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From the field

IDF demolishes home of Abu Sha'ira family in al-'Aza Refugee Camp: February 2004

'Itaf Abu Sha'ira, aged 33, resident of al-'Aza Refugee Camp, Bethlehem District

I was married to Hassan Muhammad Hassan Abu Sha'ira. My husband killed a GSS agent on 14 June 2001. He met with the agent on the [Jerusalem] Tunnel Road and killed him. The soldiers who were with the agent shot Hassan, wounding him in the head and body. He died about ten days later. When he died, the army handed his body over to the Palestinian District Civil Liaison office.

Since my husband died, I have been raising our three children: Marfat, who is 12, Sharin, who is 10, and six-year-old Tareq. We lived in our own apartment, which was located in a three-story building near the Paradise Hotel. Each floor had two apartments. Each apartment was 120 square meters. My husband's parents lived in one of the apartments on the first floor. Muhammad, my husband's brother, lived in the other apartment with his wife and their six children. My husband's other brothers lived on the second floor - 'Ali with his wife and five children, and Sha'ib, with his wife and their five children. On the third floor, Jihad, another of my husband's brothers, lived with his wife and their three children. My three children and I lived in the other apartment.

Last Thursday [26 February], around midnight, Jihad knocked on our door and told us that soldiers had knocked on his door and ordered him to go to all the apartments and tell everybody to go outside. I thought that the Israeli army had invaded the refugee camp and were conducting a surprise search of all the houses. I woke up the children and we left through the main door of the building. The others also went outside. On the street, I saw lots of soldiers. I can't say exactly how many there were. They were in army uniforms and their faces were painted. The soldiers ordered us to move, and one of them took us to the yard outside the Paradise Hotel, which was about 200 meters from our house. They told us to sit on the ground and keep silent. One of the soldiers asked, in Arabic, which one of us was the wife of Hassan Abu Sha'ira. I told him that I was. He replied: "We are going to blow up your apartment. We are going to make a boom inside it." He had two stars on his shoulders, and I realized he was an officer. "What are you saying?" I asked him. He replied, "You didn't hear me? We are going to blow up your apartment." I should point out that the Israeli forces had not told us anything about a decision relating to our house. I asked him why, and he replied: "Because of what your husband did." I asked him to show me an official document ordering the demolition of our apartment. He said that the Israeli military court had made a decision, and that they were going to demolish the apartment. I asked to see the decision, but he didn't show me anything.

The officer told me: "I am giving you ten minutes to remove whatever you want from the apartment." The soldiers spoke only to me and not to the others in the family. I managed to remove only documents proving that I own the apartment, and my gold [jewelry]. We were in shock, and did not manage to remove anything else. After ten minutes passed, I went back to the yard.

At around 5:00 A.M., the soldiers blew up the apartment from the inside. My apartment was completely demolished, as was the furniture. Jihad's apartment was also damaged as a result of the blast. The walls of his house were destroyed, the ceiling was cracked, the windows were dislodged, and the doors were destroyed. The apartment was uninhabitable. The apartment under mine suffered cracks and splits in the walls. The engineer from the [Palestinian Authority's] General Construction Office came to check the building. He said that the entire building was in poor shape and too dangerous for people to live in.

My children and I now live in a rented apartment in the refugee camp. We do not have any furniture. Basically, we are living on the floor. We live like refugees and our situation is very bad. After the soldiers demolished the apartment, they told us it was forbidden to rebuild it, and that if we did, they would return and demolish it.

'Itaf Hassan Muhammad Abu Sha'ira is 33 year-old, married, and has three children. She is a homemaker, and a resident of the al-'Aza refugee camp, Bethlehem District. The testimony was given to Suha Zeyd in the al-'Aza refugee camp on 2 March 2004.