A Battered House, a Shattered Palestinian Family

Four months after their son was killed by the IDF, the Awad family awoke this week to find their home being stormed by soldiers and another son being dragged away.

As if flung there, Najela Awad lies on a thin mattress on the floor in a corner of her room. Her blanket covers every inch of her − even her wounded, bandaged head − as she whimpers in pain. The 26-year-old was hit in the head by a concussion grenade, one of many the soldiers fired into her house. She was taken to the hospital with three wounded sisters; she needed eight stitches to close up the cut to her forehead. This was the conclusion of another Israel Defense Forces arrest, in which soldiers rampaged through a house for two hours in the dead of night, kicking, punching, yanking and destroying.

They outdid themselves this time. The Awad home is that of a bereaved Palestinian family. The son, Samir, 16, was killed by soldiers only four months ago − by three rounds of live ammunition fired at close range into his hip, head and back, as he was trying to flee an IDF ambush near the separation barrier, where he was probably throwing stones.

“Clearly, this is a bad incident,” admitted the GOC Central Command at the time.

This week the IDF caused another “bad incident,” whose victims are the sons and daughters of the same bereaved family. A routine occurrence.

Anyone who wants to believe the IDF spokesperson’s version, cited below − according to which the soldiers encountered violent resistance − should know that on that night, there were mostly women and children in the house, and that one of the neighbors heard a commanding officer instructing the soldiers before they entered: “This is where Samir lived. There’s to be no mercy in this house.” And the soldiers acted accordingly.

This is how the soldiers behaved this week in the Awad house in that village, north of Ramallah. They arrived with dogs and a large force − 11 jeeps and some 30 soldiers − at about 2 A.M. on Sunday morning. At first they cut away at the front door and broke it down by force. Immediately afterward, they started tossing concussion grenades at its residents from the windows and from inside. At that hour, the following were at home: the mother, Sudkiya, and her husband, Ahmed; eight of their daughters, including 9-year-old Linda; and two sons − 10-year-old Mahmoud and Abed, in his 20s.

All were asleep and all awoke in terror from the noise of the cutting of the front door lock and the firing of the grenades. The soldiers broke in without saying a word, without explaining what they wanted.
“It was the end of the world inside,” says Sudkiya in Hebrew. Her hand was injured as the soldiers dragged her by her hair and dropped, afterward saying, “You whore!” in Arabic, which she repeats in a whisper so her children won’t hear.

The head of the household, who suffers from a slipped disc, had trouble getting up, so, according to testimony, the soldiers kicked him and sprayed his face and body with pepper spray, the sting of which has lasted all week. Skinny, smiling and welcoming, he speaks fluent Hebrew in a voice hoarse from either screaming or the spray.

We first met him here in January, the day after Samir was killed, sitting on the roof of his house, weeping for his son. When one of his daughters tried to give him some water, they tell us, the soldiers sent the cup flying and beat her, too. Many blows, especially kicks, were landed that night in this house in Budrus.

Abed, the older son, was sleeping on the roof. Most days, he stays in nearby Na’alin, where he works at the local swimming pool, but that night he happened to be staying with his family. The soldiers went up on the roof, beat him, and then threw him down the stairs, finally dragging him − wounded and barely conscious − to a roofless bathroom. From above, they dropped a concussion grenade on him; its sooty marks are still visible on the floor.

The house throughout is stained with black soot, evidence of the many − probably a dozen or so − grenades thrown. The windows, smashed by the soldiers, have already been fixed; there is photographic evidence showing the breaks.

Abed was only wearing underpants when he was dragged, virtually naked, to one of the jeeps waiting outside and taken into custody. His blood is still visible on his father’s Subaru, parked outside. No one has bothered explaining why Abed was taken or what he is suspected of doing.

Repelled by force

When we arrived in the village on Monday, the family also had no idea where he’d been taken. There were rumors he was at the Russian Compound in Jerusalem or perhaps in Be’er Sheva, or that he was hospitalized at Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem. As usual, no one has bothered to keep the family abreast of their kidnapped son’s fate. There isn’t really any other way to describe the circumstances under which he was so brutally removed from the home.

The soldiers spent some two hours in the house, leaving only at 4 A.M. They searched the place thoroughly, even yanking off some of the doorframes. Villagers who were awoken by the noise started to gather in the street; the soldiers responded by dispersing them with tear gas. Sudaki, the mother’s brother, arrived, worried about Sudkiya’s welfare. The soldiers repelled him by force. A daughter, Lena, also arrived; the soldiers broke her arm. A Palestinian ambulance that was called wasn’t allowed to approach to evacuate the wounded daughters. Ahmed, the head of the family, lay on the floor, semiconscious, the whole time. After the soldiers left, four of the daughters − Uma, Najela, Najawa and Lena − were taken to the hospital in Ramallah for treatment.

Until this week, Abed had never been arrested. This Tuesday, he was brought before the military court at Ofer to have his detention extended. Attorney Nery Ramati, who represented Abed at the hearing, saw the bruising all over his body. Abed had been sent for a CAT scan on his head, but the prosecution didn’t see fit to add the medical information to his file − apparently to prevent the court and defense from learning just how bad his condition is.

In court, it emerged that Abed was wanted for disturbing the peace and stone-throwing. The military prosecutor was demanding a 14-day extension but the court granted only eight. Abed’s attorney is appealing the extension.

The IDF spokesperson gave Haaretz its version of that night’s events: “An initial examination indicates that, during the arrest of the suspect in the late hours of Saturday night in his home in the village of Budrus, the members of the household resisted violently. The resistance included the use of knives and glass shards. To remove the threat, the military force responded minimally, using pepper spray and concussion grenades, to carry out the arrest as necessary, while minimizing the risk to the soldiers. As a result, there were no injuries to the soldiers. The circumstances of the incident are still under investigation.”

Pictures of Samir, the dead son, hang virtually everywhere in the house − on the living room walls, on the refrigerator in the kitchen, and in every room. Sudaki, his uncle, asked us this week: “How are your soldiers being educated? Let’s say a kid throws rocks at the barriers. What kind of thinking makes them shoot him with live rounds?”

His question reverberates around the house, unanswered and very disturbing.