JERICHO — The events that transpired on the night of December 12 were nothing short of a complete shock to the Palestinian residents of the village of al-Zubeidat, located just off a main road in the Jordan Valley area of the central occupied West Bank.
At around 8 pm, dozens of Israeli soldiers and military jeeps raided the village in full force, allegedly in search of young men who had been throwing rocks at Israeli settlers who share the main road with Palestinians.
“They were showering the village with stun grenades,” Tawfiq Zubeidat, 40, told Mondoweiss, “indiscriminately, without any care or concern.”
About an hour into the raid, around 9 pm, soldiers arrived to Tawfiq’s family compound in the northern area of the village where his mother Hamda, in her late 70’s, was trying to fall asleep despite the frightening sounds of the raid on the other end of al-Zubeidat.
“They fired one grenade right here,” Hamda’s grandson Mahmoud, 28, said, pointing to a side entrance to Hamda’s home, just feet away from where she was trying to sleep.
It was the loud bang of that stun grenade that startled an already-frightened Hamda, and triggered a heart attack in the mother of 12.
Despite the efforts of her sons, and frantic Israeli soldiers who called in for army ambulances to treat Hamda, the beloved matriarch of more than 100 children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren died on the way to the nearest hospital in Jericho city, 45 km away.
“We are in total disbelief,” Tawfiq said, sitting in the family’s courtyard among three of his eight brothers, who echoed similar sentiments.
Even more shocking than her sudden death is perhaps the fact that for the 1,500 Palestinians in al-Zubeidat, Hamda, a matriarch to four living generations, was their first shahida, or martyr — something practically unheard of across Palestine.
A quiet village in disbelief
The village of al-Zubeidat came to being in the aftermath of the Nakba, or catastrophe, in 1948 when more than 700,000 Palestinians were made refugees with the creation of the state of Israel.
The Zubeidat tribe were some of those refugees, native to what is present day Beer Sheva in the Negev desert of southern Israel. After they were expelled from their lands, they settled in the Jordan Valley, and have built a quiet life for their descendants living in the village.
As of a result of the 1995 Oslo Accords, al-Zubeidat was divided into Areas ‘B’ and ‘C.’ Approximately 36 dunums (1% of the total village area) were classified as Area B, where the Palestinian Authority (PA) has control over civil matters but Israel maintains security control, according to the Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem (ARIJ).
Meanwhile, 99% of the village, mostly open agricultural lands, was classified as Area C — meaning Israel maintains complete civilian and control in the area.
Typical to the hundreds of Palestinian villages and towns in Area C, which makes up more than 60% of the occupied West Bank, there is a history of land confiscation for settlements and roads, stop-work orders and home demolitions in the village.
Additionally, given that the village is located in the heart of the Jordan Valley, where around 57% of the land has been designated as “closed military” or “firing zones,” the residents of al-Zubeidat are no strangers to Israeli military training activities that take place in the areas around the village.
Despite fitting the profile of almost every Palestinian village in the occupied territory, Hamda Zubeidat’s sons insisted that their lives were relatively normal and quiet.
“Many of the people in the village are well educated. We are teachers, lawyers, doctors, and students,” Tawfiq told Mondoweiss, adding that many in the village also work as farmers on the nearby date farms.
“We live a simple life,” Tawfiq said, “that’s all our mother wanted for us, was to get an education and take care of our families.”
“Yes, the occupation affects us, as it does to every Palestinian. Soldiers raid the village from time to time and conduct training activities in the surrounding areas, but nothing out of the ordinary,” Tawfiq’s older brother Fayez said.
It was clear, from Hamda’s sons, grandsons, and great grandsons sitting in the courtyard outside where she died just one week earlier: what happened on December 12 was not normal.
‘They use our homes like a playground’
About a dozen of Hamda’s immediate family members had gathered outside her home, each one voicing their opinion on what part of the raid that night did not add up.
“Typically when soldiers raid the village, just a few of them come, maybe one jeep, two maximum,” one of Hamda’s son said.
“They will come and knock on our doors, ask us for our IDs, and move on,” another said.
“The way they came that night, dozens of soldiers, firing tear gas and sound bombs everywhere — they weren’t looking for stone throwers as they said,” Tawfiq told Mondoweiss, “they were conducting some sort of training activity.”
Tawfiq’s brothers, nephews, and cousins nodded in agreement. The day of the raid, they said, there were not even any clashes or stone throwing going on on the main road, leading all of them to believe that the village was being used as a training ground for new soldiers who were learning the trade of night raids on Palestinian towns and villages.
The Israeli army referred my calls on the case to the Israeli police. They have not returned my calls.
“They came here and fired so many sound bombs, as if our homes were their playground,” Tawfiq told Mondoweiss. When asked to describe the sound, his brother Fayez jumped in.
“My house is 500 meters away from here,” he said, “but those sound grenades are so loud that when they fired the one at my mom’s house, it was so loud I thought it was at my front door.”
“When they were here firing bombs and gas like it was a game, they weren’t thinking that we are real people living here. That we have kids and elderly people like my mother that will be scared,” Tawfiq said, “I’m sure this didn’t even cross their minds. And we lost our dear mother because of their carelessness.”
[Editor’s note: Ma’an reported at the time that Hamda Zubeidat was 60. Her sons corrected her age, to late 70s.]