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View of the eastern neighborhood, village of ‘Urif. Photo by Salma a-Deb’i, B’Tselem

Violence not limited to settlers: Israeli military raids Palestinian village of ‘Urif 3 nights in a row

For years, the Palestinian village of ‘Urif, which lies southwest of Nablus, has been subjected to repeated attacks by settlers with the backing, and sometimes active support, of the Israeli military. These attacks take make the residents’ lives miserable, taking a heavy toll on them by forcing them to live in constant fear and keeping them from maintaining any sort of normal routine.

To add insult to injury, about a month ago some 25 soldiers raided the village for three nights running. They entered 14 homes, every time keeping all the inhabitants confined to a single room while they searched the rest of the house. The soldiers intimidated the residents, and particularly the children. In one instance, a female soldier forced three women to strip at gunpoint, with an attack dog by her side.

The soldiers went away and we were left wondering. We didn’t understand what it was that they wanted. At first, we thought they’d come to arrest my husband. They had handcuffed him. But in the end, they didn’t take him, they just kept him outside the house. So I wonder, why did they raid our house like that?

Taken from the testimony of Aya Ka’bi

Soldiers invading Palestinians’ homes in the dead of night, waking entire families – including small children and infants – has long since become a staple part of the routine that the occupation regime imposes in the West Bank. Often enough, these raids involve aggressive searches of the homes and arrests. They are carried out 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 but one more example of the military’s arbitrary abuse of its power.

Following is a description of several of the raids and excerpts from testimonies that residents gave B’Tselem field researcher Salma a-Deb’i:

Disarray the soldiers left behind in the al-‘Amer home. Photo courtesy of the family, 20 October 2018

The al-‘Amer home, Friday, 19 October 2018:

The first raid took place on Friday, 19 October 2018, when a troop of some 25 soldiers entered six homes in the village. At around 1:20 A.M., about seven soldiers entered a two-story, two-apartment building in the village center. ‘Adel (37) and Fatimah (30) al-‘Amer live with their four children – aged 4 to 11 – on the ground floor. ‘Adel’s parents, ‘Abd al-Hafez (65) and ‘Aziza (55) live on the top floor. The soldiers questioned ‘Adel al-‘Amer, kept the rest of the family confined to his parents’ living room, and searched both apartments. They left after about an hour, leaving both homes in complete disarray.

‘Adel al-‘Amer, who works for the village council and volunteers with B’Tselem’s Camera Project, awoke to the sound of loud banging and shouting coming from the home of his cousin, Murad Safdi, who lives next door. When he heard the soldiers mention his name, al-‘Amer woke his wife and called his parents to warn them that soldiers would be coming.

Disarray the soldiers left behind in the al-‘Amer home. Photo courtesy of the family, 20 October 2018

In a testimony he gave on 21 October 2018, ‘Adel described the raid on his family’s home:

‘Adel al-'Amer. Photo by Salma a-Deb’i, B’Tselem, 21 October. 2018

About five minutes later, I saw the soldiers making their way to our house. I ran to open the door, because I didn’t want them to knock on it and scare the children. At the same time, my brother ‘Atef (31) arrived. He’s a doctor and lives nearby. He had heard the soldiers shouting and came to make sure my father was okay.

The soldier motioned to ‘Atef and me to go up to our parents’ apartment on the top floor. He asked me my name and when I told him, he demanded to see my ID card and said: "I want everyone to come here." I went downstairs to my apartment and told my wife and kids to come upstairs with me. I tried to stay calm so the kids wouldn’t get scared.

When we got up to my parents’ place, one of the soldiers ordered my father, ‘Atef, my wife and my kids to stay in the living room. Two soldiers led me outside and sat me down on the stairs. About fifteen minutes later, one of the soldiers took me down to my place. When I went in, I saw soldiers in my bedroom. They were emptying the closets and turning the house upside down.

The soldiers looked at a photo album and got angry when they saw a photograph from 1994 that shows me holding a gun in a training camp in Jericho. The gun belonged to one of my relatives. The soldier asked me angrily about the weapon and I told him it belonged to a relative of mine, who was a policeman.

Then they led me back to the stairs I’d been sitting on before, and about ten minutes later, two soldiers took me back to my apartment. They put my stills camera and the video camera B’Tselem gave me on the table. One of the soldiers looked through the pictures on the camera and started asking me about photos I’d taken on a family visit. He asked me: "Who’s the guy in the photo?" I told him it was my brother-in-law, Jihad Safdi, and he told me to call him. I said: "You’ve taken my phone. Give it back so I can call him." The soldier gave me the phone, opened Google Maps on it and ordered me to point out Jihad’s house. Then he took me back to the stairs.

About half an hour later, the soldiers left. When my wife and kids and I got back into our house, we found everything in total disarray. The soldiers didn’t leave a single thing in its place. They threw everything on the floor, even the kids’ clothes and toys. They broke the toy tanks and toy guns.

In a testimony she gave on 7 November 2018, Fatimah al-‘Amer related:

My husband went to open the door so the soldiers wouldn’t blow it up, like they usually do. I went to be with the kids. They were frightened because we’d woken them in the middle of the night, and they thought the soldiers were about to arrest their father. I did my best to calm them down and convince them that the soldiers were just on a routine mission and that nothing bad would happen to them or to their dad.

The soldiers told ‘Adel to go up to his parents’ place and then told him to come back down to ours to get me and the kids. When we went upstairs, the soldiers ordered the kids and me to sit in the living room. They told ‘Adel to go back down to our apartment and stay there. We sat in the living room with ‘Adel’s parents and with his brother ‘Atef. One soldier stood in the doorway and the others went through the house, searching the rooms. The whole time I was scared they were arresting ‘Adel, who stayed downstairs with the other soldiers.

My mother-in-law, ‘Aziza, had trouble breathing. She has diabetes and high blood pressure. She asked us to open the balcony door, but the soldier wouldn’t let us and only later allowed us to open a window. Soon after that my son Seif a-Din (4) had to use the bathroom. I got up to take him there, but the soldier started shouting at us. I told him the child needed the bathroom. In the end, he agreed, but he followed us and stayed with us until we came out of the bathroom and went back to the living room.

That whole time, we didn’t know what the soldiers were doing. They left the apartment at around 2:30 A.M., and then ‘Adel came in. I thanked the Lord he hadn’t been arrested. Then we went into the other rooms in his parents’ house and found that the soldiers had turned everything upside down, leaving a complete mess. When I went down to our apartment, I discovered they’d done the same thing there. They hadn’t left a single thing in place. The entire contents of the closets, the kids’ toys, their books – everything was in disorder. They’d even broken some of the kids’ toys and torn up my daughter Jamilah’s schoolbooks. It took me the rest of the day and some of the following day to finish tidying everything up.

The Shihadah home, Friday, 19 October 2018:

That night, at approximately 1:45 A.M., three male soldiers and a female soldier entered the Shihadahs’ home with a large dog. The two-story building is located in the eastern part of the village. On the ground floor live Kamal (32) and Iman (25) Shihadah and their four daughters (aged 2 to 8). On the top floor live Kamal’s parents - Farhan (57) and Khawlah (51) - with their son Mahmoud (23) and his wife Balsam (21). The elder Kamals’ four other children are married and live elsewhere.

Khawlah went downstairs to be with her daughter-in-law Iman, who was alone with her four daughters. The soldiers asked the two women about Kamal, who was at work at the time. Then two of the soldiers went upstairs, ordered the rest of the family to come down and kept them confined to Kamal and Iman’s living room. One of the soldiers frisked Farhan and Mahmoud. The female soldier took the women in turn into another room, bringing with the assault dog with her, and ordered them to strip naked at gunpoint. The two other soldiers searched both apartments, except the bedroom where the girls were still asleep. The force left after about two hours.

In a testimony she gave on 21 October 2018, Khawlah Shihadah described the raid on her home:

The female soldier with the dog told me to get up and come with her. She took me into Kamal and Iman’s bedroom and closed the door. I asked her: "What do you want?" She replied: "Take off your clothes." I refused and only removed my head-covering. The soldier asked: "What’s that in your bust?" I told her it was silver and gold jewelry. I took it out so she could see, and she insisted I take off my clothes.

I lifted my dress and the soldier ordered me to take it off, threatening me with her weapon. It was incredibly humiliating to have a soldier who’s not even twenty years old mistreat me like that. I have diabetes and high blood pressure and started to feel dizzy. I lifted my dress as far up as I could. I had pants on under it and the soldier motioned me to take them off. I got angry and said: "What on earth could I be hiding here?"

After I left the room, the soldier motioned my daughter-in-law Iman to go in. I asked to go with her, but the soldier refused. After that, she called for my daughter-in-law Balsam.

The soldiers stayed until about 3:45 A.M. They turned the house inside out. Later, we learned that other homes in the village had also been raided that night.

Iman Shihadah also described the raid on her home, in a testimony she gave on 26 October 2018:

My mother-in-law, Khawlah, came down the inner staircase to our apartment. One of the soldiers asked: "Whose house is this?" She replied: "Kamal Shihadah’s." He asked about Kamal, my husband, and she said he wasn’t home because was sleeping at his workplace. He asked: "Who’s in the building?" Khawlah answered: "My husband, son and daughter-in-law, on the top floor." The soldier demanded that they come down and sent two soldiers to get them from the top floor. I stood stock still. When I heard the soldiers asking where my husband was, I worried for his safety.

We all sat in the living room and some of the soldiers searched the other rooms. I looked at Balsam, my sister-in-law, and it was very obvious she was anxious. Her face was very pale. She’s heavily pregnant and I was worried about her. I saw her get up and go towards the bathroom with her husband, who was holding her hand. But one of the soldiers shouted at them and ordered them to sit down. Her husband told the soldier she was pregnant and was nauseous. Balsam kept walking towards the bathroom, but the soldier wouldn’t let her husband go with her. She went to the bathroom and when she came back, she sat down in her seat and then felt the need to throw up again. But the soldier wouldn’t let her go to the bathroom. He brought a bucket from the bathroom and Balsam threw up into it. .

Then Balsam asked for some lemon because her stomach hurt, but the soldier wouldn’t let her go to the kitchen to get some. He looked for it in the kitchen himself and I guess he couldn’t find any, so he asked me to get up and go get it. I took a lemon, and the soldier asked me with a hand gesture whether I needed a knife to peel the lemon. I shook my head to say no, because I was afraid the minute I picked up a knife, he’d shoot me and claim I’d tried to stab him. I quickly left the kitchen and peeled the lemon with my hands, even though it was hard.

The female soldier motioned me to go with her. We went into a room and she made gestures to me that I had to take my clothes off. I took off my prayer clothes and stayed in a thin nightgown. The soldier motioned me to take it off, too. I flattened it up against my body and said to her: "There’s nothing here. Look. What’s to take off? It’s a thin nightgown." The soldier raised her weapon and aimed it at me, and the dog circled around her as if he was ready to devour me. I had no choice but to lift up my nightgown. She ordered me to raise it even higher, above my chest. I did as she ordered. I was very embarrassed. It was terribly humiliating. I cried. A strange soldier had raided my home in the middle of the night, turned it upside down and forced me to me strip and stand naked before her. It was so hard! The unpleasant feelings still keep flooding back and overwhelming me.

When they left, we couldn’t believe the nightmare was over. We breathed a sigh of relief, even though they turned our house and my in-laws’ house inside out. Neighbors and relatives came to check we were okay and stayed until dawn. I helped my mother-in-law tidy up her house, and in the morning went back downstairs to help my girls get ready for school. Only after they left did I have time to tidy our own house.

The Safdi home. Photo by Salma a-Deb’i, B’Tselem, 8 November 2018

The Safdi home, 20 October 2018:

On Saturday, 20 October 2018, some 25 soldiers again raided the village, entering four homes. At approximately 2:00 A.M., more than ten soldiers entered the home of Asmaa Safdi (52), a widowed mother of seven, in the village center. The soldiers grabbed her son Bilal (19), who lives with her, and shook him roughly, demanding that he tell them the whereabouts of his brothers. Then the soldiers broke down the door to the adjacent apartment, which is home to his brother Ahmad Safdi (25) and his wife Warda (23), who were out at the time. They broke into the apartment and searched it violently. The soldiers left about an hour later.

Asmaa Safdi described the raid on her home in a testimony she gave on 8 November 2018:

Photo by Salma a-Deb’i, B’Tselem, 8 November 2018

Loud pounding on the front door woke me up. I quickly got up because I was worried about my son Bilal, who lives with me. Bilal went to open the door and the moment he did, more than ten soldiers burst in. One of them grabbed Bilal by the shirt. He and some other soldiers shook Bilal roughly and shouted at him. They asked him about his brothers. They spoke Hebrew but I recognized the names and understood they were asking about my other children.

Bilal answered that his brothers don’t live in this house, because they’re all married and each one lives in his own house. He spoke to them in Hebrew and in Arabic. The soldiers frisked him, shoved him up against a wall and told him to spread his legs. Then they told him to get his ID card. One of the soldiers also told me to get my ID card. I panicked and forgot where I’d put it. Bilal asked them to wait patiently until I found it. In the end, I found it and handed it to the soldier.

Then the soldiers led us into the living room and ordered us to sit down on the sofas. Some of them searched the rooms and went through our things. I said to them: "What are you doing? I’m a sick old woman, I can’t tidy up this mess. You’re ruining everything. Why are you doing this?" One of them told me in Arabic to be quiet. They continued destroying our possessions and I got more and more stressed.

I’m a sick woman, I have diabetes and high blood pressure. I was trembling all over. I started sweating and was so exhausted I couldn’t stand up. I guess my blood sugar went up because I got stressed when they came inside. This happens to me when get stressed. My son noticed I wasn’t feeling well and said to the soldiers: "My mother is not a well woman. Stop making such a mess." One of the soldiers, who spoke Arabic, asked me: "What’s wrong?" I told him that I felt exhausted. He spoke with the other soldiers and then most of them left. Just two stayed behind to guard us, and they kept raising their weapons.

A bit before they left, the soldier who spoke Arabic ordered me to come with him to the adjacent apartment, which belongs to my son Ahmad and his wife Warda. They weren’t home. The soldiers searched their house, too, and even though I have the key, they didn’t ask me for it and simply broke down the door. If they’d have asked, I would have opened it for them. When I went inside, I saw the soldiers had turned the place inside out. The soldier told me to check if anything was missing. The first thing I checked was my daughter-in-law’s jewelry. I found it all in place, inside the box, with nothing missing. I told the soldier there was nothing missing and took the box with me to keep it safe until Warda got back from her parents.

About an hour later, the soldiers left our home. Bilal went to his room and I went back to bed, because I was exhausted. In the morning, I called my three daughters and asked them to come over and help me tidy up. It took them a long time to get the place back in shape. The soldiers broke a plastic chair in the kitchen and also several plates. They also broke two drawers in the kitchen cupboard. I called a maintenance guy to fix the damage. Later, I learned that the soldiers had raided other homes in the villages that night.

The Ka’bi home, 21 October 2018

On Sunday, 21 October 2018, some 25 soldiers again raided the village, entering four homes. At approximately 3:00 A.M., about ten soldiers came to a two-story, two-apartment building in the eastern part of the village and entered both apartments. On the ground floor live Mustafa (28) and Nur (26) Ka’bi and their three children, the youngest is 18 months old and the eldest is six years old. The top floor is home to Mustafa’s parents, Hamdan (65) and Rabihah (54). They live there with their son Mu’taz (27), his wife Aya (23) and their two children, a one-year-old and a three-year-old. The soldiers kept the family confined to the parents’ living room and searched both apartments, leaving them in utter disarray. They left after about an hour.

In a testimony she gave on 13 November 2018, Aya Ka’bi described the raid on her home:

The Ka’bis’ living room after the raid. Photo courtesy of the family, 20 October 2018

At around 3:00 A.M., my husband woke me and told me there were soldiers by the house. I jumped out of bed in a fright, got dressed and went to the living room with my daughter Sadil (3). I saw my in-laws, Hamdan and Rabihah, who had also woken up from the noise the soldiers were making. After my husband opened the door, the soldiers came in, pointing their guns at us. They ordered us to sit in the living room. About eight soldiers spread out in the house and searched the rooms. Two soldiers led my husband, Mu’taz, out. I thought they were going to arrest him but later on, when they left the house, I understood they’d just kept him by the entrance. My father-in-law, Hamdan, said: "My daughter-in-law and her small children are alone downstairs, because my son Mustafa is at work." The soldiers told him to go get them, and two soldiers went with him. Hamdan came back a short while later, carrying two of the kids. My sister Nur, who is also my sister-in-law, had the third. The children were scared and they were all crying.

Nur asked me where Hamzah, my little one, was. He’s a year and two months old. I motioned that he was asleep inside. She suggested I go get him. When the soldiers came, I hadn’t fetched him because it’s hard for me to carry both kids at once. I got up to get Hamzah and the soldier shouted at me. My mother-in-law said to him, in Arabic: "She wants to get the baby, so he doesn’t wake up and start crying." The soldier agreed and I went to my bedroom, where the kids sleep. One of the soldiers followed me. I was terrified. I was so nervous that I grabbed Hamzah by the arm and carried him back to the living room.

The soldiers left after about an hour. The house was in a terrible state. They’d turned everything upside down and left nothing in its place, in my house or in Nur’s.

The soldiers went away and we were left wondering. We didn’t understand what it was that they wanted. At first, we thought they’d come to arrest my husband. They had handcuffed him. But in the end, they didn’t take him, they just kept him outside the house. So I wonder, why did they raid our house like that?

Nur Ka’bi also described the raid on her home, in a testimony she gave on 25 October 2018:

A room in the Ka’bis’ home after the raid. Photo courtesy of the family, 20 October 2018

I was woken by the sound of knocking on the front door. I was alone with the kids. My husband works in a restaurant in Nablus and gets home late. When I opened the door, I saw my father-in-law, Hamdan, with two soldiers. One of them told me to wake the kids and come upstairs. Hamdan told one of the soldiers that the kids are little and that it was better not to wake them. The soldier wouldn’t listen and insisted that we all go upstairs. Hamdan helped me carry the kids. When we got upstairs, the whole family was in the living room. My children were pale and they clung to me and to their grandfather. Later, I learned that the soldiers had kept Mu’taz, my sister’s husband, by the entrance to the house until they left.

The soldiers left about an hour later, after turning both homes upside down. Later I found out that they’d raided other houses, too, including our neighbors’.