The following is a more detailed account of the events first publicised in yesterday’s press release.
by ISM Hebron and the Tel Rumeida Project
Today, August 23, the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) forcibly entered and searched many Palestinian homes in the Tel Rumeida area of Hebron. The checkpoints in the area were closed, and Palestinians were denied passage to and from the area late into the evening. The military operation may have been related to two separate situations. First, the settlers of Hebron had planned a “tour of Hebron” today, and there were many tour busses present as well as far more settlers and religious Israelis than usual walking about the streets. There was very likely an increased number of soldiers present to escort the settlers and Israeli tour groups and make them feel “secure.” The second, unrelated occurrence is a shooting that happened outside of Tel Rumeida in area H1 (the Palestinian controlled part of Hebron) prior to the military operation. What follows is an account of the events as the Human Rights Workers (HRWs) present observed them.
At around 2:45pm two HRWs were stationed on Shuhada Street, between the Beit Hadassa settlement and the checkpoint separating H1 and H2, when they heard exchange of gunfire from outside Tel Rumeida in area H1 that lasted for at least a minute. There was then an immediate increase in military activity on Shuhada Street; two police jeeps, two military ambulances, and several army jeeps were rushing down Shuhada Street, lights flashing, in the direction of the checkpoint. The HRWs then decided to leave their post and head up the hill towards their apartment. At that time another HRW called the HRWs on Shuhada Street to inform them that settlers from the Tel Rumeida settlement were shooting in the streets.
The HRWs walked toward the checkpoint, where many military vehicles were congregated, and saw that the checkpoint was completely closed to passage in either direction. They confirmed from others in the area that the other two entrances to Tel Rumeida had also been closed by that time. The HRWs continued up the hill to their apartment. The first thing out of the ordinary that they noticed was that some twenty soldiers were guarding the Tel Rumeida settlement up the hill from the apartment, and seemed primed for action. All of the Palestinians in the area seemed frightened or on alert and were closing up their homes and apartment buildings.
Soon after the HRW arrived, at around 3:00pm, about ten of these soldiers rushed down the hill to the Palestinian apartment building across from the HRW apartment. The soldiers banged on the main door of the building with the barrel of a gun and demanded entry, and then forcibly entered and searched the Palestinian homes inside. While around five soldiers searched the homes in the building, one soldier was stationed at the door and another two were at the corner of the building, positioned on their knees with guns poised. At 3:25pm, the soldiers moved on to the neighboring house. In the next two house, almost every house in Tel Rumeida within eyesight of the HRW’s apartment was forcibly searched. Based on information gathered from others in the area at the time, it seems that many, likely most, Palestinian homes in Tel Rumeida were searched during that time.
During the following two hours, the military presence and activity in the area seemed to constitute a full scale military operation. Many police and army jeeps, as well as Israeli intelligence vehicles were highly active in the area. Strangely, many settlers, some of them armed, were out on the streets during the military activity, walking about as they pleased. Two settlers contentedly sat on the neighbor’s stoop and watched the military go from house to house, humiliating one Palestinian family and then the next.
During the operation, two soldiers also tried to enter the HRW apartment. The HRWs demaded to see a warrant, and although the soldiers insisted they did not need one as they just wanted to talk “person to person,” the HRWs assured them that they did need a warrant and refused to answer any questions. The soldiers left and did not return after they realized the HRW would not be cowed into complying.
During the two hours of observation, the HRW called several sources to try to understand why this military operation was happening and how it was related to the shooting that preceded it. From information gathered from the Temporary International Presence in Hebron and other sources, the initial shooting the HRWs heard was internal fighting between Palestinians. There was a feud between two Palestinian families somewhere in H1 that led to shooting, which caused four Palestinians to be injured. Settlers from the Tel Rumeida settlement apparently responded to the sound of gunfire by firing their weapons toward H1. The settlers purportedly told soldiers that they saw Palestinian militants in the streets of Tel Rumeida, and this was why they were shooting. This apparently led to the IOF becoming involved and invading the homes to seek the non-existent militants.
By 5:00pm Tel Rumeida had calmed down considerably, the systematic home invasions seemed to have ended, and the army seemed to retreat to its usual positions in Tel Rumeida. In the following hours there were an unusually high number of settlers walking about the streets, some of them apparently here for the tour. Then around 6:30pm the HRWs were called and informed that soldiers had invaded homes again in the Tel Rumeida area.
When the HRW arrived at the invaded house (Abu Haykal Family) they found that the family was forced to sit outside while the soldiers searched their home. The soldiers had the identity cards of all the men in the family. Only the father of the family was allowed inside the house while the IOF searched their property. The HRWs tried to get into the house to monitor the behavior of the soldiers and be with the father, but the soldiers forcibly prevented them. When the HRWs insisted that they were allowed into the house unless the soldiers had orders that the house was a closed military zone, the soldiers guarding the entrance made such remarks as “I am the law!” and “I’m going to be violent and arrest you if you don’t leave!” They also joked between themselves in Hebrew that they planned on beating up the HRWs later on. In response to attempts by the HRWs to film the situation, the soldiers threatened to break their cameras. After about 15 minutes, a military jeep arrived and five more soldiers entered the house. The HRWs were continually threatened with arrest for “interfering with our [the soldiers’] work.” At one point two soldiers tried to forcibly push one HRW to the jeep as if they were going to detain him, but he sat on the ground and prevented them from doing so. In retaliation, the soldiers arbitrarily ordered the entire family and the HRWs to move behind the military jeep, and were threatened with arrest if they crossed an imaginary line. Meanwhile the soldiers searched a neighboring house. About 15 minutes later, the army then tried to order the Abu Haykal family into their house and to close the door. The HRWs and some family members refused to do so, and after about 10 minutes, the IOF handed out the IDs again and left.
The HRWs then proceeded to another house in the area that was being searched. The HRWs walked up the stairs to the front door despite the shouting of the soldiers outside that they were forbidden from doing so, and the HRWs told the soldiers that they would leave only when they saw the order that this house was a closed military zone. The soldier repeatedly threatened to arrest the HRWs and made calls as if he was arranging to have this done. The HRWs then noticed that soldiers were angrily shouting and preventing Palestinians from walking down the nearby hill to their homes. A group of older men insisted to know why and moved defiantly toward the hill as if they were going to ignore the soldiers’ orders. In response the soldiers became very aggressive, cocked their guns, and began shouting loudly at the men. About five minutes later another group of soldiers, including the commander of them all, came towards the scene. The commander ordered the angry soldiers to allow the men to go down the hill towards their homes.
The exhausted HRWs then went home for the night.