When the Army Comes Knocking

Umm Zuhir, 87, remembers mainly how the soldiers kept telling her: Keep quiet, quiet. She repeatedly asked to open the windows of her house a little: "I'm sick, you also have a mother, I'm suffocating," she said, and they told her, "Keep quiet," or didn't answer at all. "But it should be mentioned that they didn't steal anything," she added.

On September 23, 10 soldiers occupied her house for 12 hours. The house is located on the main road of the village Deir Istya, southwest of Nablus. It was a Sunday, during Ramadan. At 3 A.M. her son Saeb Qader heard a knocking on the side door. "Army, open the door, it's a search." He and his wife had already awoke for the pre-fast meal. The four children were sleeping, as were his sister and his mother in the downstairs apartment. Qader, a 50-year-old school principal, went downstairs and opened the door, behind which the soldiers were crowded. Afterward he would notice how young they were; they had recently finished their high school matriculation exams.

"A soldier instructed me to lift my shirt, told me not to say a word, ordered me to bring the whole family downstairs. The children were afraid, but I told them that it's the army and that they had to come down. Afterward I accompanied the soldiers as they opened all the closets in the house. The soldiers told me: 'If there's anyone else, aside from those who came downstairs, we'll shoot him.'" They closed all the windows and pulled shut the curtains. On two windows without curtains, they nailed dark blankets to the wall. They asked Qader for the hammer.

Qader said the soldiers looked experienced in occupying homes. "They sat us down in the living room, two soldiers guarded us - my wife, me and the four children, two boys, two girls - the youngest is eight and the oldest is 15. Their two rifles were aimed at us the entire time."

Media blip

Once every few days, a laconic report appears in the Palestinian press about an occupied house. The Israeli media does not even mention it. But the residents of these houses and their neighbors walk around for a long time with the trauma and the humiliation of having their bedrooms and bathrooms invaded.

"You're not allowed to get up, you're not allowed to leave. You're only allowed to go to the bathroom, but with permission," the Qader family was told. Two other soldiers guarded the elderly mother and her daughter, in the downstairs apartment, with rifles aimed. "They wanted me to get out of bed, and I can't. I can barely walk," said the woman. She is lucid but her hands tremble, and she is too weak to get out of the bed, where she sits with her legs crossed, covered with a blanket even in the summer.

A soldier wanted to check the bed, under the mattress. "Do you think I'm sitting on a hand grenade?" she protested. Her daughter, who lives with her, said her mother was very frightened. But the mother said: "The soldiers looked very frightened to me. We offered them tea or coffee, they didn't want any. They were even afraid to drink water. They jumped with the slightest sound." Only after eight hours did the soldiers respond to the son's pleas and allow him and his family to join his mother and sister. They also brought down a fan for the mother.

From what Qader managed to see, some of the soldiers were busy with a large two-way radio that they installed in the room, some of them slept wherever they found a place, some walked around. They had brought their food with them. "They made themselves at home, but it should be noted that they didn't break anything and didn't dirty the house," he said. One of the soldiers who guarded them pointed to his youngest son and asked in mixed Hebrew and Arabic: "What's the little boy's name?" Rifat, replied the father. And your name? Yaron, he told him.

At 2 P.M. several worried residents came, including local council head Jamal Fares, and several neighbors and relatives, to check why the school principal and his wife the teacher hadn't come to work. The first thing the soldiers had done when they entered the house was to take away the mobile phones and disconnect the phone lines.

The guest knocked at the door. The soldiers were somewhat confused by the unexpected turn of events. They demanded Qader open the door "and hid behind me." They've come to ask me what happened, Qader explained to the soldiers, and they allowed his two relatives to enter and become prisoners along with the rest of the family. One of the relatives understands Hebrew: He heard a soldier say on the radio: "We've been discovered." The commander told him: "Finish what has to be done." At 3 P.M. they left, not before the commander asked Qader to make sure that nothing had been damaged, and ordered the family not to leave the house until the soldiers were far away. From the soldiers' behavior, Qader concluded that they had come to reconnoiter the area.

The army said it has no record of seizing a house or any other planned activity on that day, and therefore did not reply to Haaretz's question as to why the house was occupied.

The surroundings of Wadi Kana - soft rolling green peaks - are easily observed from the house, as is the road that connects several settlements (Emanuel, Yakir, Nofim, Revava). Some of the village lands have been confiscated over the years in order to build the settlements, which form a "C" around Deir Istya. Land was confiscated for roads and a military base above Yakir. There is no access to about 5,000 dunams of village land: They are trapped west of the settlement of Nofim. And thus, of the village's 36,000 dunams, only about 10,000 remain in the residents' possession.

"People wake up in the morning and from the window, they see every day the land that was stolen from them," says Abu Abdullah, a resident of the village and a member of the People's Party (formerly the Palestinian Communist Party). "Confiscations are not something you forget. It's not a one-time act of violence. We all live this violence, every day."

Harassment or prevention

The entry into the Salman house in Deir Istya on October 1 was different: In the middle of the night, the family members heard someone throwing stones at the iron door. Ten, maybe 12 stones. One was especially large. Afterward came a stun grenade, which exploded with a boom against the house wall. A deep crack formed. Someone shouted to open the door. The father of the family, Taleb Salman, opened it. He saw soldiers with blackened faces. "They stood me next to the door and demanded I bring down the children. Don't talk, quiet, one of them shouted constantly. The one who was shouting was the officer. 'You're an officer and you don't understand, don't you have children?' I asked him. After all, I opened the door, why shout? Another soldier said to the officer: 'The father is like the son, take both of them.'"

The son Hamadan, 19, was immediately separated from his brothers. The soldiers blindfolded him and cuffed his hands behind his back. They refused the family's request to bring him clothing. The father held him tight, while his wife ran to bring him slippers.

The soldiers had planned to search the house. "I demanded to accompany them - there's money in the house - so they wouldn't steal. I was also afraid that they would plant something incriminating. They said that wasn't allowed. I started to shout, and then they raided the house and started to break things by kicking them: closet doors, a bed, furniture, they smashed the glass panes in several closets and doors," Salman says. The Israel Defense Forces Spokesman said the complaints are being checked, but an initial investigation indicates the arrest was conducted in accordance with procedures.

Half an hour later, the soldiers left the house with the son. Neighbors who were watching from the window shouted to the soldiers not to push Hamadan, not to rush him, since he couldn't see. Two other young men were detained that night in the village.

In October, the army detained 359 Palestinians in the West Bank. Some were detained on suspicion of criminal offenses, others were wanted, others for interrogation. Hamadan was apparently transferred to the detention facility in Hawara. The Committee Against Torture petitioned the High Court of Justice in August over the poor sanitary conditions at this facility. On October 22 the High Court issued an interim order to allow detainees free access to the toilets immediately, and ruled additional toilets must be built by the end of December.

But Hamadan was transferred a day later to detention in Jalama, and afterward to the Megiddo Prison. The father learned that from Hamoked, the Center for the Defense of the Individual. When an attorney came from Fatah's Prisoner's Club to see Hamadan in Jalama, he was told the prisoner still could not meet with a lawyer. When he came to see Hamadan in Megiddo, he was told Hamadan wasn't there. The attorney saw him for the first time on November 6, in the military court in Salem, where his detention was extended until January 15, his father said. The father was not permitted to approach his son and talk to him, embrace him. The indictment has not yet been submitted. Village residents think he is being accused of throwing stones.

In recent months, village residents have been complaining about incessant harassment by the the army: Jeeps speed along the village roads, frightening children, angering adults; sometimes the soldiers force shops to close; roadblocks are set up at the entrances to the village; people are detained on their way to work or to their land. These are routine incidents all over the West Bank, and nobody reports them anymore - they are being dwarfed even in the Palestinian media. "As though we've become accustomed to it," says Abu Abdullah, "but anger is built on anger, brick by brick."

The IDF Spokesman responded: "Due to the many recent incidents of Molotov cocktails and stones being thrown from around the village Deir Istya, forces operated inside the village to stop the throwers of Molotov cocktails and stones." The head of the local council said that in response to his complaint that the army is harassing village residents, the regional commander replied: "If you don't throw stones, we won't make problems." The army replied that it is wrong to say the army is harassing, because its activity is aimed at preventing stone throwing and detaining the stone throwers.