by Linus [Sweedish national; International Solidarity Movement (ISM)] | For more information: Linus 059-350335 | 7 March 2003
Yesterday I had the opportunity to observe a house visit Israeli style. In the last days I have visited a number of homes in Nablus Old City previously occupied by the army. I've seen the mess they made, the broken windows, the destroyed furniture and the scared faces of the children. Actually staying with a family as their home was occupied enabled me to get a better understanding of what it means to be a prisoner in your own home and to be forced to ask for permission from armed young men to even go to the bathroom or to drink water.
At 1pm Israel Occupation Forces (IOF) soldiers entered the Abu Keshek house through a hole in the wall of the shower, destroying water pipes leaving the flat without running water. Tarik, a medical relief volunteer with the UPMRC, a good friend of mine and the son of the Abu Keshek family received information about what was going on and went to the house along with me, David (Sweden) and three other medical volunteers. At around 2:30pm we entered the house, only to find a group of soldiers already "searching" the flat and we were ordered to sit down in the one room they had not yet turned upside down. The UPMRC volunteers had their ID cards confiscated and we were not allowed to use our phones.
The soldiers would not answer our questions about the purpose of the visit and about how long they were going to stay. The mother of the family, her daughters aged two and fourteen and her son aged five were also forced to stay in another part of the same room along with the mother of the family upstairs and her daughter. We urged the soldiers to respect our friend’s home and to please use the door as most visitors would have done. The sound of glass being thrown to the floor made it obvious that the purpose of their visit was not to search for weapons and that they had no intention of respecting the home of these people. One soldier was guarding us all the time.
After around 30 minutes all the UPMRC volunteers except Tarik got their ID cards back and were free to leave. The commander also told me and David that we could go now, but we had no intention of leaving as long as the soldiers were still occupying the house. We told them that we wanted to see what they did to the family and their home and after a while he gave up and let us stay. We were moved to another room upstairs and we heard how the IOF soldiers were working on another hole in the wall downstairs with a jackhammer. We found furniture turned upside down and clothes all over the floor.
Later I found out that the father of the Abu Keshek family was denied entrance to the house, leaving the rest of the family not knowing his whereabouts.
We tried to convince the soldiers to allow us to bring the children some food but the group of five to six soldiers sitting outside the room would not cooperate or tell us how long they were going to stay. "Even if it takes four hours it is ok" one of the soldiers said.
I tried to imagine a Swedish home being occupied by soldiers wearing camouflage clothing and carrying M16 automatic rifles. I tried to think that the two-year-old daughter Zena playing with a pillow as she was held prisoner in her own home was my sister Anna in Sweden. Imagine her blond and not Palestinian, this would not have been happening to her.
At around 8pm the soldiers started to move. They told us to stay in the room, keeping the doors shut for one hour before we went out. As we disobeyed by going to the bathroom two soldiers came back up the stairs, pointing their guns at us and forcing us back into the room. Their movement seemed totally without coordination; now two soldiers with their faces painted dark came into the room where we, the activists, the women and the children were sitting. They left, other new soldiers came. With two holes in the wall downstairs, this home seemed to have been turned into a passage for soldiers moving in the area.
We heard gunshots right outside the windows. The soldiers didn't seem to mind, they even smiled and said something in Hebrew, but the family moved down to sit on the floor, afraid to be to close to the windows.
At 8:30pm, after the home had been occupied for 7.5 hours the IOF left the building. We were still not able to go downstairs since the soldiers had closed the entrance door and locked it; the key was with the father who hadn't been able to enter the house where his family was. This morning we saw what the soldiers had done to the home downstairs. Large holes in the wall, bricks all over the floor, neighbors’ furniture destroyed, Koran pages torn out. We were told that the hard drive was stolen from the computer.
From now on I will not write that soldiers search homes, I will write, "search". It doesn't take 7.5 hours to search through apartments of this size. Ripping out pages from the holy Koran is not about searching for weapons. It's about making people insecure in their own homes, about humiliation and oppression.