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From the field

Israeli security forces punish town of Silwad, near Ramallah, for car-ramming attack by local resident

On 6 April 2017, Malek Hamed – a resident of the Palestinian town of Silwad – carried out a car-ramming attack at a hitchhiking station at the intersection near the settlement of Ofra, Ramallah District, killing Elhai Teharlev, a 20-year-old soldier, and wounding another soldier. Hamed was arrested at the scene.

For a period of about two months following the attack, Israeli security forces imposed collective punishment on the town’s 10,000 residents. The punitive measures included blocking off roads – a measure that remained in force until the end of May; nightly raids into homes; confiscation of funds and vehicles from town residents; and voiding Israeli work permits. A military official quoted on news website NRG explained the measures were implemented “with a view to putting pressure on the whole village, so residents understand it’s in their best interests to change their ways”.

Restrictions on movement

On the day of the incident, the military erected checkpoints on the streets of Silwad, and checked the IDs of passersby. The military also closed two gates it had installed about a year ago on the road leading to the main entrance to the town, which is located at the southern end of Silwad. This road links the town and the villages east of it to Route 60 – the West Bank’s main artery – and to Ramallah, the area’s major city. One gate was installed across from the entrance to Ofra, a settlement built in the 1970s mostly on land privately owned by residents of Silwad and ‘Ein Yabrud. The second gate is located south-west of the first one, past the tunnel that connects Silwad to the nearby village of ‘Ein Yabrud. Both gates remained closed until 29 May.

Gate installed by the military at the main entrance to Silwad. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem, 23 May 2017
Gate installed by the military at the main entrance to Silwad. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem, 23 May 2017 

Gate installed by the military further down the same road. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem, 3 May 2017
Gate installed by the military further down the same road. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem, 3 May 2017

Two other entrances to Silwad remained open: the eastern entrance, which connects the town to al-Mazra’ah a-Sharqiyah, Deir Jarir and the eastern villages; and the western entrance leading to the village of Yabrud (north of ‘Ein Yabrud). This route also runs through a tunnel under Route 60. It is a winding and dangerous road, and travel to Ramallah on it is 12 km and half-an-hour longer than by the main road. The need to use this road has also driven up the price of public transportation.

Several times a week, the military also set up flying checkpoints on the alternate road to Ramallah, via Yabrud, making travel to and from the town even more difficult. Blocking off the roads harmed not only residents of Silwad, but also residents of neighboring villages, who rely on the services available in the town. Some of these services are the regional center for persons with special needs (Silwad Rehabilitation Center), a medical clinic, and an emergency care clinic. In addition, the roughly 70 percent of Silwad’s municipal employees and teachers, who live outside the town, had great difficulty getting to work.

In addition, the gate closures isolated three families, numbering a total of twenty members altogether, whose homes are located in the area between the two military gates. At first, they had to contact the Palestinian DCO (District Coordination Office) every time they wanted to leave or return home, and the Palestinian DCO would then contact its Israeli counterpart. Every time such a request was made, Israeli soldiers would come down from the military watchtower located by the gate leading into the town, check the family members’ ID cards, and conduct a physical search. Ten days into these measures, the military put locks on the gates and gave each family one key they could use to enter and exit, subject to random ID checks. About twenty days later, this arrangement was cancelled, and the families again had to go through the DCO every time they wanted to enter or exit.

On 29 May 2017, the military removed the gates it had installed a year earlier, after having kept them close for nearly two months.

Map of Silwad travel restrictions. Click to download map as PDF

Other measures of collective punishment

These months saw soldiers carrying out late-night raids on homes, staying for an average of two hours at a time: Soldiers woke up the occupants of the homes, frightened them, and then left, leaving chaos behind.

During these raids, soldiers confiscated more than NIS 100,000 [approx. USD 28,000] in total from seven different homes, serving the owners confiscation warrants for the funds. Soldiers also confiscated twenty cars and a motorcycle. Testimonies collected by B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad indicate the vehicles were confiscated without warrants, citing as pretext that they were unlicensed.

Another severe punitive measure employed by the military was the revocation of Israeli work permits from ten residents who work in the Atarot Industrial Zone. In six cases, the soldiers confiscated the permits during a raid, and four other workers discovered their permits had been revoked only in the morning, when they arrived at the checkpoint on their way to work.

In late May, after residents contacted the Palestinian DCO, confiscated money was restored to two families, and the ten workers received new Israeli work permits.

The military disrupted the lives of more than 10,000 people who did nothing wrong and were suspected of no wrongdoing. This disruption of daily life is morally and legally indefensible, and is entirely based on a policy of violence that cynically exploits the military’s authority in order to abuse and intimidate a civilian population.

In testimonies given to B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad, residents of Silwad spoke of how these restrictions disrupted their lives and harmed their livelihood:

Sarhan Hamed by one of his trucks. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem, 3 May 2017
Sarhan Hamed by one of his trucks. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem, 3 May 2017 

Sarhan Mustafa Hussein Hamed is a construction-material manufacturer. A 39-year-old married father of four, he recounted the difficulties of running his business with the road closures in effect. He gave his testimony to B’Tselem on 7 June 2016:

I live in Silwad. I own a factory in town that makes cinder blocks, and I have two trucks with cranes for transporting building materials. Whenever the military closes the ‘Ein Yabrud road, which connects us to Ramallah and the villages near it, such as ‘Ein Yabrud, Beitin, Dura al-Qar’ and Deir Dobwan, we find ourselves in a sort of lockdown. The military shuts us in and opens up whenever it feels like it.

Most of the deliveries I make are to the area of ‘Ein Yabrud. There are two gates halfway there. Every time there’s been an attack or any security-related incident, the military immediately closes these two gates. It does so quite easily, and we feel like cooped up chickens, or cattle shut up in a barn. And that’s that, we can’t do anything anymore.

When the road is closed, the only route we can take runs under Route 60, through the village of Yabrud, but parts of it are on a very steep incline, and even small cars have a hard time negotiating it. For the trucks we use to haul construction materials, this road is a disaster. There are no minimal safety features there.

When you take this road, you’re always tense, always on edge. If a large vehicle comes towards you, that’s it, you stop. Neither vehicle can continue, because the entire road is just five meters wide. Sometimes it takes an hour or two until traffic resumes, you start moving, but there’s a real skid hazard there.

I once a rollover accident with a crane-truck, during one of the closures they put on us. It was in the summer of 2012. I was driving there and the truck flipped over. I got out of it with just some light injuries, but I lost a lot of money – NIS 10,000 [approx. USD 2,800]. Since then, I’ve been really scared of traveling there. Every time they close the road on us, I’m terrified during every trip.

When the regular road is open, it only takes me two, three minutes to get to ‘Ein Yabrud, and most of my deliveries go there. It’s just two or three kilometers away. When the road is closed, we have to take a detour through three villages to get there. You drive out of Silwad, go through Yabrud, ‘Ein Siniya and Dura al-Qar’ to ‘Ein Yabrud. It’s a 25-30 km trip instead of being just two or three, and with the truck, it takes me about an hour, if traffic is moving. With traffic jams, it can take two or even three hours.

And as if this weren’t enough, the military didn’t leave us alone, and put up flying checkpoints at the entrance to Yabrud, under Route 60. It was completely random, whatever the soldiers felt like. Sometimes we were delayed there for five, ten minutes, and sometimes an hour. We lost a lot of money because of the road closures - on diesel and the wear and tear to the tires and brakes from driving on this road – the. The five, six thousand shekels (net) I bring in in a month are reduced to no more than three or four thousand.

The amount of work has also gone down. Instead of making two-three shipments a day, the truck barely made a single delivery. Customers prefer to order from other places, that can supply them faster, on the spot.

Business revenue dropped by at least a third. This business provides for several families – mine, my parents’, my brothers’ and the families of the two workers and the driver – more than thirty people all told.

The road closure also impacts our social lives. For instance, I have a sister who’s married and lives in Bitunya, about 25 km away from Silwad. I didn’t visit her at all during the last closure, because I had to think a thousand times before I’d venture outside the village. She didn’t visit us all this time either, because she was afraid of the difficult road and the military checkpoints. The closure doesn’t just restrict our movement, it makes our lives miserable.

Ikram Faruk Hamed is an office worker at a company based in al-Birah. A 33-year-old mother of three, she spoke of the difficulties of getting to work in a testimony she gave B’Tselem on 8 June 2017:

I have three children, aged five, three, and three months. I’m an office worker at al-Binar, a dairy company in al-Birah. I drive every day from Silwad to work in al-Birah. When the road is open, it takes me ten-fifteen minutes to get there.

The last closure was imposed in early April. The Israeli military closed the gates, and forced us to take the alternate road, through Yabrud, which is known to be dangerous because it’s narrow, steep and has no minimal safety features in place. There were traffic jams there because of the large traffic volume and the big trucks, especially during rush hour: 7:00 to 8:00 o’clock in the morning, and then for the commute back, from 4:00 to 5:00 P.M. The trip took anywhere from half an hour to two hours, depending on the situation.

On top of this, the military set up flying checkpoints on the road that goes through the Yabrud tunnel, especially during the busiest times, when the workers go home, which made the trip even longer. Crossing one of these checkpoints took between 30 and 60 minutes. All this made me late for work, sometime even two hours late. My employer deducted the hours I lost from my pay, or my vacation days. So sometimes I stayed late to make up the hours.

When traffic was particularly heavy, I sometimes had to go through al-Mazra’ah a-Sharqiyah, and then east through Deir Jarir, a-Taybah, Rammun, Deir Dobwan and Beitin, all the way to al-Birah. That’s a 50-km trip which took me an hour or two hours, depending on traffic. But that road isn’t always easy, and it’s not always possible to take it, because some days the DCO checkpoint [located after Beitin] is also closed. It was closed during some of this closure.

During the last closure, in April and May, I missed ten work days and lost NIS 1,400 [approx. USD 390], which is half my monthly salary. Is that not an injustice?

The restrictions also hurt my husband, who works in construction in Ramallah. He missed about seven days of work and lost about NIS 1,750 [approx. USD 480]. All these losses came at the expense of our needs, and our children’s needs, and hurt our income and our quality of life. I kept having to ask my parents to take the kids to daycare or pick them up. It’s okay to ask once, twice, maybe even ten times – but not every day. It became a burden.

Because of the extra time it took, I wasn’t able to do anything. I didn’t cook. I had no time to be with the children or do housework. I would come home exhausted from the trip, and had no time left for family life.

I was always tense and on edge. I felt no one was happy with me, either at home or at work. I had neither a family life nor a social life. For these two months, my husband and I visited no one, not even my parents.

Life here has become intolerable. We don’t know what else to do, except look for someplace else to live, where we wouldn’t have to worry all the time if the road is open or closed.

Raed Muhammad Hassan Hamed is a 39-year-old married father of two. He lives between the two gates installed by the military. He described the impossible situation forced on his family in a testimony given to B’Tselem on 23 May 2017:

Raed Hamed. Photo by Iyad Hadad, 23 May 2017

I live at the southern entrance to Silwad, near the settlement of Ofra. I live in a building with my brother Wasim, 35, who is also married and has two boys and girl, and with my father. My sister sometimes stays with my father. Our building has two stories and each one of us has an apartment. My wife and I have two little girls. One is four and the other is a year-and-a-half old.

Unfortunately, we live on the main road that connects the villages east of our town with Ramallah and al-Bireh. About two months ago, the Israeli military closed off both gates near the old entrance to Ofra, which are about 800 meters apart. As we’re in-between the two gates, whenever the military closes them we’re stuck. Since installing these gates, the military has opened and closed them at will.

For the first twenty days of the last closure, we could go in and out only if we first coordinated with the Israeli side via the Palestinian DCO. We thought a thousand times before going out in the afternoon or evening, to pay a social visit or anything like that. The settlers are very active in our area and we’re afraid to leave our homes unoccupied at night for fear they’ll be damaged – especially when the media reports cases of torching or other violence by settlers.

Because it’s so difficult to get in or out, we’ve restricted ourselves to minimal movement. Every time we go in or out the soldiers might detain us, depending on their mood, and then they search the car. Sometimes they also do a body search. The soldier calls out to me from a distance to lift my shirt and show my torso, to make sure I’m not hiding anything. When he asks for my ID card, he orders me to throw it over to him and then throws it back to me. Every inspection takes about five to ten minutes. The soldier calls headquarters to check my ID number and only then lets me through. The whole thing is insulting.

My niece, Ashwak Zaher Hamed, 17, and our neighbors’ daughter, Aya Ziad Abu Hatab, 17, have to get to their high school which inside Silwad. In the morning, Aya’s mother drives them to the gate leading into the town. From there, they walk about thirty to fifty meters and then take the school bus. On the way back, the school bus lets them out at the gate and they have to walk about 500 meters to get home. They walk alone, in a military-controlled area, and it’s dangerous. They are also subjected to ID checks and insulting searches of their bags, depending on the soldiers’ mood.

They’ve taken away our right to move freely and that’s hard to live with. Normally, if we need something in the evening I can easily go out and buy it. Now we have to plan all our shopping in advance – food, drink, clothes, anything – so we don’t get stuck at night without baby formula or diapers and have to coordinate with the DCO at such an hour.

We’re heading into the month of Ramadan, in which you work while fasting and visit relatives a lot. I don’t know what we’ll do if the gate remains closed. How will we make it to prayers at the mosque, and especially to the a-tarawih prayers after the final meal for the day, late at night? How will be able to visit our relatives and how will they visit us?

Muhannad Hamad in his hardware store. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem, 3 May 2017
Muhannad Hamad in his hardware store. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem, 3 May 2017

Muhannad Shukri ‘Abd al-Hamid Hamad owns a hardware store. In a testimony given to B’Tse;e, on 3 May 2017, the 39-year-old married father of four recounted how soldiers raided his house in the dead of night and confiscated money:

On Thursday, 13 April 2017, at 3:15 A.M., we all woke up from banging on the front door of the building. I looked out through the window and saw about twenty soldiers at the entrance to the building and in the parking lot. They were carrying rifles with lasers and had various kinds of equipment with them, including ladders. They shouted: Open the door, open the door. My father opened the door.

They spent about thirty minutes in my brother’s apartment, another ten in my father’s apartment, and then they came to us. I woke my wife and kids – I have a son and three daughters – so we’d be ready when the soldiers came in. They went from one apartment to another and then it was our turn. The moment they knocked, I opened the door.

The soldiers came in, ordered me to turn and face the wall, and frisked me. Before they came in, I gathered all the money we had in the house and put it in my pockets, because I was afraid they’d confiscate or steal it as I heard happens a lot. When they frisked me, they found the money and took it. It was NIS 72,577 [approx. USD 20,500], including my daughters’ savings that they’d kept in piggy banks – about NIS 3,500 [approx. USD 990].

I asked the officer in charge why they were confiscating the money and he replied that it was terrorist money. I told him it was money related to work and trade and that I have no connections to any political organization, neither Fatah nor Hamas nor anyone else; that I’m a peaceful man who minds his own business. He insisted that the money was meant for financing terrorism.

My wife and I felt especially bad about the girls’ savings. They’ve been saving penny by penny since they were five or six years old. It really hurt them and they ask about the money every day. I try to reassure them that we’ll get it back. I told the officer that those were my daughters’ savings and that it’s a shame to take something away from little kids. He answered that it was terrorist money. He didn’t care that the girls were crying.

They’re punishing us all though we’ve done nothing wrong. What are we guilty of? I mind my own business. I’ve never been arrested or called in for questioning by the Israelis or by anyone else. I have a clean record. I still can’t quite believe what happened and can’t explain it to myself. They turned my life upside down, and especially my trade ties.

I gave a lawyer power of attorney and filed a complaint with the Palestinian DCO about the confiscated money. They’ve taken it up with the military’s legal adviser in Beit El.