At Palestinian Assailant's Village, Locals Lament Israeli Army's Nightly Raids

After Omar al-Abed killed three members of the Salomon family in the West Bank, the army has conducted nightly raids: 'I was in shorts. They caught me and began beating me'

Abbas Barghouti and his mother Adiba at home in the West Bank village of Kobar, July 2017.
Amira Hass

In Kobar, people are afraid to go to sleep. Residents of this village northwest of Ramallah never know at what hour soldiers will enter the village, which houses they’ll break into, whom they’ll beat to the point of serious injury the way they beat Abbas Barghouti on Tuesday. Parents fear for their sons, who go out to throw stones at army jeeps.

Between the previous Friday, when 20-year-old Omar al-Abed killed three members of the Salomon family in the settlement of Halamish, and the following Thursday, the army raided the village every night except Wednesday. Thus its 6,000 residents extend their waking hours a little longer to keep their children from having soldiers suddenly loom over them with rifles pointed, or from being woken to a new trauma by frightening bangs on the door.

Last Sunday morning it was still possible to hear a few reservations about Abed’s act. By Wednesday, a veteran Fatah activist said, “The Shin Bet security service and the army think they’re deterring people, but they’re also causing people who don’t support violence to do so.”

A week ago Saturday, the army dug ditches and blocked the two entrances to the village with piles of earth and rocks. Soldiers are constantly deployed near the northern entrance. Residents say the troops are stationed among the trees – “a frightening sight that deters people from wandering about there,” as one person put it.

At night, the soldiers return to the village. “The jeeps come with no lights and stop a ways from the village,” one resident said. “Then the soldiers come on foot, springing up suddenly between the houses without us hearing them.”

Residents cleared some of the land at the edge of each roadblock to create a lane for cars. Every day the army widens the roadblocks; the residents then create a new lane.

At 2:30 A.M. on Tuesday, Abbas Barghouti, 35, and his wife Maram were sitting on their unfinished balcony, which has no walls. His 73-year-old mother Adiba lives one floor down and his brother Ashraf across the way. His three children – ages 4, 6 and a few months – were sleeping inside.

“We heard noises,” Barghouti said. “My wife said, ‘Let’s go inside.’ She entered, and as I was at the door, the soldiers came up from the outside, up the ramp, and aimed their rifles at me.

“I was in shorts. They caught me and began beating me. They threw me to the ground, with my face to the concrete floor. One soldier knelt on my back, a second hit me in the head. That’s where the wound on my forehead comes from. A third soldier stood guard with his rifle aimed.

“I said in Arabic, ‘I have young children and a wife, I’m in my own house, what do you want from me?’ The one on my back began hitting me with his rifle and talking in Hebrew. From his tone, I guessed he was cursing. My wife looked out the window and began crying and screaming. Our daughters, who were sleeping in the next room, woke up and began crying and screaming.”

Handcuffed and blindfolded

Adiba Barghouti said she wanted to go outside, but a soldier aimed his rifle at her. Ashraf and other neighbors went out onto their balconies, and other soldiers deployed below, among the trees, and aimed their rifles at them.

“I screamed,” Adiba said. “Maram asked me to stop, because she was afraid it would make the soldiers beat him more. My son from the other house yelled at me to stop screaming, and when I stopped, they were afraid something had happened to me.”

Maram Barghouti turned on the balcony light, and the two soldiers moved Abbas away from the light. One took his hands, the other his feet, and they carried him away, propping him up against a pillar. Then they handcuffed and blindfolded him, “and one, I don’t know who, hit me in the eye, I don’t know with what.”

“He cried, ‘My eye!,’” Adiba Barghouti recalled, “and I didn’t know what to do. I was horrified.”

The soldiers put Abbas back on the ground, “and only then did they ask my name,” he said. They then ordered him to go inside. His daughters, upon seeing his face covered in blood and his left eye swollen shut, cried even louder.

The soldiers left at about 3 A.M., and within 15 minutes a Palestinian ambulance crew arrived and took him to the hospital. It’s too soon to tell whether Barghouti’s retina was damaged, and with it his sight. Blood and fluids from his swollen eye continue to drain through his nose.

Two days earlier, on Sunday, the soldiers broke into Ashraf’s house and asked to see what they termed a “printing press” on the bottom floor. It’s not a press, but a workshop for making signs, and it belongs to Abbas, not Ashraf, Abbas told Haaretz. Abbas has the keys.

Ashraf owns a printing press in Ramallah. A year ago, he received a fax from the Shin Bet ordering him to stop printing things like student council posters. He complied, Abbas said.

Abbas, a geography teacher, supplements his family’s income by making three-dimensional letters for companies’ signs that appear on roads. The soldiers raided his workshop and confiscated “equipment owned by every carpenter,” along with a compressor and spray paint. They also destroyed his computer and took the hard drive.

The army’s Arabic-language website boasted of finding a press that prints inflammatory material. As proof, it posted a sketch of the Al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem that Abbas was commissioned to frame. But amid the destroyed workshop, that picture remained unconfiscated and unharmed.

“There were no posters, no books, no signs they could confiscate, because it’s not a press,” said Abbas, who estimated the damage at 50,000 shekels ($14,050). “Ten years I’ve had that workshop; it’s impossible that the Shin Bet didn’t know.”

The soldiers who beat him weren’t masked, unlike in other houses. Some houses have been raided several times.

Impounding a car

At least one has been raided every night – that of 65-year-old Omar Barghouti, who has spent 11 of the past 20 years in administrative detention without trial. During the first raid, he apparently broke his foot while running to get his children and grandchildren, who were outside, to come back in. Now he needs a wheelchair. He believes that’s why he wasn’t arrested again.

“Tuesday, when they entered, I asked them what they wanted this time,” he said. “They answered, ‘This time, it’s not to look inside the house, but to take the SUV.’ Why, I asked. A Civil Administration officer answered, ‘Because it’s Hamas money. We’re a country with the rule of law; bring your evidence that it isn’t [Hamas money], and we’ll release the car.’ I said I could provide the evidence immediately. I’m paying monthly installments of 3,150 shekels to the bank on that car. They wouldn’t agree to see the evidence, and they took the car.

“When I bought the SUV I was arrested again, for a year. I hardly had the opportunity to use it. On Tuesday, they also arrested my son Saleh, but he was released that evening. They told him to come to the Civil Administration with the car’s papers, but they wouldn’t see him on Wednesday.

“I called Captain Chemi from the Shin Bet and told him I have all the evidence that I’m paying for the car. ‘You’re coming to us for revenge,’ I said. ‘What do you want? For us to leave the country? You’re coming to us every day.’ I told him, ‘We don’t like you; at least we’re free to hate you.’

“He said he wanted me to speak out against the murder. I said, ‘I always denounce your actions, which push people into this. People hate the occupation. Hate the occupation. Hate the occupation. Don’t believe people who say otherwise.”

The Israeli army said in response: “As of today [Thursday], the closure has been lifted, expect for certain groups, and access is now permitted, conditioned on a security search. From last Saturday, money linked to terror groups, property including a car, and which is valued in the tens of thousands of shekels and deemed terror funds, was found in the village.

“Last Monday, inflammatory materials were found at a print shop. During the operation, the owner of the print shop refused to go with the forces and acted aggressively. As a result, proportionate force was used and he was taken to the shop where inflammatory materials praising terrorists and calling for terror attacks were found.”

The army’s spokesman’s office did not respond to Haaretz’s question on why the car and funds were deemed “terror funds.”