We met with a family from Saida at the home of one of their relatives. Here, we were filled in on the situation. They recounted that the Israeli army had occupied the house of Sharif Abdul Ghani four days ago. Whilst stationed there, some of the soldiers came further into the village and raided the house of Sharif’s brother Shafik, a martyr who was killed by the Israeli Occupation Force two months ago. It was midnight when they woke up his widow and their four children. The soldiers searched everywhere in the house. In the clothes cupboard was a packet containing US $4,624 that was being saved for the son, a two year old boy, to have an operation on the hole in his heart when he is old enough. As the soldiers left, they warned the woman not to talk to anyone or to use the phone. She was scared, and when she discovered that the money had been stolen she waited until about 5am when she called people to tell them what had happened. She went with her brother’s wife to the occupied house to complain about the theft, but the soldiers laughed at her and told her she was lying. She called the Palestinian District Co-ordination Office, which takes people’s complaints to the Israelis. She also informed B’tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, in the hope that they will be able to follow up on it in her behalf.
We were in the village of Saida, outside Tulkarm, which has suffered tremendously under the Israeli military. Soldiers have occupied the same house repeatedly. We listened as the family told us their tragic history: two brothers killed, one in prison.
The family wanted us to go to the house, speak to the soldiers about the money, and to try to persuade them to let one of the family members go inside to get some belongings. They also wanted a chance to confront the soldiers about their being in the house in the first place. We set off with a group of about twenty men, women and children.
When we arrived at the bottom of the driveway of the occupied house, the soldiers started yelling at us to go away and fired into the air to try to scare us off. Obviously they did not anticipate the indomitable spirit of the old mother who was with us, who slowly made her way towards the house regardless of the yelling and shooting, accompanied by we four internationals and her son, the rightful owner the house.
The soldiers were edgy and not at all happy about the group of people half hidden behind a bush at the bottom of the driveway. At one point the soldiers announced that they would fire at the floor to try to make the people leave. Luckily they refrained. The old woman shouted up at them in Arabic, which at least two of the soldiers appeared to understand well.
Eventually the group below us disappeared and the man who remained was permitted to go inside and collect the things he wanted. He also made the soldiers follow him as he fed the pigeons. Fantastic. At this point, a photographer who was present tried to take some photos of the man, flanked by two soldiers. He was told by the commander not to, because “It looks bad….One man with two soldiers.” I couldn’t quite get my head around this statement. Of course it looks bad. The whole thing looks bad. It is bad!
The most laughable quote of the day, though, came from an American soldier from New York. When we questioned them about the stolen money he replied: “Israel has the most ethical army in the world. We would never do that.” We refrained from listing countless atrocities, not least the occupation itself…
I am wondering whether there is any way to raise the necessary money for the baby’s operation. His mother was with us for the afternoon, and she was a person that I felt an immediate affinity with. On the way to the house she showed me the spot where her husband was killed. The car he was in remains wreckage on the hillside below. On the way back she pointed out to me the place where her husband used to sit with his friends, on a terrace underneath some olive trees. How does she cope with seeing these things whenever she walks through the village?