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First-Hand Reports

Two Homes Occupied
Two Families Humiliated

International Solidarity Movement
January 14, 2005

“Everything in the house was smashed. The large, thick glass coffee table in the sitting room was smashed. Settees and sofas had been ripped to pieces. The floor was multicoloured with discarded Israeli chocolate bar wrappers and plastic soft drinks bottles. The mirror in the hallway was smashed.”

On 13 January 2005, a reporter friend of ours rang. He had been told that Israeli army jeeps had driven through Idhna (a small town to the north-west of our apartment in Hebron, southern Palestine) and announced a sudden curfew. Two years ago when there was armed resistance in this area, anybody out of his or her house during curfew risked being shot on sight by the army. Nowadays things are quieter and the main punishment for breaking curfew is immediate arrest and detainment without charge.

This particular curfew was declared because the Israeli army wished to enter a few Palestinian houses in the town. Testimony of former Israeli soldiers indicates that the decision on which house to enter is generally left entirely to those entering with no need for specific orders or suspicions.

There are two main reasons for the army to enter a house:

  1. If the soldiers want to search a house then the family is taken out into the street and held at gunpoint until the search is over.
  2. If the soldiers want to use the house as a temporary sniper position then they must be more discreet, entering the house quietly, usually at night and locking the family in one room. This is where internationals can be useful.

The Israeli army has illegally occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem since 1967 and throughout this occupation Palestinian civilian casualties have gone largely unreported in the western press, last year (2004) there were 950. However, Israel has learned through experience that a harmed international means floods of enquiry into / comment upon both army procedure and state policy. Neither of which are welcomed and so the army has general orders to be careful around Internationals. Because of this it is sometimes possible to enter an occupied house (an act which would likely get a Palestinian shot) and offer food, medical aid or supplies to the families inside. Internationals involved and observing often spells the end for illegal army activities like these and that is why the road to Idhna had been blocked.

We couldn’t get in.

This morning, the road was opened and we arrived in Idhna. The army had driven back to their base a few hours earlier having searched and occupied two houses in the town for about 30 hours. We were taken to the houses.

The first was in an apartment block, on the second floor. Soldiers had arrived around 3 or 4 in the morning, run up the stairs and shouted for the door to be opened. The family had been told to leave and sleep one floor down in an empty apartment. This first floor apartment was empty because it was still being built. It had no windows or door, the rooms were bare cement from floor to ceiling and there was no bathroom. The mother of the family had pleaded with the soldiers and eventually they were allowed one blanket each to take downstairs and wrap themselves in while they waited in the dark for the soldiers to finish.

They showed us their main bedroom. The army had pulled the double bed apart, the mattress was ripped open and the floor was piled with the contents of all the cupboards. The large fancy sofas in the living room were all upended with the lining cut out, the cupboard door in the kitchen hung from their hinges with the pots and pans spread over the floor. Down on the ground floor was the family’s grain store and main source of income. We waded in. In the corner were five or six bags that were untouched but there must have been hundreds slit from top to bottom, the grain inside them now spread 1-2ft deep over the floor of the room and now worthless, unusable. The army had left this house after one night, finding nothing.

The second house in the town had suffered far worse. The soldiers had arrived here too at about 3 or 4. We entered as they had, through the front door and were shocked by what we saw. The house was smashed. Everything in the house was smashed. The large, thick glass coffee table in the sitting room was smashed. Settees and sofas had been ripped to pieces. The floor was multicoloured with discarded Israeli chocolate bar wrappers and plastic soft drinks bottles. The mirror in the hallway was smashed. The children of the family tugged on our sleeves pointing out more and more points of interest in their destroyed home, demanding we take pictures; The massive fourty inch telly with the screen kicked in, the pulled apart speakers on their hi-fi. The cooker had been wrenched out five feet from the wall, flour was poured deep over the floor, another full length mirror in the kitchen, snapped. In each room the family had cleared a path through their broken belongings. Framed pictures of family members with the glass broken and the frame snapped, crushed ornaments, crockery, everything that could be broken had been broken. The mother of the family gave a constant commentary, fragmentarily translated by those in our group who spoke Arabic: 50 soldiers had entered the house, forcing the family into the garden.

After 7 hours, 27 of the soldiers left and the remaining 23 had occupied the house for a further 24 hours. Light bulbs were smashed and sprinkled on the stairway (to warn those soldiers upstairs of anyone approaching). The mother of the family also pointed at the broken mirrors and glass tables “what could have been hidden there?” she asked. She showed by play-acting how the soldiers had ripped shelves off the walls. Loss and anger mingled in her voice as she picked through the debris in every room explaining what the pieces had been only two days earlier. One member of our group was informed that the lady’s husband (a man of about 60) had been separated from the family, stripped of his clothes and forced to lie prone out in the street, sandwiched between two sheets of corrugated iron. We asked where he was now. The army had taken him after finding an old rifle in the house. He was still with them.

Even with their home in ruins and their father detained it was still important to the family that they were able to offer their guests tea. An envoy was sent next door to fetch cups. We sat with them and drank the tea, thanked them and promised to tell people back home what we had seen.

Read more first-hand reports.

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Additional Resources

PCHR Fact Sheet – The Illegal Closure of the Gaza Strip

B’Tselem Report – Restrictions on Movement

World Bank – 27 Months of Intifada, Closures, and Palestinian Economic Crisis

Amnesty International – Surviving Under Siege

Palestine Monitor – Curfews and Checkpoints

Amnesty International – Torn Apart: Families Split by Discriminatory Policies

Amnesty International – Law Quashes the Right of Israeli Arab Citizens to Family Life

Electronic Intifada – Prison Experience as a Normal Part of Life

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