Night Raids and Attack Dogs: For West Bank Palestinians, Their Homes Are Not Their Castles

Israel's Border Police are increasingly using dogs to attack people in the middle of the night, while soldiers have used creative solutions like welding a door shut and keeping a family prisoners in their own house

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Salah Yaakub.
Salah Yaakub.Credit: Abd al-Karim/B'Tselem
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Every night, Israeli soldiers, the Border Police or its counterterrorism unit carry out raids on Palestinian homes throughout the West Bank, whether to detain suspects or potential informants, or for military exercises or general deterrence. If soldiers aren’t hurt, information on those raids doesn’t reach the Israeli media and get attention.

Often attack dogs accompany the soldiers, as they did last month during an encounter in Jenin. Not only did the dogs accompany the troops, they assaulted four civilians, among them a 13-year-old boy, a woman paralyzed on one side, and an elderly man.

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The families spoke of “soldiers,” but the military spokesman’s office told Haaretz that this operation was conducted by the Border Police. A spokesman for the Border Police said the raid was carried out by the Border Police’s counterterrorism unit, Yamam.

At about 4 A.M on May 7, Sabah and Salah Yaakub from Jenin woke up to the sound of barking dogs and voices outside their door. They suspected the people outside were trying to break down the iron door of the house’s street entrance, and assumed they were soldiers.

Sabah Yaakub.Credit: Abd al-Karim/B'Tselem

Salah, 44, an official at the Palestinian Agriculture Ministry, went to open the door before it was broken down. As soon as he opened it, Sabah said, soldiers stormed in with two dogs. Before one dog knocked her to the floor she saw the other dog attacking her husband.

Since Sabah had a stroke last year, her right arm and leg have been paralyzed. Even though Salah was being attacked by a dog as well, his only thought was for his wife’s safety. He says he tried to push the dog off and grasped it between his legs. The dog tried to free itself from the hold, moving its head right and left, its muzzled mouth striking Salah’s legs.

Salah says he managed to grab hold the other dog as well, the one that knocked down his wife. Then the soldiers restrained the two dogs, Salah told a field researcher from rights group B’Tselem, Abed al-Karim Saadi.

Salah saw one of the soldiers kicking his wife, who was lying on the floor, too petrified to move. He pulled her to the bedroom. His 85-year-old mother was brought to the bedroom and two armed soldiers wouldn’t let them out. Sabah – again, someone paralyzed on one side – was so overcome with fright she lost consciousness and came to when her husband sprayed perfume on her face.

Meanwhile, other soldiers entered the rooms where the couple’s three children – the youngest of whom is 17 – were sleeping. They arrested Abed al-Rahman, 20, who has been suffering a mental disability since a childhood accident. He was brought to the bedroom, his hands tied behind his back with plastic handcuffs; the soldiers let his parents hug him and bid him farewell. A month later he is still in custody.

Hashem Salit.Credit: Abd al-Karim/B'Tselem

The same unit went on to the Salits’ house, where 11 people live, in another neighborhood in the camp. The widower Hashem Salit, 73, lives on the first floor with two of his grandchildren, who are 21 and 13. His son, daughter-in-law and five other grandchildren live on the second floor.

Salit heard the muezzin and then a noise behind the door; it sounded like someone was trying to open it. He assumed the people trying to break in were soldiers and was afraid to approach the old heavy iron door. Finally they broke down the door and a dog attacked him and knocked him down. The dog’s muzzle protected the petrified Hashem from getting bitten, but not from the dog’s nails. The dog scratched both his arms, which started to bleed.

The dog was followed by about 10 soldiers, Hashem told B’Tselem’s Saadi. A few soldiers pulled the dog off.

His story resembles Salah and Sabah Yaakub’s statement – first the dogs assaulted them, then the soldiers approached the dogs and restrained them. The commandos led the grandfather to the bedroom and threw him onto the floor. A dog immediately attacked his 13-year-old grandson, Mohammed. The boy tried to push the dog off him, but one of his fingers entered through a gap in the muzzle and the dog bit it.

Then two commandos caught Mohammed, threw him on the floor, tied his hands with cuffs behind his back and let the dog sniff him all over. They covered Mohammed, including his head, with sheets, so he couldn’t see anything. But he heard the commandos grab his older brother Hashem and take him out of the room.

Mohammed Salit.Credit: Abd al-Karim/B'Tselem

The grandfather remained lying on the floor and couldn’t get up. He saw his grandson Hashem being led to the second floor. Fifteen minutes later the men returned with Hashem and his father Samir Salit.

Samir, a 46-year-old chicken merchant, saw his father thrown on the floor, his arms bleeding. He helped him sit up and asked the commandos, which he thought were soldiers, why they had hurt him. They did not reply, he told the B’Tselem field researcher. The soldiers demanded that Samir give them his son Hashem’s ID card and mobile phone. They let him leave the house to get the card from his car.

As he did so the soldiers led his son out with his hands handcuffed and his head covered. Only then did the father notice that his younger son Mohammed was covered with sheets and blankets, and when he removed them he found the boy’s hands were cuffed and that his finger and nose were bleeding.

Haaretz asked the Border Police spokeswoman if the unit’s conduct with the dogs was in keeping with their orders, and if it was the dogs’ job to attack children and adults.

For their part, the Israel Police, of which the Border Police are a unit, said that the claims in this article “are full of inaccuracies that betray the truth and completely skirt the fact that a suspected terrorist was inside the house at the time. During activities by security forces in the area, a terrorist suspected of being involved recently in a terror attack (that included shots aimed at our forces) was trapped inside the house.”

As the police put it, “In such activities against terror targets where soldiers’ lives are at risk, there is a supervised use of dogs to scout buildings and locate suspects. These dogs often save fighters’ lives.”

The police concluded: “Instead of questioning the important role of the dogs, it would be proper to shed light on the despicable phenomenon in which terrorists who hide among civilians harm those civilians or put them at risk. The security forces will continue to act in every way possible to defend Israeli civilians and catch those who try to harm them.”

Prisoners in their own house

Moving was the only logical solution for Sami and Yasmin Zahida of Hebron, who are 27 and 26 and have two children 3 and 4. All four lived in one room in the house of Sami’s family. The crowded conditions were difficult for everyone, said Sami, who works as a guard at a restaurant, thus his salary is too low to rent an apartment. At the advice of his brother, who lives on Shuhada Street in the center of old Hebron, he looked for an empty house there.

For almost 20 years entire neighborhoods in Hebron have been emptied of their residents. The people moved out following constant harassment by settlers and the army’s moves such as blocking streets to Palestinian vehicle and pedestrians, closing down the market place, breaking into homes and making frequent arrests.

The Hebron Rehabilitation Committee is encouraging Palestinians to return to their homes, or renting them for low sums to poor families after renovating them. Thanks to Ramadan, soldiers allowed Sami to pass through the Al-Zawiya checkpoint at Shuhada Street’s western end; Palestinians who don’t live there have been banned from entry for almost three years now.

But during Ramadan the residents’ relatives were allowed in, and that’s how Sami did it. He found a suitable apartment, met the landlord, who lives up the hill, in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood, and started moving his belongings. Some things he moved via the checkpoint and others via a back alley. The family moved into the apartment on May 25. Or so they thought.

Old Hebron’s architecture is like a lace tablecloth of entrances, arches, hidden courtyards and staircases that now sprout weeds, in the absence of people to walk on them. To reach the alley behind the house that Sami rented, one has to go through another abandoned house full of garbage, with no light, and go up an old, rickety staircase.

On June 1 soldiers came to Sami’s house and demanded that he build a brick wall to block the back entrance leading to the alley. They gave him two hours to do so. He bought the bricks and built the wall while they watched.

On June 2 his parents came to visit him. At about 10:30 P.M. settlers appeared at the door and started shouting. It was after the Iftar, the meal for breaking the fast, and the following prayer, and Sami’s parents wanted to go home.

But the settlers prevented them from leaving. The exchange led to blows. Israeli policemen came, separated the two sides, let the parents go home and ordered Sami and his family to remain indoors, lock the door and shutter the windows looking out onto the street. This was at 2:30 A.M.

At 8:30 A.M. on June 6 soldiers raided Sami’s house. They confiscated Sami and Yasmin’s mobile phones and closed them in a small room with their two little boys. Two soldiers guarded them, while other soldiers demolished the brick wall they had ordered Sami to build a few days earlier.

On the other side of the house they welded shut the front door leading to Shuhada Street. The soldiers showed Sami an order to keep the door welded, but didn’t give him a copy of it. The abandoned house’s gate, behind the Zahida house, was locked, so the family remained prisoners in their own house. They called the street’s few remaining neighbors, who came and demonstrated outside the soldered door.

A while later officials from Israel’s Civil Administration arrived and broke open the sealed door, demanding that Sami rebuild the brick wall the soldiers had demolished that morning. He bought bricks again and built the wall blocking the back exit.

At 10:30 A.M. on June 8, around 10 soldiers showed up and demanded the Zahida family leave their house. The soldiers gave them four hours to evacuate. They even suggested allowing a truck to come to the back entrance to carry the furniture. The family refused to leave. Seven hours later the civil administration officials came and told the family everything was all right and they could remain in their house.

At about 11 A.M. on June 9, soldiers appeared and told the family the main-entrance door had to be sealed again. The family objected but the soldiers destroyed the brick wall at the back, which Sami had rebuilt for the second time three days earlier. Then the soldiers welded and sealed the front door again.

Now Sami and the names of his family members have been erased from the list of people allowed through the checkpoint. Thus he can no longer pass the checkpoint that divides a Palestinian neighborhood and visit his brother who lives also on Shuhada Street. “We speak only through the window,” he said.

Haaretz asked the army spokesman’s office to explain the alternating orders to build a brick wall and destroy it, and whether the soldiers were acting on the settlers’ orders.

The army responded: "Recently, several Palestinians have entered the structure on King David Street in Hebron that was abandoned and sealed for many years. The Palestinians broke open the entrance without coordinating their entry to the structure, both from King David Street in the Jewish settlement in Hebron and from the Palestinian side of the eastern Old City.

"The army closed off the exit from the structure toward King David Street, on which Palestinian movement is forbidden for security concerns. After it became clear that the Palestinians sealed one of the exits from the structure to the eastern Old City and reported that they had locked themselves in, Israeli army forces temporarily opened the locked exit.

"We emphasize that even after Palestinians sealed off the exit from the structure to the eastern Old City, one exit remained through which they could leave.

"On Saturday evening, June 9, 2018, the exit to King David Street was sealed and the passage to the eastern Old City sealed by the Palestinians was reopened in a way that allows for free passage on the Palestinian side. The sealing was done for security concerns, and in light of the security ban on Palestinian movement on the route to which the sealed exit faced.

"The legality of Palestinians entering and staying in the structure is being examined. The situation will be handled according to the findings of the inquiry."

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