Vandalism at Azzun
Vandalism at Azzun
12:50 Eliyahu gate – light traffic in both directions
13:00 Meeting in the Azzun municipality
Participants: Majid Alwa, director of the organisation department, Hassan Shvita, public relations staff (municipal employees)
Karin and Gila were meeting the energetic Hassan for a second time. “How are things?”, we asked. “Bad!”, he shot back. “What do you mean?” “Very bad!” Majid apologizes; he said he used to speak better Hebrew, but has forgotten many words. He switches to Arabic: “There’s a problem with the army, since the first intifada. Azzun got a bad name. Yes, we have shahid’s (martyrs), he admits. The army often cuts the village off and arrests many people. The commanders change every six months. Every new commander wants to show how tough he is. The army enters regularly; its presence is continuous and very disturbing. It engages in provocations. Every youth older than 14 is targeted for arrest and interrogation. The officers enter the village in a convoy of five jeeps to make the residents feel insecure.
Captain A. showed up two days ago with soldiers, closed the shop opposite the municipal building, along with the young men who sat there. The commander, who introduced himself as A. (we have his name), declared: “We could kill all of you. We could arrest anyone.” The young men were “jailed” in the shop for two hours. The fact there was a closed-circuit TV there didn’t bother him at all. He summed up: “We can do anything we wish.” He said he would like to destroy the town – that’s the first time anyone has said this. We asked: Did the soldiers have names of specific people they were looking for? Hassan replied: “No. Homes were broken into randomly.”
“And in fact, at 1 AM on January 24, soldiers broke into 11 homes. They destroyed indiscriminately – smashed computers, tore upholstery, broke furniture, destroyed a carpentry shop, broke sinks and toilets, damaged water tanks on roofs. In one house they brought all the men into one room and ordered them to undress. One youth who refused was beaten. Members of the household were put in one of the rooms, guarded by two soldiers pointing guns at them. The others tore everything apart. The soldiers, who were accompanied by dogs, announced their arrival by throwing rocks at the windows.” We asked: “Did you complain to the police?” He replied with a saying: “If the judge is your enemy, who will save you?” They contacted the Red Cross. Hassan adds: “They took a paralyzed 80-year-old woman (!) from one house, in a wheelchair, out to the street. She and others remained outside in the bitter cold for two hours. The owner of another home that was attacked asked: “What do you want?” Here’s the answer he received: “We know what we want.” Hassan added: “I have a list of the homes that were broken into last night, and the damage caused in each. It’s been submitted to the Red Cross. Maybe we’ll also give it to the DCO. Maybe. Three homes on the list belong to Palestinian policemen. We photographed the homes that were destroyed. You’ll be able to see the results this evening (Tuesday) on Palestinian television. At the end of the rampage the rioters didn’t forget their manners and said, “Sorry.”
Hassan asks whether we noticed the iron gate at the entrance to the town, that Azzun looks like Guantanamo. They tell us about a CD on which are photos and short film clips they took after the vandalism.
“We documented the physical destruction in pictures. The sorrow in our hearts can’t be photographed.”
While listening to these accounts Karin calls Yesh Din, and gives Hassan and Majid a phone number to contact. She also tries to contact Raya.
We leave, promising to pass the information to the media; they say they have faith in the media, which, according to them, is more powerful that the atomic bomb…
Three of the victims of the incursion the night of 24.1.11 met us in the municipal building to recount what happened that night We have their full names, and the names the army called them.
The first is a merchant whom the GSS doesn’t allow to enter Israel. His Hebrew is fluent and his speech fluid. Here’s his story: “Even though I travel a great deal in the occupied territories and in other countries – Jordan, Turkey, etc. – the GSS hasn’t allowed me to enter Israel for a number of years. At 1 AM on January 25 (after midnight on the 24th), soldiers pounded on the door of my home. They ordered us to get out. I asked that we be allowed to remain inside because it was freezing; they refused. “A military matter,” they said. “Do you have a document? Written orders? Maybe you have the wrong address?” I asked. “It’s a military matter, we’re looking for people,” they replied. They didn’t bother giving us a substantive answer. Again I asked to avoid the cold. They finally allowed us to go inside, but not turn on the heat. When they started to search without us, I demanded to accompany them. I have personal belongings. Useless. We argued for 45 minutes. During that hold time my wife and I and our four children were shivering in our pajamas. Now an officer appeared, and here’s the conversation between us:
Officer: What’s your problem? It’s my army.
Me: You invaded my house, with dogs and without authorization. You didn’t tell me what was going on. I wasn’t allowed to witness the search of my personal possessions.
Officer: I’m retaliating. Ask your son why. So long as there are problems, I’ll retaliate. That’s the situation.
While the discussion proceeded, the soldiers are sowing destruction throughout the three stories of the house. One soldier explained: You live in 300 square meters and I live in 70 square metes.,” and tossed around our belongings. They cursed as they turned everything upside-down. They didn’t let us go to the bathroom. The turned off the cameras outside the house. Maybe they’ll be some photos anyway. The pictures don’t lie. The soldiers left at 3:15 AM without a word. The house looked as if an earthquake had hit. They found no weapons. They broke into ten homes that night. My house is considered three houses – one for each son. After the soldiers left we discovered that a valuable bracelet we owned was missing. We didn’t file a complaint. It’s probably not worth it. I’ll swear on the Koran that they broke into my house at night. I’m speaking the truth.”
The second victim reports: “Soldiers arrived around midnight. We were all asleep. They pushed open the gate, threw rocks at the door. Shouted: soldiers, soldiers. Army. Weapons drawn, they ordered us out of the house. We asked that the women be allowed to get dressed. The soldiers waited only a minute. Then they ordered us to lift our clothes (to expose the body). They searched us. They ordered one youth to remove his pants. He refused. They fell upon him; one soldier hit him in the shoulder with his rifle butt. The father also intervened. They stopped when the officer entered. Men and women were separated and all stood outside in the cold. Explosions were heard from within the house.
Two officers appeared (one in uniform, one in civilian clothes with a document folder) and asked the father to be allowed to conduct a search. “Why?”, he asked. “You’ll know after we leave.” “But why?” the father repeated. “Ask your son,” was the answer. “If we find something in the house, we’ll take all your children,” they added. We asked whether they found anything. He smiled ironically and went on: “When the officers were about to leave a few minutes later, the father asked them not to go (so they’d prevent the vandalism). One of the officers said: “It’s ok. I talked to the soldiers.” One of the officers spoke very good Hebrew. I wasn’t able to guess where he came from. There were 15 soldiers in the house during the search. Muhammad couldn’t tell how many were outside. The action continued until 2:30 AM. The women cried and the children screamed. The soldiers not only turned the house upside-down – but also vandalized the carpentry shop and the yard. They left suddenly, leaving the ID cards next to the door. This is what the family saw: the solar water heater had been punctured with a knife, the mattresses and upholstery torn to bits, all the electrical appliances, including a TV set and computer, smashed. The carpentry shop was sprayed with paint. “They destroyed everything,” finished Muhammad (the photos were taken in this house).
Abdel Rahman Abdel Halim Hussein lives in a different neighborhood from that of the previous reports. He says that it’s the first time the army “visited” his house. The soldiers arrived between 1:00 -1:15 AM, banged on the door with their rifle butts, took ID cards and ordered him and the children to lie on the floor. “What do you want?, he asked. Soldier: “To search the three floors. And shut up.” He asked the one who introduced himself as belonging to the GSS, “What do you want from us?” The reply: “Your children throw rocks. You have weapons in the house.” Abdel: “Go look.” They also had dogs. During the search they broke a living room cabinet, emptied three jerricans of olive oil onto the floor, broke the glass of the solar collector. Then they broke into his son’s apartment (a Palestinian security man who wasn’t home), shattered things, broke two sinks, poured a large bottle of iodine on the furniture, turned over the sofa and tore it up. “Why?” asked Abdel. Soldier: “You shut up. We know what we’re doing.” Abdel: “Did you find anything?” Solder: “Shut up and go outside.” The officer, as he left: “I’ll be back often.” The vandalism and brutality lasted two hours.
The invaders threw the ID cards on the floor and left. But before leaving, they came back and threatened (just like Schwarzenegger used to) that they’d be back.
14:30 Khirbet Asala – Meeting with the head of the local council
The village has about 1000 inhabitants. Almost all the men are farmers. The women are engaged in traditional occupations – on the land, at home, as teachers and in clerical jobs. Only 50-60 people have crossing permits.
They grow olives, almonds, grain, vegetables. They had flocks, but don’t have grazing land.
All the children are in school: there’s an elementary school through 9th grade, and then high school in Azzun. About 50 children in kindergarten.
They want to build another school but the village lands are in Area C and Israel won’t allow them to build.
All the villagers have been hurt by the fence.
Changes in the hours the agricultural gate is open: It used to be open three times a day, for 15 minutes each time: at 06:00, 12:00 and 16:00.
Ten days ago the noon opening was cancelled. That makes it hard on people who are working, who have to go to the fields at noon. The local council head is a teacher, and can get to his land only in the afternoon. Some children would help their families after class. A few days ago, one of the farmers felt ill, and wanted to come home at noon. The soldiers didn’t let him, and he lay in the field for more than three hours..
They contacted the DCO, asking that the gate again be opened at noon as well, but didn’t get an answer. They submitted a complaint to the Red Cross. They asked us to help.
The location of the fence and the gate. Most of the agricultural land is on the other side of the fence. They grow olives, almond, grain and vegetables requiring daily attention. The fence (and the settlements of Alfei Menashe and Giv’at Tal) cut off the routes they’d always used to their lands, as well as to Qalqilya and other villages. The agricultural gate is located far from the lands of many residents. They can be reached on foot, or with donkey carts, but they have traverse 400 meters of rocky hills passable only on foot, and have to carry everything on their backs. During the olive harvest, some people got permits to use the security road.
Permits: Like residents of other villages, only the oldest inhabitants receive permits to work the lands beyond the fence. Children 14 and younger are included in their father’s permit. Those aged 30-40 are always “refused by the GSS or police.” The problem, as in many Palestinian villages, is that the lands aren’t registered in the tabu (land registry). And if someone’s land isn’t registered, he’ll never get a permit to go through the gates. But even those who have the longed-for permit can’t relax – they’re harassed, made to go hither and yon. The permit doesn’t take into consideration where the lands are located. The famers have to trudge long distances. The soldiers are punctilious about every jot and tittle in the permit – if your permit is for the Eliyahu gate, that’s the only place you can cross. A person with two plots of land must decide which to cultivate, because he won’t be given two permits. Those with permits work the land of those without, for a price.
In addition to lands expropriated in the past, more are in danger. They contacted the Palestinian Authority about it.
Water: They have wells on the lands beyond the fence that they use for irrigation and for the few remaining sheep. Children of settler throw garbage into the wells and pollute them. The residents of Khirbet Asala wanted to repair the wells with the assistance of the Red Cross, but the army didn’t allow them to bring construction material through the checkpoint.
Settlers from Alfei Menashe chase village children from lands near the settlement by setting dogs on them, and chase the Palestinians from the wells. Guards from the Giv’at Tal settlement don’t allow farmers to reach their lands. In the past, settlers set fire to grazing land, burned olive trees and prevented residents of Asala from extinguishing the fires. They say they also had to chase off wild animals.
Before the fence was built they didn’t have problems with water in their fields. They’d bring water with tractors.
The village has a large water tower; they obtain water from Mekorot.
A week ago soldiers entered the village for an exercise, set up a roadblock between it and Azzun, searched homes at night and, as usual, made residents stand outside in the cold. They didn’t make a mess or destroy anything inside the houses.
15:30 Eliyahu crossing – About 10 cars waiting. We cross without delay, and without flying our flags.
15:40 Eyal crossing – A company of soldiers in the parking lot and 2 military vehicles.
Extensive landscaping underway throughout the area, and also a rock garden to decorate the terminal. An orphaned kiosk and hundreds of people flowing through on their way home.
16:20 We take leave of Petahya at Tira and continue to Tel Aviv in an endless traffic jam.