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From the field

Impossible life in Tel Rumeida Hebron, December 2006

Bahija Sharabati, mother of six

I live with my husband and our six children in Tel Rumeida. We have a three-room apartment with bathroom and kitchen. The apartment is in a big house, and the apartment of our neighbors, Hani al-'Aza and his wife, is next to ours. We came to live here in 1998, after the elderly owner, Mahmud a-Sahab, left and offered to let us live here for free for two years. Before that, we lived in a small place near the Kortuba School , on a-Shohada Street. My husband, Wa'il Sharabati, works at the Hasuna gas station in Hebron and earns 1,100 shekels a month.

When we moved into the apartment, the owner and the neighbors told us that, following the massacre in the Tomb of the Patriarchs, soldiers took control of the roof temporarily. In 1999, a settler from Tel Rumeida was stabbed, and the army imposed a curfew. The night of the incident, I heard people on the roof. In the morning, I saw that the army had set up a lookout. The lookout on the roof has remained ever since. They built a room and an iron ladder. Generally, there are two soldiers at the lookout around the clock.

Our life is not easy. Many families were forced to leave this area because of the settler attacks and the army's actions. We can't leave the house because we are poor. My husband's salary is hardly enough to cover our basic needs. Sometimes, the pressure and the tension make me consider leaving, but rent in a safe place in Hebron is at least 1,500 dinars a year. We have no choice; we have to suffer these harsh living conditions.

At the beginning of the intifada, the Israeli army didn't let us use the front entrance of the house. They also prohibited cars from using the streets in the area. We had to use another entrance and go between trees, house, and fields to get to the paved road. We also had to go by foot along a steep path to the checkpoint at Bab a-Zawiyya, a distance of more than 300 meters. Our neighbors - the al-'Aza and Abu Heykal families, among others - also suffered from these access problems.

Because of the army's lookout, our yard became a refuse dump. The soldiers eat and throw the food scraps on the ground around the house. They also urinate on the roof. Three years ago, my little daughter, Abrar, left the house and the urine of one of the soldiers sprayed her on the head. She hasn't forgotten that incident.

The soldiers shout, jump, run, and sometimes also play. Their shouting and movements disturb us a lot, especially at night. Sometimes, we can't get to sleep because of the disturbance, and sometimes their noise and the barking of their dogs wake us up. The noise usually starts at 1:00 A.M. and continues until morning.

One day last summer, around eight at night, we were at home and heard explosions on the roof and around the house, which frightened us and startled the children. We thought it was an army action. We went into one room and were unable to sleep. After midnight, the noise stopped. In the morning, I went into the yard to see what happened, and saw pieces of paper all around and realized that the soldiers had shot off fireworks.

The soldiers let settlers go onto the roof. Children of the settlers throw stones and sand at us from there, and sometimes spit at us. This generally happens on the Sabbath and holidays, so that is the reason why on those days I don't hang laundry outside the house. There have been a few times that the laundry got dirty from the sand and filth they threw from the roof. Once, when they threw stones and sand at us, I left the house and spoke about this with the soldiers. One of the soldiers said to me, "Children." My son, Husam, who is twelve, was next to me. I told the soldier, "He, too, is a child, but if he throws stones, you would shoot him." The soldier replied, "I don't do that."

The soldiers not only let the settler children bother us, they also carry out the settlers' orders. One day, before the most recent 'Eid al-Fitr [the holiday at the end of Ramadan], the water in the house stopped running. I think that the settlers damaged the pipe on purpose, but I am not sure. The soldiers did not let the repairmen come and fix the problem for four days. The repairmen came in the morning, and Border Police officers accompanied them.

Husam helped the workers. He gave them tea and cookies and opened the front door for them because the pipe runs through there. The settlers apparently saw him opening the door, which is forbidden, and called the army. Around seven at night, six soldiers came, along with the soldiers on the roof, and asked about Husam. They made him get out of the shower, and he dressed quickly. When they saw he was only a child, they let him be. They took us all outside and conducted a long search, opened a locked room that had items belonging to the owner, and combed through his possessions. When they finished, they took the key for the front door. I called the Israeli police and TIPH [the international observer force in Hebron ]. The soldiers returned the key that night.

Three weeks ago, on a Thursday night, there was a power breakdown. The soldiers did not let the workers come and repair the malfunction, and we didn't have electricity until Sunday afternoon.

On the Saturday that the Jews read the " Chayey Sara" biblical portion [for which the Hebron settlers hold an annual public celebration], the soldiers let the children go to school and told us adults that we could stay closed in the house or leave the house and only come back after eight at night. Last year, on this holiday, the children had to wait at the Bab a-Zawiyya checkpoint until eight at night before being allowed to cross and return home.

On one Saturday in 2005, settlers shattered windows in our house. I went into the yard to speak with the soldiers who were on the roof, and one of them laughed. One of the settler children threw a stone at me, hitting me in the head. After that, ten soldiers arrived. An army doctor examined me, gave me first-aid, and told me to go to the hospital. Police came and asked me to give a statement. I went to the police station and filed a complaint. The soldier who laughed was also there. Later, I went to the hospital where they stitched the wound.

On the [Muslim] 'Eid al-Adha holiday last year, my relatives came to visit. The soldiers let them come in via the front door, which was usually closed. Later, my brothers-in-law came via the other way, and the two soldiers on the roof ordered them to return and enter through the front door. After that, my children realized we could use the front entranceway, so when they came back from the grocery store, they used this entrance. A large group of settlers was waiting for them along the way. The group attacked them and beat my daughter, Islam, who is nine years old. I went to the two soldiers who were on the roof to complain. One of them said that we were forbidden to use the front entrance, and that I have to close the door. I told him that he let us go out that door. He did not reply, but only told me again to close the door.

Some of the soldiers themselves assault us. Last winter, a soldier on the roof broke out in hysterical laughter and threw sand and stones at me while I was standing outside the house. He spoke to me in Hebrew and said things I didn't understand. My husband understands Hebrew very well, and he said that the soldier swore at me.

Sometimes, there are nice soldiers, who talk to the children, play with them, and give them chocolate and sweets. One day, I told the children not to take chocolate, and that I was afraid of it. The soldier was sad and said that he did that because he missed his children at home. Despite everything, we try to behave nicely toward the soldiers.

In May this year, a settler child, who was about nine years old, stood opposite the house. He began to pick loquats from a tree and throw them to the ground. When I saw what he was doing, I asked Husam to pick some fruit, put them in a bag and give it to the child. Husam picked some and gave them to the child. The child took the bag and went away. An hour later, he came back and asked for more, and Husam gave him a bag [of fruit] again. After that, he didn't return. I saw that he wanted to come over and thank us. He never came back again.

I could write a whole book about settler attacks and the acts committed by soldiers. We have already filed dozens of complaints to the Israeli police, but nothing has changed. I don't believe in complaints any more. We try to get used to the situation because we have no choice.

Bahija Subuh Sa'ad Sharabati, 47, is a mother of six and a resident of Tel Rumeida neighborhood in Hebron. Her testimony was given to Musa Abu Hashhash at her home on 30 December 2006.