The town of Silwad, which lies northwest of Ramallah, is home to some 10,000 people. For three weeks, from mid-November 2020, four soldiers who were apparently stationed at a military watchtower near the main entrance to the town abused residents daily, attacking and intimidating them. Among other things, they set up checkpoints at the entrances to the town, searched people entering and leaving it, swore at residents and assaulted them. The soldiers also roamed the town’s streets, hurling stun grenades, firing tear gas canisters and vandalizing vehicles. In one case, they shot and wounded a 16-year-old.
A.N., an employee at the Jneidi factory near Silwad, spoke with B’Tselem’s field researcher and described what happened in the town during those weeks:
The soldiers throw stun grenades and fire tear gas canisters at night. They use “rubber” bullets and even live bullets. They harass residents, wake up adults and children and disrupt our daily lives. The situation has become so bad that I can’t describe it. Before they came, my wife and I would walk to the nearby grocery store in the evening to buy groceries or milk for the children. But now we don’t go there anymore because we’re afraid to run into the soldiers, and because the store owner doesn’t open in the evening anymore. He closes shop early, before the soldiers come and start making a mess. It’s starting to feel like we’re under night curfew or house arrest. People are starting to feel that they’re losing their sense of security. It feels like chaos.
For three weeks, four Israeli soldiers made the lives of Silwad residents miserable with no one to stop them. None of their superiors prevented the abuse. Based on years of experience, it is highly unlikely that any action will be taken against them retroactively, either. The painful fact is that their conduct serves the occupation regime and enables it to continue. After all, the only way to enforce this regime is to use force, while ensuring that no one will be held accountable — whether the perpetrators themselves or the entire regime.
Below are testimonies collected by B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad regarding two grave incidents that took place during this period: the injuring of Ramzi Hamed (16) and the beating and humiliation of five employees of the Jneidi dairy products company who were on their way to work in the town:
Ramzi Hamed injured, 28 November 2020:
On Saturday, 28 November 2020, at around 8:30 P.M., Ramzi Hamed and ‘A.’A., two 16-year-old friends from Silwad, were on their way home from the town center. On the way, they encountered a group of boys who warned them there were soldiers further along the road. The two continued walking. After they had gone several dozen meters and were about 100 meters away from the soldiers, the latter fired a tear gas canister at them. The teens continued walking, and then the soldiers fired two more tear gas canisters. Immediately after that, one soldier fired two live rounds, one of which hit Hamed in the chest. Hamed and ‘A.’A. turned back instantly and a private car passing by took them to a local clinic. Within minutes, an ambulance picked them up from there and took them to hospital in Ramallah. About a week later, Hamed was discharged with the bullet still in his body.
In a testimony he gave on 30 November 2020, Hamed recounted what happened that evening:
I work at a barbershop in the town center. For the past two weeks, since the soldiers started standing at the western entrance to the town, I’ve been finishing working earlier, at around 7:00 or 8:00 P.M., because it’s not safe to walk around the town. On Saturday, I was waiting for my friend ‘A.’A. to walk home together, in case the soldiers provoked us.
We set out at around 8:20 and saw a group of kids at the square. We asked them if something was going on and they said, “Those soldiers are by the gas station.” We didn’t take it seriously because the kids were sitting quietly, and we didn’t see anyone throwing stones. We decided to go ahead and thought that if the soldiers blocked our path, we’d tell them we were on our way home, which is nearby.
We continued walking west on the road for several dozen meters. Suddenly, we saw the soldiers coming towards us. They fired a tear gas canister from about 100 meters away, and then another grenade that I think was a stun grenade. We kept walking, even though we were scared because there have been a lot of such incidents lately. We relied on the fact that the soldiers could see us and that we hadn’t done anything. We walked on for another several dozen meters. The three soldiers were wearing masks of some kind. Two of them were carrying rifles and the third was holding a club.
Suddenly, for no reason, even though we’d done nothing suspicious, one of them fired two live bullets, one of which hit me in the chest. I realized I’d been hit because I felt nauseous and dizzy. I put my hand where I’d been hit and felt blood.
I said to my friend, “I’ve been hit! I’ve been hit!” I tried to run away so the soldiers wouldn’t grab me, but after a few steps I almost fell over. My friend helped me and we kept running. I was running slowly and barely made it to the square, which is more than 50 meters away. When we got there, my friend stopped a private car that was passing and it took me to a clinic in the town. After I was checked and given first aid, an ambulance took me to hospital in Ramallah.
Hamed was hospitalized in Ramallah for a week. Due to the sensitive location of the bullet in his chest, the doctors decided not to operate for the time being and left it inside.
In a testimony he gave by phone to B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad on 20 December 2020, Hamed described his condition now:
I’m constantly worried and stressed. I’m afraid that any movement I make will shift the bullet and endanger me. The fact that I have a bullet inside my body keeps the shooting always on my mind, and it’s one of my most horrible memories. It’s as if my life is intertwined with the bullet inside me. I missed the first semester’s mid-term exams and have a lot of schoolwork to catch up on. I haven’t gone back to school or online classes yet, because I’m still in a bad way, medically and mentally.
Because of the injury, I can’t work as a barber’s assistant in the town, either. Since my father is unemployed and I’m the eldest son, the burden of providing for the family falls on me. I use to earn 50 to 70 shekels (~15-21 USD) a day. It was a minimum income that kept us from begging. I don’t know when I’ll be able to get back to the job that I love and specialized in for two years, because I have to stand on my feet all day long. The injury has made me short of breath and I’m exposed to strong smells and perfumes at work. The problem is that we won’t be able to withstand several months without an income. I’m confused and desperate. I pray that God will help me.
Two employees of the Jneidi company assaulted, 13 November 2020
On 13 November 2020, at midnight, the four soldiers set up a checkpoint at the southern entrance to Silwad, detaining vehicles and randomly checking the passengers. In two separate incidents, within a short space of time, five employees of the Jneidi dairy products company arrived at the checkpoint and the soldiers assaulted and humiliated them. Among other things, they kicked and beat them, and damaged one worker’s vehicle.
In a testimony he gave B’Tselem, A.’A (25) from Beit ‘Ur a-Tahta recalled:
Late at night on Friday, 13 November 2020, I hitched a ride with my friend to work at the Jneidi factory in Silwad. I’ve been working there factory for six months. When we got to the ‘Ein Yabrud-Silwad bridge, we saw four soldiers blocking traffic at the intersection.
The soldiers were standing next a military jeep, without masks. One of them motioned us to stop with a flashlight he was holding. Two of them stood in front of the car and blocked our way. We stopped and one of the soldiers ordered my friend to roll down the window. He did, and the soldier ordered him to roll down the rear window, too. He asked my friend in Hebrew, “Where are you from?” My friend answered, “Deir Jarir.” The soldier asked, “Do you speak Hebrew?” My friend said he didn’t. Then the soldier asked, “How come you don’t speak Hebrew? You answered when I asked you which village you were from.” At that point, he ordered my friend to switch the engine off and get out of the car. The soldiers didn’t ask us for our ID cards or anything else.
My friend got out of the car and two of the soldiers made him stand next to it. One of them was tall and skinny, with dark skin and a medium-length beard. The other was blond and short. They told me to turn my head around and not look. Then they went over to my friend and I heard him say to one of them, “Talk to me in Arabic. Don’t talk to me in Hebrew.” I heard one of the soldiers order him to place his hands on the car, and then the soldier with the short beard started hitting him between the legs, patting him down and searching him. The soldier spoke to him in Hebrew, and my friend told him, “Talk to me in Arabic. I don’t speak Hebrew." The soldier said, “Okay, so how come you understood when I asked you where you lived? You understood me.” My friend said, ”I happened by chance to understand.” The soldier kept repeating, “Do you speak Hebrew or not.”
Then the blond one took out a telescopic baton and opened it to scare us. He ordered my friend to get back in the car and ordered me to get out. He told me to stand facing the car with my hands up and my legs spread. He demanded that I spread them further, even after I couldn’t anymore. Then he started hitting me in the legs. He patted me down and found a pen I had on me. He asked, “What’s this? and I said, “It’s a pen.” I tried to take it out, but he told me to keep my hands in the air and I obeyed. He asked me, “How old are you? and I told him. Then he hit me really hard in the waist with the baton. The other soldier, the bearded one, joined in and started kicking me hard in the groin. My testicles hurt. After that, the blond soldier hit me on the back of the neck with his rifle butt, and it really hurt.
The blond soldier started asking me, “Where’s your weapon?” I told him, “I don’t have a weapon.” He said, “Where’s the gun?” I answered, “Man, where would I get a gun? Do you see people with guns here every day?” Then he him me again on the right side of my waist with the metal baton. I felt like I’d been tazed and fell down, it hurt so much. I writhed in pain and couldn’t speak at all.
It was after midnight, and if we’d tried to argue or even ask them why they were attacking us, they would have abused us even more. The soldier ordered me to get back in the car and told us to leave. We drove to the factory and told the other workers what had happened to us. They called our colleagues who were on their way and warned them not to take the same route. Later, I understood that they had also encountered the soldiers. From the description they gave, it sounded like the same soldiers.
I started working at the factory six months ago, and this is the first time something like this has happened to me. I suffered from pain in my waist for 10 days from the beating.
S.Z. (24) from Hebron works at the Jneidi factory in Silwad
On 13 November 2020, around midnight, I was driving with my friends, B.M. and his brother S.M. to our job in the Silwad branch of the Jneidi company. I was driving the company car. When we reached the Silwad-‘Ein Yabrud bridge under Route 60, about 200 meters away from the factory, four soldiers blocked our way. They were armed and weren’t wearing masks. One of them was tall and skinny, with a thin beard and dark skin, and then the other was short with a medium build, blond hair and blue eyes. I don’t remember the other two.
They motioned us to stop, and then the tall one approached us. First, he ordered B., who was sitting next to me, to get out of the car. B. got out and the soldier asked him why he’d been throwing stones and Molotov cocktails. B. of course answered that he hadn’t thrown anything. Then the soldier started kicking him and hitting him with his rifle butt. B. screamed and yelled and repeated that he hadn’t thrown anything. Three of the soldiers beat him for several minutes and then ordered him to get back in the car. He got back in, exhausted and in pain. When the tall soldier saw his difficulty getting into the car, he grabbed him by the shirt, shook him and asked him again why he’d been throwing stones. B. told him, “I’m going to work,\ and I don’t throw stones.” The soldier let him be and ordered S. to get out of the car. He got out, and it repeated itself — they accused him of throwing stones and Molotov cocktails, and he denied it. They slammed his head against the windshield, and he screamed. It went on like that for about five or six minutes, and then they ordered him to get back in the car.
Then it was my turn. The tall soldier stepped over to my side and tried to pull me out of the car through the window. I opened the door and it hit him in the leg. He ordered me to get out, and then he told me to raise my hands and spread my legs. He started kicking me until I fell over. Every time I fell, he ordered me to get up again, asking the same questions and swearing at me. After about two minutes, he told me, “Listen, you’re from Hebron. We want to fuck you.” Then he ordered me to get back in the car and leave. I drove for about 30 meters, and the soldiers ran after us. They reached us and banged on the rear window with their rifles. Luckily, they didn’t break it but only damaged the chassis. The soldier asked me why I’d driven off, and I said they’d ordered me to go. He said, “Enough. Don’t repeat it.” Then they left.
We drove to the warehouse, where we met other workers who told us the soldiers had also blocked their way and beaten them near the southern entrance to Silwad. By the sound of their description, it was the same soldiers.