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Iftar with the army: a Hebron story

11 September 2010 | ISM Media

At about 17.00 on the 9th September 2010, right before Atta Jaber and his family were about to sit down to break the fast on the last day of Ramadan, eight soldiers appeared on the doorstep.

One of them said that they wanted to come into the house, in the Baqa’a Valley, east of Hebron, to “have a look”. Atta Jaber opened the door, and did not ask for further explanation, as over the years he has become accustomed to soldiers turning up in this way. His four kids, aged 10 to 17 have all grown up with daily harassment by soldiers and settlers. Still, they seemed anxious and stressed as eight armed soldiers made their way through the hallway and into the living room, most armed with M-16s, one with a machine gun. A couple of soldiers asked for Atta’s son’s name, and shook the 13 year old boy’s hand, before searching the house. The boy replied to the greetings politely.

The soldiers walked through the house, looked around all the rooms, opening closets. One soldier remarked, while looking out from the window over to the neighbor’s house – which has been occupied by the army for one week – that they just want to see what the Jaber family can see from their house. He then told the international that was asking him questions about their presence that the soldiers wanted to maintain the army base for an unknown amount of time, since the junction leading to Harsina settlement is a vulnerable place for the settlers. He said that they aim to protect the settlers from further attacks. The family then had to hand over their IDs, and the soldiers wrote down their information.

The Jaber family gathered in the living room to break the fast with the post-sunset meal known as Iftar. After fasting the whole day, they had to eat and drink in the presence of the army. It was a quiet meal. Normally the family would talk, laugh and share stories while eating, but this time everybody was looking down at the table, eating slowly. Some family members didn’t eat at all. While some of the soldiers were walking around the house, locking themselves into the rooms and taking notes, one soldier was standing next to the table, staring at the family with his machinegun in his arms. As one of the internationals looked back at him, the soldier told her to “back off!” in an aggressive manner. The same soldier also ordered Jaber and two of his children, who were sitting close to the window, to move closer to where he himself was standing. The family was not allowed to move freely around their own home, and they were not even told why the soldiers were there.  The soldiers walked around the house, with their fingers resting on their gun triggers, speaking in Hebrew and laughing to each other.

After going through all the rooms in the house several times, writing down ID-information for the family members and the two internationals, one soldier gave Atta Jaber a piece of paper with English and Hebrew writing on it. He then read out loud that Jaber will have to meet with the Israeli intelligence, Shebak, on Thursday next week. The reason given was that his daughter had been filming the Israeli soldiers when they were taking over parts of their neighbor’s house on September 4th. The camera in question belongs to the human rights group B’tselem, and is lent to the Jaber family so that they can document human rights violations committed by soldiers and settlers – and there is never a shortage of incidents to document. Now Jaber has been summoned for interrogation because his family has tried to document the illegal activities of the Israeli army. It’s important to note that the Harsina settlement is illegal, and that this is what the army wants to protect by converting the neighbouring Palestinian house into a military base. The soldiers left the Jabers’ house after nearly two hours.

Atta Jabr and his family have lived in the area for more than three generations. Their house has been demolished twice. They have been attacked and harassed numerous times in the past, by both settlers and soldiers. Just over a week ago the family were trapped in their house when over 100 settlers started constructing a new outpost and soldiers took over the roof of the family’s house for several hours. Just two weeks before that Atta and his pre-teen daughter were attacked by six settlers.