neighborhood.

My kids were terrified of the soldiers. My mother, Khadijah (68), was scared too. She has kidney trouble and has to go to the bathroom often. At first, the two soldiers who were standing in the doorway wouldn’t let her out, and they only agreed after I explained her medical condition. My wife was terrified and in shock. She didn’t move for more than half an hour after the soldiers left. The soldiers’ actions are harassment and abuse of my family. They’re scaring us for no reason and making the kids anxious and fearful.