Israel Fired Missile at House With Sleeping Kids, Used Girl as Human Shield, Family Claims

In the West Bank city of Jenin, Israeli counterterrorism police arrested a member of Islamic Jihad. During the raid, his father and teenage sister were used as human shields in violation of international and Israeli law

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Ahed al-Dabai.
Ahed al-Dabai.Credit: Nidal Shtieh
Amira Hass
Amira Hass
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

The Yamam counterterrorism police that raided the Al-Hadaf neighborhood in Jenin on May 13 fired an anti-tank missile at a building in which 19 people, including 11 minors ranging in age from one to 16, were sleeping. A father and daughter say they were also held by the troops for several hours as human shields during the raid and gun battle with armed Palestinians. The Israel Police spokesman declined to comment on questions from Haaretz and on the specifics of the testimonies, and responded only: “Completely contrary to what was said, the force acted ethically and professionally in performing the mission under very heavy fire,” and also noted that Noam Raz was killed during this raid in Jenin. Daoud Zubeidi, a Fatah militant from the Jenin refugee camp, was killed in the raid as well. The Shin Bet spokesman declined to respond to Haaretz’s query.

The house in question belongs to the Al-Dabai family. Mahmoud al-Dabai, 19, a member of the military arm of Islamic Jihad (Saraya Al-Quds), was arrested after a five-hour siege. Two days earlier, he had refused to comply with a Shin Bet summons (issued by telephone) to come in for questioning. After all the other family members besides Mahmoud were evacuated from the house, the troops bombarded it with another six or seven anti-tank missiles that set the second floor on fire. The first missile, which was fired while the house’s occupants were still sleeping, destroyed the apartment belonging to Mahmoud Al-Dabai’s grandparents. At the time, the grandfather was in the hospital and his wife was sleeping in the apartment of one of her children, on the top floor of the building. During the hours of the siege and the bombardment, the Yamam troops forced Mahmoud’s 16-year-old sister, Ahed, to stand for two hours next to a military jeep at the corner of the street, closer to the refugee camp, while Palestinian militants were shooting all around and at the jeeps. Every so often the father, and later also his wife and mother, were made to stand in front of a military jeep opposite the family home. A police officer stood behind and rested his rifle on the shoulders of the father, Mohammed, and sometimes also fired towards the besieged house.

The style of the attack on the Al-Dabai house matches the “pressure cooker method” that has evolved since the 1990s, and first in Gaza: besieging a building, calling to the wanted Palestinian inside to come out, shooting and use of anti-tank missiles and also demolition of the house with a bulldozer. But a deliberate strike with a missile while the whole family is still inside the house, and is not yet aware that the house is surrounded, is not supposed to be a part of this arrest method that may also end by killing the wanted person. The use of family members or neighbors as human shields for soldiers is prohibited by international law, and even the High Court of Justice has also ruled that any use of Palestinian civilians in military activity is prohibited.

The Al-Dabai family.Credit: Nidal Shtieh

“That Friday morning, around six, we woke up from the sound of a loud boom. The whole house shook and we heard the sound of windows shattering,” Mohammed Al-Dabai, 47, recounted this week. “We weren’t sure exactly where the blast came from, but I told my wife, ‘I think the army is here.’ And then in the quiet that followed I heard a voice from afar: ‘Mahmoud, turn yourself in. Come out of the house.’” Mohammed, the father, walked out of their apartment on the first floor and stood in the covered entrance way between the outer gate and the front door of the house. He didn’t see any soldier in the street, or any military vehicle, and he couldn’t tell where the call to come out had come from. He said he shouted back, “Who are you?” and also, “Mahmoud is not home.” Because that is what Mahmoud had asked him to say. Then the father heard the voice say, “Everyone come out.”

He, his wife Manal and their children Ahed (who turns 17 in August), 9-year-old Fares and 4-year-old Abed came out to the street. “That’s when I saw the soldiers for the first time: Two came out of the neighbor’s house across the street and they said to us, “The children and woman go over there [further up the street, three to four meters away] and you stay here,” Mohammed says. The Yamam police bound his hands behind his back and blindfolded him. He managed to see that outside and inside the neighbor’s house, by the windows, there were “dozens of soldiers.” He also noticed the shattered bedroom of his parents, all a jumble of broken furniture, scattered and torn clothing, cement blocks and twisted aluminum. Within a few hours, other rooms in the two-story house would look the same way.

Mohammed estimates that he was kept there in front of his house – bound and blindfolded – for about 40 minutes. At first he kept telling the masked Yamam officer that his son was not at home, and the officer told him he was lying because “you were together at the hospital” (visiting the grandfather). Later, the father relented and called to his son to come out, but the son did not answer. The father says the troops fired at the house and his son shot from inside of it. “The soldiers did a lot of shooting, but they had silencers,” he said. “It was scary. Thank God we’re all still alive.” After a while, he heard vehicles driving and figured they were military jeeps. At some point, a Yamam policeman handed him a cell phone and told him the Shin Bet officer wanted to speak to him. The Shin Bet agent urged him to try harder to get his son to turn himself in, asking who in the family looks after Mahmoud the most. “I do, all of us, his mother,” replied Mohammed. He was then taken into the neighbors’ house, which the troops had taken over around five in the morning and made all the occupants stay in one room.

Mahmoud al-Dabai in Jenin.Credit: Nidal Shtieh

At the same time, armed, helmeted and masked counterterrorism troops made his wife, daughter and two young sons stand next to a locked storeroom up the street to the south. “The soldiers were next to us and shooting,” Ahed says. “My little brothers started crying. There were no military vehicles in the street yet. My mother asked the soldiers to let us go away from there. They said no. And then a jeep came and parked next to us. And she also asked the soldier in it to let us go farther away. He agreed, we moved a bit farther away and we sat down on the steps of Abu Maher’s house. The soldiers kept on shooting.” At some point, the armed Palestinians also started shooting, and with all the shooting going on around them, Ahed says, “My little brothers cried and were shaking with fear. My mother asked the soldiers to let the children go inside the Abu Maher house.” The policemen said no, and the mother kept pleading with them until they finally relented and let the young boys go inside the neighbors’ house. The mother and daughter remained outside, when a Yamam jeep showed up and its driver ordered the mother to get in it, in order to try and convince her son to turn himself in.

    Ahed remained alone with the heavily-armed policemen, who were apparently stationed there to stop armed Palestinians from trying to approach the besieged house. She says: “The shooting from [the Palestinians] had been weak up to then, and now it started getting stronger. I think this must have been around eight in the morning. A soldier said to me, ‘Come here,’ and I thought he was going to let me go into the Abu Maher house too. But he stood me right next to the jeep. I was wearing an abaya [long robe]. Only one soldier spoke to me, I didn’t see the others. The shooting got more intense. I put my head down and the soldier inside the jeep shouted to me in Arabic: ‘Don’t put your head down, you are a terrorist, prepare to say farewell to your brother.’ I stood there like that next to the jeep for two hours, shaking and crying and shouting to the soldiers to let me go. I was sure I was going to die. The soldiers didn’t shoot a lot. They got into the jeep. There was shooting from the [Palestinian] guys, but also not all the time.” She says the armored jeep that she was standing next to was struck four times by gunfire from the Palestinians.

    The house that was hit, this week.Credit: Nidal Shtieh

    Later on, a real-time report on the Ramallah News site cited sources in Jenin saying Mahmoud’s mother was being held as a human shield (obviously not knowing it was the sister). From her position, Ahed saw her house being shelled: “I heard the blasts, I saw black smoke rising up. The whole sky was black,” she says. “I thought to myself – where will we go when this is all over?” At around 10 in the morning, by her estimate, she managed to slip away and she sat down under a nearby tree, and stayed there until the army left the area. “Then I discovered that I couldn’t stand up.” Her aunt spotted her and realized she was having a breakdown, and took her to the hospital.

    During those two hours, her parents went through further ordeals: “They brought me out of the neighbors’ house and made me stand next to my wife in front of the military jeep. A soldier rested his rifle on my shoulder and aimed at the door of our house. I told my wife to go to the house to convince Mahmoud to come out. A soldier told her that when she comes back she should bring the robot that was next to the door. There was this robot there, a triangular object with antennae and cameras. She called out to Mahmoud to turn himself in and he didn’t answer.”

    After the mother was also unable to convince their son to come out, “the Shin Bet officer spoke to me again on the soldier’s phone,” Mohammed says. “He said: ‘What a shame for you. You want your son to end up like Jamal Amouri [who was killed in an exchange of gunfire with Yamam officers in Jenin in June 2021]? You want me to bombard your house again and burn it?’” Mohammed was frantic: “Burn it? My brothers are there on the second floor, there are little children there.” He is not sure what time it was at that point – maybe 8:30, maybe 9, but he is certain that only after this conversation did the Shin Bet officer realize that his two brothers’ families were trapped on the upper floor of the building, which had a separate entrance from the parallel street up the hill.

    Ahed al-Dabai.Credit: Nidal Shtieh

    His mother and brothers’ families were taken by jeep to the neighbors’ house, and then the Yamam began shelling the upper floor from west and east of the house. “With every boom, the children yelled with fear,” Mohammed says. “And I counted every big blast. There were six or seven. Then I saw fire rising from my brothers’ apartments.” When they entered that floor of the house later on, they saw that the fire and the intense heat had melted the tiles and porcelain there. “We have a company that does cleaning for hospitals, and the chemical cleaning supplies are stored in the house in several tanks. It’s very lucky that they didn’t catch fire,” Mohammed says. Palestinian Civil Defense officials determined that the upper floor would have to be demolished.

    Mohammed figures that over the course of the morning, the policemen brought him back into the neighbors’ house or into the yard of the house seven times, then brought him out again and made him stand in front of the jeep that was across from his house, with one of the policemen standing behind him and resting his gun on his shoulder, aiming it and sometimes firing it too. “How do you want my son to come out, when you’re shooting like that?” Mohammed asked the policeman at one point. And the latter replied, “You don’t set conditions for me.”

    He says the Shin Bet officer spoke to him again, saying, “I set the house on fire, now the bulldozer [which in the “pressure cooker method” is supposed to demolish the house when the besieged wanted person is in it] is on the way.” The officer asked him again “who looks after Mahmoud the most,” and this time Mohammed suggested that he send the 66-year-old grandmother Khiriyyeh. She went into the house, told Mahmoud that they’d already lost the house but they didn’t want to lose him, and that it would be better for him to turn himself in and go to prison. Mahmoud finally agreed, but first he sat down and had a smoke before coming out.

    The house that was hit, this week.Credit: Nidal Shtieh

    Mohammed says: “My mother came out of the house with her hands up and I saw Mahmoud’s head behind her. I still had the soldier’s rifle on my shoulder.” When Mahmoud came out the door, the officers ordered him to remove his shirt and turn around. His father says: “He asked to see his mother first. A soldier shouted at him and cursed him, in Arabic. I was afraid he would shoot him. I called out to him not to be afraid. ‘I’m not afraid. I want to see Mom,’ he said.” After he took off his shirt and came out to the street, the policemen ordered him to walk slowly next to the fence and then to take off his pants. He was left standing there in his boxer shorts. Three policemen ran over to him and handcuffed him behind his back. “We were in the yard in front of the house,” Mohammed says. “They had Mahmoud stand next to a tree and he spoke with the Shin Bet officer on the phone. It was on speaker so I heard the conversation: ‘Are you okay?’ the Shin Bet officer asked him and Mahmoud answered, ‘Yes, but I want to get dressed.’ And the Shin Bet officer said to him: ‘You’ll get dressed when you get to us.’ Since then he’s been in Jalameh [Kishon detention facility] for interrogation, and hasn’t been permitted to meet with a lawyer.”

    A half hour before Mahmoud turned himself in, the Yamam troops also unleashed massive gunfire at the house next door, where Mohammed’s eldest son, Anas, lives. His wife and month-old daughter happened to be staying with her parents in the refugee camp that night. Anas came out with his hands up, and was also handcuffed but later released. Manal, the mother, fainted when Mahmoud came out of the house. “We asked to take her to the hospital, but the soldiers ignored us,” Mohammed says. The young children in the family have started wetting the bed at night now, he says, and are constantly asking when they can go back home.

    Mahmoud at his home that was burned this week.Credit: Nidal Shtieh

    The grandfather, Ridaa, was released from the hospital on Tuesday. “He doesn’t know yet. We told him there was a sewage problem at the house and that’s why everyone is sleeping elsewhere.” Ahed says that since that day she hasn’t been able to fall asleep at night, not until “six in the morning, when it gets light out.” She hasn’t been back to school and is not going to take her year-end exams. At the end of the interview, she says she noticed that the policeman who forced her to stand next to the jeep looked scared. “I saw it in his body language,” she says. She says the same about her brother Mahmoud: “I saw him when I left the house. He was a little afraid. He didn’t expect this.”

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