Here’s how soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces spend their time: On two consecutive nights, dozens of soldiers from the Binyamin Brigade raided a home in Kafr Ein, a village north of Ramallah, where a young Palestinian man lives with wife, infant son and elderly grandparents. They damaged the property, beat and handcuffed the detainee’s brother, and confiscated equipment suspected of being used for purposes of terror: two electric organs, a microphone, computer, and a 48-inch television.
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The soldiers didn’t bother explaining to anyone why they abducted Nazzal Abu Kharma, who had never been arrested before (nor had anyone from his family), why the arrest had to be made so brutally, in the middle of the night, in the presence of an elderly couple and a baby, and why it was necessary to return the following night in the same violent fashion.
It would be interesting to know what kind of briefing the forces received before setting out on their mission two weeks ago, what they were told about their target. The soldiers swooped in before dawn in their daring operation behind enemy lines – a three-pronged offensive aimed at two villages – armed with intelligence supplied by the omniscient Shin Bet security service, to arrest individuals suspected of producing a song praising the terrorist attack that took place in the settlement of Halamish in July, during which three members of the Salomon family were killed. The song is indeed a blunt, explicit ode to the attack and to its perpetrator, Omar al-Abed, from the village of Kobar.
The IDF arrested Abu Kharma, as well as singer and lyricist Mohammed Barghouti and keyboard player Naji Rimawi, the latter two from the village of Beit Rima, also near Ramallah.
As far as can be ascertained, Abu Kharma is suspected of producing the song in the makeshift studio in his house and also of posting it on social media. He and Barghouti have been in detention for about two weeks. Rimawi was released, for some reason, within a few days.
It’s not hard to imagine what would have happened were Abu Kharma a Jewish Israeli, who’d recorded a song calling for the death of Arabs.
Abu Kharma, 28, is an amateur keyboard player. Four years ago, unable to find work as a casual laborer, he bought an organ and taught himself how to play it, in the hope of being able to provide for his Jordanian-born wife, Asma, and their 7-month-old son, Ilian. His brothers have also helped him support his family.
In the past year he earned 400 to 500 shekels ($110-$140) per evening, once or twice a month, at local weddings and other family celebrations; at some of them, he teamed up with a band. His hope was to build up a career gradually.
The Abu Kharmas share the dwelling in Kafr Ein with Nazzal’s extended family: They live in an apartment near one entrance to the building and on the ground floor near the other entrance live his grandparents, Safiya, 75, and Ass’ad, 85, and their daughter, Amira, his aunt, who’s 36; his brother, Dia, lives on the second floor. Their father left 12 years ago for Tennessee, where he married an American woman, his second marriage. They are barely in touch with Nazzal and his siblings.
At 4 A.M. on August 30, Amira, who was at home with her parents, was awakened by noise coming from the front door. She thought her mother might have fallen with her walker, and so she was horrified when she saw about 20 soldiers walking around the house. One asked her where the shabab – the young people – were. Amira explained that there were no young people in this apartment, only her and her aged parents. The soldiers ordered her to go upstairs and open the door of the apartment there – which belongs to her brother Arafat, but is not in use – otherwise they would blow it up. She told the soldiers she wanted her father to go with her – she was afraid of them, she says now, and didn’t want to remain alone with them – but they refused. Eight army jeeps were parked outside, she recalls.
The soldiers made their way through the building with the aid of head-lamps on their helmets. Amira opened the door to Arafat’s apartment, and when the soldiers discovered that it was indeed empty, they asked her for the names of all her siblings. They specifically wanted to know where her brother Omar lived. He’s in Tennessee, she told them. They wanted to break into Omar’s apartment. His son, Dia, lives upstairs in an apartment reached via the building’s second entrance, but she didn’t have a key for it. In any event, the soldiers went up and tried to break down the door, but Dia woke up and opened it for them.
According to Amira, the soldiers hit and kicked Dia before handcuffing him and locking him in his room. He himself used no violence against the soldiers, she asserts. They searched the room before asking his name. “We’re not looking for you,” they said and left, with him still shackled. Only then did Amira realize that they were after Nazzal, who lives on the ground floor. They tried to break down his door, too, even as Dia shouted that there was a baby in the house and that they shouldn’t smash the door. But the soldiers had already entered by force.
Asma woke up in fright. Cringing with fear, she locked the door to her room, sealing herself inside with Ilian, who was sleeping in a crib. A few soldiers broke down Asma’s door, and others charged into the room where Nazzal was, his recording studio, demanding his ID card. He had asked them not to enter his wife’s room, as she is religious and was not wearing a head covering. Asma recalls now that there were about 15 soldiers in their small, heavily ornamented, colorful apartment. The soldiers handcuffed and blindfolded Nazzal, and took him away. By 5:30 A.M. the operation was over.
The troops left behind, posted on an electric pole, an unclear form in Arabic explaining that the place was a closed military zone, because of terrorist activity that had taken place there, and warning residents not to approach the dangerous site. Of course, no arrest warrant or anything similar was produced – it’s laughable to expect that in the territories.
Asma says she had no idea why her husband was being arrested and was afraid to ask the soldiers. Asked what she thought at the time, she says, “I thought that this was their routine, to arrest people.” For the next two days, she also didn’t know where he was being held.
The soldiers returned the next night at about 2 A.M.; they had no trouble entering, as they had broken down the front door the previous night. Dia tried to ask them where his brother was – and was again beaten, according to Amira. The soldiers proceeded to the recording studio, which is covered in felt and has sealed windows for acoustic purposes, and took almost everything. What remained behind was an ashtray full of butts of cigarettes that Nazzal apparently smoked, before his arrest.
Dia says she saw him last week in the courtroom of the Ofer detention facility, where he was remanded.
Have you heard the song, we ask the family. An embarrassed silence descends on the room. “We are not politicians,” Aunt Amira says. Grandfather Ass’ad grumbles, “These young folk think that with songs like that they can change the situation.”
Nazzal is suspected of disseminating the song, which indeed is widely available on the social networks. There’s a video clip depicting images of the occupation and the resistance to it, while the song is being sung loudly in the background. We also see a portrait of Omar al-Abed, the terrorist from Halamish. There’s another clip showing Mohammed Barghouti performing the song at a wedding, while guests dance and one of the musicians blows a kiss to the camera. It’s a popular Bedouin melody, frequently heard at celebrations and graduation ceremonies, to which new lyrics are sometimes adapted, which is what Barghouti did in this case.
The lyrics: “I heard the sounds of shots / in Arab Kobar. / Omar crossed the city / and perpetrated the attack. / They said he drove the army crazy / and burned the Halamish neighborhood. / Oh, settler, We want to live / and for my land to be free. / He left through the window / he carried a knife, at his side / When he threatened to attack / he put the Zionists to sleep.”
The IDF Spokesman’s Office boasted of the mission on its website, and posted a clip showing Abu Kharma’s arrest. A soldier is seen carrying off the spoils – a television. The spokesman’s unit stated this week: “On Friday, July 21, 2017, three members of the Salomon family were murdered in a stabbing attack in the settlement of Halamish. In the wake of the terrorist attack, a singer from the village of Beit Rima produced and disseminated a song that praises the terrorist’s actions and calls for attacks on Israelis.
“On August 30, 2017, as part of the campaign against incitement, IDF troops arrested Mohammed Barghouti, the singer who wrote the song, and his two partners, one of whom is Nazzal Abu Kharma, who recorded the song and posted a video clip praising the terrorist, accompanied by the song. We will note in addition that the equipment used to record the song was also seized. Contrary to what the article says, no violence was employed during the arrest against any of those present.
“In the past few days, following interrogation of the three, indictments were filed against them for offenses involving incitement. The indictments also charge Barghouti and Kharma with involvement in other cases of incitement, including the recording and dissemination of a song praising the terrorist attack in which Staff Sgt. Hadas Malka, of blessed memory, was murdered.”