Analysis

'And Then We Felt the Bulldozers Hitting Our House'

The Israeli army destroyed four homes in Jenin last week, leaving three families homeless, unable to even retrieve important documents and valuables

Rubble from a home demolition
Amira Hass

During the incursion into Jenin by the Israeli army and special forces overnight Wednesday, the forces destroyed four homes in the village of Wad Burkin, and 17 people from three families lost their homes together with all their contents. Preliminary reports suggest only one of the buildings was destroyed using the so-called pressure cooker method – in which construction equipment is basically employed as a weapon – in order to force Ahmed Nasser Jarrar to come out assuming he was in the house.

Jarrar was the prime suspect in the drive-by shooting in which Rabbi Raziel Shevach was murdered on January 9. That house, the home of his mother Khitam (the widow of Nassar Jarrar, a senior Hamas figure in the West Bank who was killed by the Israeli military in 2002) and her five children, was the first to be demolished.

On Thursday, laborers from the Jenin district searched through the rubble but found no bodies.

The home of Ismail Jarrar was the third to be destroyed, a few hours after his son, also named Ahmed, was killed. Members of the extended Jarrar family say they were astonished to hear Israeli reports that Ahmed initiated an exchange of gunfire with Israeli special forces officers, who returned fire and killed him. “If he did so, it’s a reason to be proud,” Ahmed’s brother, Mohammad, told Haaretz, while commenting that he made similar statements to the Shin Bet security service officers who interrogated him. “Still,” Mohammad added, “that’s hard for me to believe. My brother never gave us even a hint that he had a gun and knew how to fire it and was interested in doing so. We didn’t even find a photograph of him with a rifle for the memorial poster!”

Ahmed Jarrar studied finance at the Open University of Israel, supporting himself and his family by installing lighting for social events and, in the past two months, as a crane operator. He had never been arrested. His brother Mohammad served six years in prison for his activities in Hamas’ military wing, the Iz al-Din al-Qassam.

According to Mohammad, he and Ahmed left the house together at around 10:30 P.M. Wednesday: Ahmed planned to sleep at a friend’s home in Jenin, and they were just ending a talk on family matters. “Also considering the Palestinian Authority security forces circulating around Jenin, it doesn’t make sense to me that Ahmed left with a gun, which in any case I don’t think he owned,” Mohammad said.

They went their separate ways near the home of their aunt Khitam. Mohammad returned home, and about five minutes later he started hearing shots being fired. He, his parents and his two sisters huddled together in the living room. Mohammad peeked out of the window and saw that the neighborhood was filled with military jeeps and soldiers surrounding Khitam’s house. Later on, someone shouted through a loudspeaker for everyone to come outside. “Afterward we heard the sound of a missile being fired at Khitam’s house, and I saw the fire when it ignited. After that, I saw two bulldozers— one with wheels and another with tracks. We couldn’t see the people when they went out of the house.

At around 1:30 A.M., security forces surrounded the home of the Ismail Jarrar family. “They threw stun grenades at the door and with loudspeakers called for everyone to leave,” Mohammad related. He said the soldiers didn’t let his sick father keep the warm robe he had on over his pajamas, and forced him to remove it when he exited the house.

A large number of soldiers and military vehicles were outside the house. The men and the women were separated. Soldiers (or police officers – Mohammad was unable to tell) asked him a few questions, and when he confirmed that he was the brother of Ahmed Ismail, they put on him the hat of the tracksuit he was wearing and, he said, hit him a few times on the back of the neck before cuffing his hands behind his back. His father’s hands were not restrained.

They were driven in a jeep to a neighbor’s home. Through the jeep window, Mohammad saw a body laying on the ground outside the home of Khitam Jarrar, as the bulldozers tore the house down. He was able to recognize the body as that of his brother Ahmed by his clothing. In the neighbor’s home were a few young people from the extended family, who were apprehended when they left their homes after hearing the gunfire.

At around 2:30 or 3 A.M., Mohammad was taken aside for questioning in a room in the house. Shin Bet officers who introduced themselves as Capt. Harun and Capt. Hever asked him questions about his brother and when he saw him last. Mohammad insisted that his brother did not carry a gun, even when the officers accused him of lying.

Mohammad said he told them: “Since this morning you flew a camera drone. Check the pictures.” Mohammad was brought back to the room where his father was, and around two hours later was brought to Harun and Hever once more. Mohammad said he had the impression the Shin Bet officers hesitated slightly before they started talking. He told Haaretz: “I asked them, ‘Why did you kill my brother?’ They were surprised that I knew and told me he shot at two soldiers. I said I didn’t believe it.”

Mohammad said Harun told him he had identified the deceased from the bullet-pierced ID card found in his pocket, and then added, “We don’t want to destroy the house.” Mohammad responded, “What does the house matter after my brother was killed?” Mohammad said Harun replied with a verse from the Koran that is typically referenced in such situations: “Think not of those who are slain in Allah’s way as dead. Nay, they live, finding their sustenance in the presence of their Lord.” This very verse appears on the banner created in Ahmed’s honor and was hung in the diwan, or club, of his extended family. At 7:30 A.M. Thursday, Mohammad’s family learned that their home had been demolished, with all their worldly goods inside.

‘Unusual movements’

The second house to be destroyed was the home of Ali Jarrar, 65, and his wife, Naseem. Naseem told Haaretz: “At around 10:30 [P.M.], we noticed unusual movements outside the house; we heard voices in Hebrew, a lot of shooting, and then loudspeakers from the direction of Khitam’s home. We closed ourselves up in an interior room and didn’t look out of the windows. Afterward, we noticed a burning smell – apparently from the missile that was fired at Khitam’s home – and we heard the bulldozers. I was thinking about my children, so I didn’t pay attention to all details. The electricity went out. I noticed that someone shouted in Arabic, ‘We are the Israel Defense Forces,’ and my son also recalls someone saying something like, ‘No one can [beat] us.’ And then we felt the bulldozers hitting the wall of our house.

“We went into the room of my daughter Khadija, who is 6 and was still asleep. The soldiers fired at a storeroom underneath the house and threw stun grenades. From the shaking of the walls, a musical toy of Khadija’s started to play, and the soldiers started firing at the house. My daughter woke up, startled, and screamed. Ali shouted at the soldiers a few times, asking, ‘Should we come out, should we come out?’ They didn’t answer. We were afraid they’d shoot us if we came out. At some point, our twins, who are 20, said we had to prepare to die and that we should pray. Mustafa, who is 11, crossed his arms and told us afterward that he felt terribly cold.”

In the end, as the bulldozers were tearing down the walls of their home, the family of six managed to escape out the back door. They were stopped by soldiers, who detained them for around 10 minutes and shouted at them to be quiet when they asked why their home was being demolished.

The fourth home that Israeli army and special forces bulldozers destroyed was an old, uninhabited stone building that the family considered a historical treasure with sentimental importance. It was built by Wad Burkin founder Ibrahim Jarrar, who moved there from Burkin around a century ago.

On Saturday, thousands of people came to the diwan of the extended Jarrar family in Wad Burkin, for the second day, to pay a condolence call and to express solidarity with the Ismail Jarrar family. A grave was dug in the family cemetery. Ahmed’s sister, Firdous, was supposed to be married in the diwan next Friday. The three families are now split up among the homes of various relatives. None of them was allowed to remove important documents or valuables from their homes. The extended family has begun to donate money to rebuild the houses.