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The children’s room at the al-Azzah family home after the incident. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem, 1 November 2020
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Occupation routine : my home is not my castle - Kobar, Ramallah District

Every day — and especially every night — Israeli soldiers may enter Palestinian homes. Such invasions of Palestinians’ private space have long been an integral part of security forces’ operations in the West Bank. West Bank residents know full well that soldiers may enter their homes at will. They can invade a bedroom and rummage through residents’ personal belongings. They can wake children in the middle of the night and pull them out of bed. They can order the occupants to go outside or lock them in a room for hours – until the soldiers decide they have had enough. Routine.

Testimonies of dozens of soldiers have made it clear that these invasions are carried out primarily to create a show of force and instill a sense of fear and terror. Yet the routine remains the same: In 2020 alone, security forces entered 2,480 homes throughout the West Bank.

For most of us, the home is a safe and secure space. This is not the case for Palestinians. Control, humiliation, and oppression penetrate the very sanctity of the home. Such invasions – so blatantly infringing upon residents’ rights and privacy – are yet another example of how the military controls subjects devoid of political rights.

In the coming days, we will present cases that occurred throughout October and November 2020 across the West Bank. During these two months, security forces entered some 493 homes.

1 November 2020, Kobar: The al-‘Azzah family’s home

At around 5:00 A.M., about 30 Israeli soldiers raided a two-story building in the village of Kobar. They blew up the front door of the building and spread out in the stairwell and on the roof. They then blew up the Shanan family’s apartment door on the second floor. The soldiers ordered the owner, ‘Ali Shanan (50), to accompany them to the first floor, where they blew up the door to the al-‘Azzah family apartment, where Aghsan Barghouti (al-‘Azzah) (34) and Muhannad al-‘Azzah (39) live with their daughter Meron (3).

The soldiers entered the apartment, locking Shanan and the al-Azzahs in different rooms, and conducted a violent search of the apartment, rummaging through closets, destroying belongings, and throwing everything on the floor. At one point, the soldiers took Muhannad out of the room and then transferred his wife and child from the bedroom to the living room. After about 40 minutes, the soldiers left, taking Muhannad and leaving destruction and chaos in their wake.

The soldiers entered the apartment, locking Shanan and the al-Azzahs in different rooms, and conducted a violent search of the apartment, rummaging through closets, destroying belongings, and throwing everything on the floor. At one point, the soldiers took Muhannad out of the room and then transferred his wife and child from the bedroom to the living room. After about 40 minutes, the soldiers left, taking Muhannad and leaving destruction and chaos in their wake.

 

The children’s room at the al-Azzah family home after the incident. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem, 1 November 2020

‘Ali Shanan, (50), a father of four, described what happened that night:

‘Ali Shanan next to a door that part of its frame was pried off. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem, 1 November 2020

At around 5:00 A.M., I woke up from an explosion in the building. At first, I thought the water boiler had fallen off the roof. I got out of bed and heard noises behind my apartment door. I shouted, “Who’s there?” Immediately after, soldiers broke down the door, which flew onto me. I don’t know if they blew up the door or just pried it off. Luckily, I moved back. Otherwise, I would have been hurt.

I saw about 10 soldiers standing in the stairwell in front of my apartment. They all wore masks or face coverings and couldn’t be identified. They wore pads and helmets and were armed with laser-scope rifles. One of them grabbed me by the neck and took me downstairs in total darkness. He didn’t tell me what he wanted from me. I told him in Arabic, “Let me turn on the lights,” but he pushed me and led me to Muhannad’s apartment on the first floor.

He ordered me to call out to Muhannad and his family to open the door for me. I did, and then the soldiers immediately grabbed me and moved me away. They took me out to the garden in front of the building and sat me under a tree, under guard.

He ordered me to call out to Muhannad and his family to open the door for me. I did, and then the soldiers immediately grabbed me and moved me away. They took me out to the garden in front of the building and sat me under a tree, under guard.

About 10 minutes later, they put me in Muhannad’s apartment and locked me in the living room with him. The soldiers spread out in the apartment and searched it. They locked Muhannad’s wife, Aghsan, in her bedroom with her daughter. About 10 minutes later, they moved me into Muhannad’s daughter’s bedroom. As they held me there, I saw them destroying the furniture in the house and making a mess. I told them that they weren’t allowed to act like that, but they ordered me to shut up.

About half an hour later, they took me to the living room and brought Aghsan and her daughter there. Muhannad wasn’t there because they’d already taken him out of the house. The soldiers entered the bedrooms and made a mess there. About 40 minutes later, they left the house, taking Muhannad with them.

 

‘Ali Shanan (right) and another person presenting sofas whose upholstery had been torn. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem, 1 November 2020

Dozens of soldiers spread out in the house and searched every corner of it, including the closets. I heard Muhannad telling them, “Here’s the house, search wherever you want.” From time to time, I heard them rummaging and destroying things. I was locked in the room, hugging my daughter, who was shaking with fear, trying to calm her down.

About half an hour later, the soldiers entered my room to search it. They took me and my daughter to the living room. The whole house was a mess; the sofas were upturned and torn. My husband wasn’t there. Apparently, they’d already arrested him and taken him away. I saw our neighbor, ‘Ali Shanan, who owns the building. I later realized that the soldiers had forced him to accompany them. About 40 minutes later, they finished the search and left.

I couldn’t go back to sleep, and neither could my daughter. The barbarity with which the soldiers arrived is baffling. They could have arrested my husband without all the mess they made. They destroyed the wood decoration of overhead crawl space in the kitchen, the apartment door, and the building’s iron door. They also tore the sofas’ bottom upholstery and rummaged through clothes, drawers, and all the house contents, which they threw to the floor. The house is still a mess, and there are still many things I need to tidy up.

During the day, I understood from lawyers at the Addameer organization, where my husband has been working as a field researcher for over 10 years, that he was under interrogation at the Russian Compound in Jerusalem.

11 November 2020, Kobar: The Zibar family’s home

On Wednesday, 11 November 2020, at around 4:00 A.M., some 30 soldiers, accompanied by about 10 dogs, raided a three-story building belonging to the extended Zibar family in the village of Kobar, Ramallah District.

The soldiers blew up the apartment door on the first floor, where Bahiyah Zibar (69) lives with her son Sharif (32), his wife Kifah (27), who is six months pregnant, and their two children, aged six and nine. Bahiyah, who woke up shortly beforehand, was startled to find soldiers inside her home. They ordered her to wake up her son Sharif, but when she entered his room, she discovered he was being attacked by a dog in his bed. His wife Kifah was clinging in fear to one of the walls, screaming.

The soldiers ordered Sharif to come out of his room, but as he had undergone knee surgery the month before, he could not get up without help. Despite this, the soldiers forbade him to use his crutches, and his wife helped him. They tied his hands behind his back and ordered him and the rest of the family to leave the apartment. In the stairwell, the soldiers questioned Sharif about his uncle Raed’s whereabouts and demanded to know if he was in the family’s home. Sharif answered that he did not know where he was.

The soldiers ordered the family to go outside. Sharif was forced to go downstairs in a sitting position with his hands tied behind his back, barefoot, and wearing only a tank top and shorts. The soldiers led him and the rest of the family to the neighbor’s house, where they continued interrogating him. An officer in civilian clothes who was present at the scene questioned Sharif again about his uncle and threatened to blow up his home.

Meanwhile, the soldiers went up to the second and third floors of the family home, where brothers Mahmoud and Muhammad, live with their families. The soldiers blew up their apartment doors, took out the entire family, a total of 14 people, including seven minors, and led them to the neighbor’s yard. The soldiers arrested Mahmoud and Muhammad and their two sons, Yusef and Shadi (both 18).

A hole soldiers left in one the walls of the Zibar family home. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem, 23 November 2020

About two hours later, the soldiers returned to Sharif Zibar’s apartment and ransacked it. They spilled the closets’ contents, overturned the furniture, damaged the doors, pried off the bathroom sink and damaged a wall, threw stun grenades inside the apartment, and fired dozens of rounds at the walls and the scattered belongings.

At around 8:00 A.M., the soldiers left the neighborhood while firing tear gas canisters and hurling stun grenades in the street. The family later discovered that Raed’s wife, Nidaa Zibar, was also arrested during the night. Nidaa had spent the day at her home with her sister, Khitham (35), who had been worried about her and did not want to leave her alone because since Raed became a wanted person, the soldiers had raided their home about four times. As the soldiers were getting everyone into the military jeeps, they ordered Nidaa to wear the mask they had given her. She could not put it on as she suffers from shortness of breath, especially in stressful situations. Every time Nidaa tried to take off the mask, the soldiers shouted at her and ordered her to put it back on.

All family members who were arrested, including Nidaa, were released 24 hours later.

B’Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad collected the following testimonies from members of the family on 23 November 2020:

In her testimony, Bahiyah Zibar, a mother of three grown sons, described the soldiers’ conduct that night:

Bahiyah Zibar. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem, 23 November 2020

At around 4:00 A.M., I woke up from faint noises outside the house. I got out of bed to prepare for the dawn prayer. I didn’t pay the noises any mind because I thought these were animals roaming outside.

Suddenly, I heard an explosion coming from the front door. The door opened, and many soldiers entered. They wore masks and had their weapons with laser scopes pointing forward. They looked agitated, like they were on high alert. I was terrified. One of them shouted at me in Arabic, “Tell him to come out! Who’s here?” I told him, “My son.” The soldier said, “Either he comes out, or I’ll shoot you.” I told him there were children in the house, but he kept yelling.

I stepped back, frightened and stressed. I went into my room, put on a galabiyeh [long outer garment] and a hijab, and then went into Sharif’s room. I turned on the light and saw a large, muzzled dog pouncing on Sharif in his bed. He can’t stand by himself because he had surgery on his right knee about a month ago. Sharif was screaming, and so was his wife Kifah, who clung to the window, screaming and saying that she was going to lose the baby. I thank God the small children were in their rooms and not in that room.

I screamed and pleaded with the soldiers to take the dog out. It was only after about 10 minutes that the dog left the room, and then Sharif went out leaning on Kifah. He was in a tank top and shorts. I was in the living room with Sharif and Kifah’s children, who woke up and came to me frightened.

The soldiers tied Sharif’s hands behind his back with zip ties and dragged him away forcefully. He told them he’d undergone knee surgery and couldn’t walk, but they ignored him. The children were barefoot and wearing thin pajamas, but the soldiers wouldn’t let us dress them. Kifah managed to put something on while Sharif struggled with the dog. I asked the soldiers to let me bring Sharif his crutches, but they refused.

The soldiers gathered us in the stairway at the entrance to the building. I heard the officer interrogating Sharif and asking him about his uncle, Raed. I only then realized that they must have raided the house because of Raed. But what do we have to do with Raed? If they can’t find him, it doesn’t justify them raiding our house like that.

About 15 minutes later, they ordered Sharif and us to go downstairs. Sharif went down in a sitting position. They led us forcefully and violently to the neighbor’s yard, about 40 meters away. On the way, they stopped a bit to let Sharif gather his strength because they wouldn’t let us help him and wouldn’t help him themselves. All this time, Sharif was handcuffed and groaning in pain. It broke my heart to see him like that. They sat us on the front steps in the cold at the neighbor’s house and took Sharif alone to the neighbor’s shed.

All this time, the soldiers pointed their weapons at us. We were all terrified, especially the children. The soldiers wouldn’t let the neighbors even look out of the window or turn on the lights. Meanwhile, the soldiers brought in my other daughters-in-law, Mahmoud and Muhammad’s wives, and their children. Their faces were pale, and they were shaking with fear.

Then the soldiers led us to the front steps of another neighbor’s house, about 10 meters away, without Sharif. One soldier watched over us, and there were more than 10 soldiers out in the street. There were also soldiers in front of our building. The soldiers were very tense, walking back and forth. They didn’t stand still for one minute.

About two hours later, I started hearing explosions from our building. The soldiers ordered us to cover the children’s ears. I also covered mine, but I could still hear explosions and noises and didn’t know what was going on inside the building. I was terrified and worried for my sons and grandsons. This whole time, I prayed that God would protect them and take revenge on the soldiers.

Bulletholes in a dresses with traditional Palestinian embroidery in the Zibar family home. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem, 23 November 2020

At around 8:00 A.M., the soldiers started throwing stun grenades and tear gas canisters in the neighborhood, around our building, causing a great panic. Then they left, taking my sons, Mahmoud and Muhammad, and their sons Shadi and Yusef. I don’t know where they took them. Later, I heard that they’d also arrested Nidaa, Raed’s wife. They live about 200 meters away from our house.

The military wrought havoc on our home — there were signs of heavy gunfire in the bedroom. We found more than 100 empty shell casings. We didn’t understand why they fired so many bullets inside the house. They fired at my mattress, my closet, the children’s closet, and the closet in Sharif’s room. We also found three exploded stun grenades. They destroyed the bathroom sink. We found a hole in the plaster wall separating the living room and the TV room. They moved all the furniture and took clothes out of the closets, and we found most of them pierced with bullets. They ruined eight of my dresses with traditional Palestinian embroidery. They’re worth a lot of money but mostly have a lot of sentimental value for me. They also destroyed Mahmoud and Muhammad’s apartment doors.

In his testimony, Sharif Zibar (32), a married father of two, also told B’Tselem what he recalled of that night:

Shareef Zibar. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem, 23 November 2020

I woke up in a fright from the explosion of the apartment door, and then a giant brindle brown dog pounced on me in my bed. I’m terrified of dogs. I had knee surgery a month ago and can’t stand on my foot, so I couldn’t get up. It was a horrible feeling that’s impossible to even describe.

My wife Kifah was terrified and jumped on the bed screaming while the dog pounced on me. It sniffed me, and I tried to move it away from me. It was muzzled, and I tried to grab it by the muzzle so it wouldn’t go near my wife, who’s six months pregnant. The dog peed on our bed. It broke free of my grip and neared Kifah, and she got even more frightened and clung to the window. It sniffed her and growled scary growls. She was sure it was going to bite her even though it was muzzled.

Kifah told me, “I feel the baby’s about to come out. Help me, Sharif.” Meanwhile, Kifah managed to put something on. I was in shorts and a tank top. The soldiers standing by the apartment door shouted at me and ordered me to get out. My mother came into the room and was completely terrified. The soldiers told her to go get me, and she found me struggling with the dog, who had left Kifah alone and came back at me in the meantime.

About 10 minutes later, the dog calmed down. The soldiers must have given it an order, and it left the room. I got out of bed and called my mom to bring me the crutches she’d taken earlier to show the soldiers. One soldier called out to me in Arabic, “Come out, you animal. Come out, or else I’ll come in and shoot you.” I explained I was after surgery and couldn’t walk, but he insisted, and then I came out leaning on my wife. I was barefoot and only wearing shorts and a tank top. My children were also there. I asked the soldiers to at least let me put shoes on, but they refused. We had no idea what the reason for this violent and horrible raid was.

When I reached the stairwell, two soldiers were standing behind me, holding another unmuzzled dog. Another soldier tied my hands behind my back with zip ties. He wasn’t wearing a mask, and none of us had time to put on masks, either. The soldier asked for my name and if there was anyone else in the house. Then he asked me about my uncle Raed. He wanted to know if he was in my house. I answered no, and then the soldier threatened that if he found Raed in our apartment, he’d shoot him. I told him to go ahead.

 

The “suspicious” toy in the Zibar family home. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem, 23 November 2020

Another soldier held a screen similar to a TV screen, where our house could be seen, and asked me about a figure on the screen in the children’s bedroom. I answered that it was a teddy bear that I’d bought my daughter for her ninth birthday. He put his face close to mine and kept asking me about Raed and threatening me. I swore that he wasn’t at our house and told him if he wanted me to, I’d go inside and bring the teddy bear. I told the soldier my leg hurt and asked for my crutches, but they wouldn’t give them to me. Another soldier was holding them.

Then one of the soldiers grabbed me by the shoulder and led me to the stairs. He ordered me to get down by myself. I had to go down sitting. They led my mother, my wife, and the children behind me and wouldn’t let any of them help me. I went down all the steps this way, and then one of the soldiers supported me and led me for about 10 meters. He let me rest for a few minutes, and then they led us all to the neighbor’s house about 40 meters away.

At around 6:30 A.M., soldiers who pointed their guns at me led me to the neighbor’s shed. A man in a green uniform with a gun on his hip was there. I think he was from the ISA (Shin Bet). He wore a mask and gave me one to put on, and then he started questioning me. He asked me for my name and then asked for my family’s names, and then asked if Raed was at my house or not. I told him exactly what I told the soldier. Then he said, “Sharif, don’t give me a headache and cause me trouble.” I answered that I didn’t want to cause any trouble and that I had sharp pains in my leg and also from the zip ties. Then he asked a soldier to cut the zip ties and handcuff me in front. Later, I started hearing explosions from our house, and then the man threatened to arrest my brothers. I told him to go ahead.

At around 7:00, he left me alone and said that now he was going to move on to my brothers. He ordered the soldiers to lead me to my family. I crawled up to them and found my brothers’ wives and their children there, except for Yusef and Shadi, and my two brothers Mahmoud and Muhammad, who I later found out had been arrested. We stayed like this until 8:00, and then the soldiers left. As they left the neighborhood, they fired tear gas canisters and threw stun grenades.

Bullet holes in the wall at the Zibar family home. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B’Tselem, 23 November 2020

After the soldiers left, we assessed the damage and destruction the military left behind. We found more than 100 empty shell casings from bullets fired inside the rooms of my house. They fired them mostly at closets, walls, and beds. In other words, wherever they suspected someone could hide. They destroyed all the furniture and clothes, except for the teddy bear that caused all this mess, which wasn’t hit by a single bullet. The bullets penetrated the walls, and five stun grenades exploded on the apartment floor. The bathroom’s outer sink was destroyed. There was a hole in the inner wall between the living room and the hall because of an explosion. Besides all this, they blew up the doors to my and my brothers Mahmoud and Muhammad’s appartments during the raid. They didn’t destroy any belongings inside my brothers’ apartments. They were released 24 hours later.

This incident has deeply traumatized us. We’re all in a bad state, especially my wife and our small children, who are constantly afraid and have trouble sleeping. Since the incident happened, they’ve been sleeping in our bed. My wife went for a checkup because she feared for the baby, but everything seems OK besides her stress and anxiety. I was exhausted after the incident and needed a lot of rest.