Following Itamar killings, village of Awarta faced mass arrests, violence and massive destruction during five days of curfew

Israel/Palestine

During the five-day curfew in the village of Awarta, south of Nablus, the Israeli military raided homes and detained around 300 people, the youngest 14 years old. Some of the men were taken to the local boy school where they had to leave their fingerprints and DNA and some were taken to the military base at Huwwra checkpoint. According to the mayor, Qays Awwad, 55 men are still in Israeli custody. Some of the detainees reported that they had been abused by the soldiers while they were detained and handcuffed. It has been reported that a 75-year-old woman was handcuffed and had to sit on the ground while the soldiers went through her home, and that an 80-year-old woman was beaten by soldiers.

Three Scandinavian ISM activists were in Awarta during the five-day curfew, from Saturday afternoon until Wednesday noon. From the roofs of people’s houses they witnessed how the Israeli soliders went into homes, arrested men and made the families wait outside while they raided their homes, resulting in large scale damage to property. The ISM activists also visited homes that soldiers had searched to find broken windows, cut fuse-cables, smashed furniture, and polluted drinking water caused by Israeli soldiers.

Hundreds of soldiers entered the village in military vehicles early on the morning of the 12th of March, following the murder of five members of a settler family in the nearby illegal Israeli settlement of Itamar. According to the soldiers, they were searching for the murderer and would continue until they found one. One soldier told ISM activists, ”We will search this village until we find someone.”  In the process of ”searching” the houses, the soldiers damaged framed pictures, furniture, TV sets, gas heaters, smashed holes in floors and walls, stole money and jewlery, and poured liquids over computers. The Israeli forces occupied around 30 houses to sleep in during the four nights they remained in Awarta. In some of the houses they evicted the families, who had to seek shelter outdoors or in neighbour’s homes during the night; in others they forced the families to stay in one room as the soldiers occupied the rest of the house. In occupied houses the soldiers defecated in the rooms and used the families’ bed sheets as toilet paper.

A lot of the houses were ”searched” and wrecked up to three times over five days. The soldiers did not seem to follow any apparent pattern when choosing which house to search or whom to arrest; ”It all looked very random ” one activist said. In at least one case, on Monday the 14th of March, the soldiers still did not know the name of the man that they had previously arrested and had to ask his family for it. The man that they had arrested was village council member Salim Qawaric. Approximately 25 soliders entered his house, causing severe damage on the family’s property while the family had to wait in the backyard. The following day the soldiers came back and searched the home once again, resulting in further damage to the family’s home and property.

The ISM activists were not allowed to take pictures, and when they did it anyway, the soldiers pointed their guns at them shouting: ”Do not take pictures!” One of the activists had her memory card stolen by a soldier who took her camera from her by force.

During the curfew, many families ran short of gas, food, water and medicine.

There have been numerous reports of physical abuse. According to eyewitnesses, Mashmod Zaqah, 28, had his hands cuffed behind his back and was blindfolded before he was beaten by at least six soldiers during a period of two hours; periodically he lost consciousness and couldn’t feel his legs or fingers. His family managed to smuggle him to Rafidia hospital in Nablus. He suffered a dislocated shoulder, back injuries, and a badly twisted ankle.

Accourding to eyewitnesses, around 300 Israeli settlers, of whom some were masked, entered the village on Saturday the 12th of March and threw stones at windows, injuring two Awarta residents by breaking their arms. Villagers tried to protect homes while Israeli soldiers responded by shooting teargas at the villagers.

It has been reported that children were bitten by the Israeli military dogs that the soldiers had with them. A young physically disabled man was bitten by a dog which resulted in his hospitalisation. Loay Medjet Abdet is now scared to go inside his own home because he believes the dogs will attack him again.

For the activists, it was clear that the repression against Awarta was only a form of collective punishment. When one activist asked: ”Why do you have to punish all this people?” The solider responded with: ”We have to punish these people so they will understand.”

Even though this kind of systematic collective punishment is illegal according to International law, is it frequently used by the Israeli military all over the West Bank and in Gaza.

When medical vehicles tried to access the area they were stopped by Israeli forces. ISM activists went to the checkpoint near Awarta on March 15 and reported that ambulances were being held several hours before they could enter the village. As an occupying force, Israel is obligated under article 56 of the Geneva Conventions not to hinder the work of medical personnel in a conflict zone.

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