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The occupation never sleeps

30th May 2014 | International Women’s Peace Service | Deir Istiya, Occupied Palestine

Over seven families in Deir Istiya were rousted from their beds in the early morning today, some to the sounds of banging on their doors, others to fully armed soldiers in their bedrooms. Approximately 200 soldiers entered the village, closing off the main road and conducting raids until from 1:30 till 4:00am. The soldiers entered in various homes, in groups numbering from nine to over fifty, all heavily armed. These families believe that their houses were randomly selected for the raids, which they suspect serve a twofold purpose.

The primary reason for these raids, in the estimation of the villagers, was to train new soldiers; the military is well known for raiding houses, or closing checkpoints as training exercises. The families who were attacked thought the mannerisms of the soldiers, as well as the amount of soldiers present were evidence that this was not a serious raid. They were also suspicious since there were no arrests, meaning that the military did not have specific victims in mind.

Additionally, the raids are a form of psychological warfare, reminding the Palestinians that they are never safe, even in their own homes. House raids are a traumatic event for young children in particular, and often serve as a lifelong reminder of the power of the Israeli military.

All of the raids followed a similar approach: soldiers first surrounded the house in question, often coming over walls or onto the roof by ladders, before banging on the doors, and telling the residents to open up. If the family refused, the soldiers would break down the door. Often, the army brings dogs to intimidate the families. Once the soldiers were inside, the army corralled the family into one room, usually a bathroom or living room. If children, or even infants, were asleep in the house, the army insisted on waking them up and moving them into a different room – at this point the soldiers confiscated all personal belongings, including cell phones and medication, and took the IDs of the family members. In several of the homes in Deir Istiya, children were locked in a separate room from their parents for the duration of the raids, which varied from half an hour to two hours in length. At this point the soldiers were at liberty to search the house, or question family members individually. Often they gave the excuse that they were looking for guns and ammunition – emptying out cupboards, refrigerators, women’s purses and turning over furniture in their ‘search’. No such weapons were found; however, in one house, the soldiers made a point of warning the family that their carpentry saw could be used as a fatal weapon.

The formula varied slightly for one family, where two self-identified Shabaak [Israeli secret service] agents, who called themselves Sharif and Afiq, showed up looking for a young man, who they said had been causing problems for the military. When the father was asked to bring his son forward, the man began to laugh; he would call his son, but surely he was not a threat – the boy is only 10 years old. Unfortunately, this was the son the agents were looking for, and they questioned the boy for several minutes, accusing him of throwing stones at military vehicles – a charge which the child denies. While they did not arrest him, the Shabaak threatened the family with serious repercussions if they continued to suspect their son of throwing stones.

Around the corner, another drama was unfolding. A middle-aged woman had confronted the soldiers who broke the lock of her door with a simple request: her two-week-old grandchild was asleep upstairs, and she wanted the military to conduct its business as quietly as possible. The soldiers refused, not only yelling at the woman, but attempting to lock her in the bathroom as punishment for her intervention. When she resisted the attempt to lock her up, one soldier hit her with the butt of his gun. Eventually, the soldiers allowed her to go back upstairs, and detained her with her daughter, daughter-in-law, and the infant; however as soon as she reached the second floor the woman fainted. She was unconscious for the next two hours, as 20-30 soldiers ransacked her home. Neighbors were eventually able to call an ambulance, which arrived shortly, blocking the narrow road by the house, and, consequently, the military’s exit route. The soldiers were on their way out as the medics were carrying the unconscious woman, and were not happy about the delay. Neighbors reported that soldiers threatened to hit the ambulance with their jeep, or to blow it up if it did not move immediately. Eventually the medics were able to move their ambulance to an adjacent property, and the army left. The woman was treated at a hospital in Salfit, and returned home today to recover.

Other families faced an unique difficulty from the raids: not being able to go to work. Many men from the village of Deir Istiya can only find work across the Green Line, meaning that they have to cross a check point every morning – a process that takes hours. Some workers leave home as early as 2 in the morning, to be able to cross the checkpoint by 7am. For the men who were detained by the army until 4am, the delay could mean losing out on a day’s worth of work.

The families who were attacked have expressed mixed feelings: as in any Palestinian village, the raids are nothing new, and many are happy that nobody was arrested or seriously injured. Already, furniture has been rearranged, clothes put away, and broken glass swept up and thrown out. The most obvious signs of the raids have already been dealt with. However parents report that their children couldn’t sleep the rest of the night, and were crying for hours. One young girl was terrified when she heard her name spoken aloud – she was afraid that the soldiers might identify her, and use this as a basis for arrest. Some worried that their son’s or daughter’s first memory would be that of being pulled out of bed in the middle of the night.

One man reported that the street in front of his house last night looked ‘like a war zone’, to which his friend responded: ‘Yes, but this is normal.’