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Captain, Please Use The Door!

by Robin

All around the Old City of Nablus, the operations are taking place. Large groups of heavily armed soldiers with their involuntary human shields, dart around corners and down alleys. The phone rings continuously with yet more reports of occupied houses and detained medical volunteers.

Someone of one of the families who live in the building comes downstairs looking worried, “Soldiers are making a hole in the wall on the roof,” she tells us. A group of Internationals and medical volunteers climb up to the roof to investigate.

On the roof there is a chicken coop. She points at it. I peer through the mesh, and sure enough, there is a small hole in the wall, and through it I can see the knees and gun of a soldier. I yell out: “This is a medical clinic, there are Internationals and medical volunteers here”. There is no response from the hole.

Further down the wall, a window opens, and people see, briefly, a soldier on the other side, before the window is pulled shut, to obscure him again. We sit down near the window, and ask to speak to his captain. We attempt to engage him. I tell him that this is a clinic, that there are Internationals and volunteers present, that the door is wide open, and that they are welcome to come through the door. Volunteers and Internationals try various lines, but there is no response. Time ticks by, coffee arrives and we sit there, seeking to engage the soldiers, sipping the sweet black coffee out of intricately patterned tiny cups. Around the city we hear sound bombs, machine gun fire and the occasional explosion.

Fifteen minutes later, we get a response. A Palestinian man from next-door pops his head over the wall. He tells us that there are 32 people locked in a single room in the house, and the soldiers say that if we do not leave immediately, they will make an explosion in his house.

Bloody charming. We talk quickly and decide to leave the roof, as we don’t want the explosion to occur. I go and sit with the family. We can hear the chipping at the wall resume. I start making phone calls. First it’s “Physicians for Human Rights”, they listen and promise to get back to me soon. A friend is phoning Hammoked, an Israeli Human Rights Group. Then I phone the media office and ask them to start the phone banking. “Get people to phone the IDF and ask them to USE THE DOOR”, I ask.

The mother of the household, a teacher, tells me that the house has been entered three times in the last 12 months by soldiers breaking in through the wall on the roof, running down the stairs, faces painted black, locking the family in a room, and turning everything over, destroying many things. The kitchen is still being repaired after the last time in October.

I get a call from Mutaq, the Divisional Command in Tel Aviv. They are responding to the calls that have started coming in. I tell them who is in the building, what the building is, that I can hear the soldiers chipping away, that the door is open, that we know they’re coming, and that the door would be the most appropriate method of entry if they need to search the building. He “will see what he can do”. After a while the chipping sound stops. I am called away to deal with other matters, and leave for the evening.

At 7.15pm my phone rings. An Italian International is on the other end. He tells me that a group of about eight soldiers came to the clinic, knocked on the door, entered, asked if they could search the building, allowed him to accompany them, turned on a few lights, opened a few doors, checked the ID of a 10 year old boy before shaking hands with him and his brothers, thanked everyone and then left!

At 9pm another group of soldiers comes knocking at the door, they are less polite, and do not allow an International to accompany them, they check the IDs of all the Palestinians, search a few cupboards and then leave, leaving no mess behind them.

It’s a hollow victory. Hundreds of homes have been violated throughout the area, by soldiers bursting in through freshly made “entrances”, scaring the kids, locking up the families, turning the place over, exploding the insides of many homes so that hundreds are homeless, and then leaving through yet another freshly made “exit”. For many families it has almost become a routine. Many men are arrested, interrogated, tortured, released. Till the next time.

Many doors are exploded, many shops are searched and then left untended as the soldiers move on in to wreak havoc on another home, another shop, another family, another screaming two year old.

The next day they are still there, systematically wrecking, torturing, beating, and violating. Many homes are ransacked; valuables and money go missing all over. Terror has hit the streets of Nablus again.

No one is left without a tragic tale to relate. We interrupt many break-ins in progress. Sometimes the soldiers are embarrassed and behave; sometimes they are totally uncommunicative, sometimes a sound bomb tells it all.

Two Internationals end up spending hours with a family whose home is done over, at first they are detained, then they refuse to leave. It pays off, the damage is minimal in comparison to the many awful ones we witness everywhere, as distraught people call to us from the streets to witness their tragedies and losses.

I feel drained. Witnessing this level of terror, this number of attacks on these many families, is harrowing. Sleep has been hard to get.

The next morning they are gone. We debrief, we are all stretched, and shocked and disgusted.

I do a news search on the Internet; at most the story was a by-line in reports of the Gaza operation. Mostly the terror campaign in Nablus is completely ignored.