'Awarta, Za'tara (Tapuah), Sun 10.4.11, Morning
Introduction: After the murder of the family in Itamar a month ago, the village of Awarta has been subjected to a heavy burden of arrests and searches – on the assumption that the murderers came from there. When I asked the reason for that assumption I was told that two months earlier the IDF killed (the IDF always kills, never murders...) two youths from Awarta, and the assumption is that residents wanted revenge.
In view of the village’s difficult situation, it was decided to go see what was happening there. At 7 AM today, the 30thday after the murder, Nadim was told that the village was under curfew. We decided to go anyway.
Impressions from the trip: We reached Awarta at 10 AM. We drove in the back way to see the hill that the settlers from Itamar took over after the murders, erected a number of pre-fabs, plowed the land and even flew Israeli flags. Of course, it’s an illegal settlement prima facie, but, as usual, the authorities are silent…
Despite the curfew we tried to meet and speak with some of the residents. Nadim was a very big help, of course – because he speaks Arabic, because he knows some of the villagers and because of his good will.
We first stopped at a grocery that was open. Awwad, the owner, told us that immediately after the murders closure was imposed on the village for 4-5 days, and now a curfew is imposed every few days, always unexpectedly. During the day men, women and even the elderly are arrested, taken to some military installation, fingerprinted (saliva samples are also taken, he said), and most are brought back by nightfall. We asked how many had been arrested thus far – he said about 300. The village has about 7000 inhabitants. Other people who were near the grocery told us that Salam Fayyad was to have come today to the village, but because of the curfew he didn’t arrive, and all the journalists were also chased off. One of the men showed us a house nearby that was closed up, saying the whole family had been detained and wasn’t being allowed to return. Sami, a 15-year-old youth, said that his house had been searched and he’d been made to stand outside for three hours at night in the cold. He was finally released but they took his laptop computer. We asked whether he’s in school; he said he doesn’t; he works in a place that fixes flat tires.
Three military Hummers arrived while we were at the grocery. Over the loudspeaker, the soldiers ordered the grocery to close immediately, and told us to leave Awarta. They showed us a document that declared the village would be under curfew today from 08:00 to 20:00.
We left the grocery and began driving through the village. It resembled a ghost town. All the shops were closed, the school was closed, almost no one was on the street – only a few children playing outside here and there, or old women warming themselves in the sun. When we left Awarta we went to the village of Odala, where there was no curfew, and life went on as usual.
We looked back and saw that the military vehicles had disappeared. We decided to risk it, and return to Awarta. We drove again through the village that was under curfew and paralyzed. From a distance we saw a house surrounded by soldiers – we didn’t approach it.
We met someone on the street, and Nadim began talking to him. He invited us to his home. We went in to a clean, orderly, trim house. They served coffee, and were willing to tell us what had happened and to answer questions. They repeated the accounts of the many arrests that had been carried out and we realized that there was a logic to the disorder. The arrests were carried out according to extended families – women and men. There are five extended families in Awarta; two had been arrested thus far – Awwad and Qwariq . The others are apparently awaiting their turn. They said that 50 women were taken two days ago to the Huwwara DCO. They brought them back at night to the entrance of the village and they had to walk home from there. The old women had difficulty getting home. They also told us about a woman who’d refused to go without her infant, so they took her with the child. They said they have a guest house (that also serves as a place for a family to receive mourners) that the army took over and turned into an interrogation room.
Nadel, a relative, said that the army now shows up at the village in an extremely unpleasant manner. He said they came to his home at night, beat and humiliated him – forced him to go up on the roof and remain there in his underwear. He said he’d worked in Kiryat Sefer, but his work permit had expired in June, and though he has a magnetic card he’s not allowed to enter Israel, and he’s now unemployed.
To conclude: We said goodbye to our hosts, who promised to stay in touch with Nadim and update him, and drove to see how the settlements – Itamar, Bracha, and others – are slowly but surely taking over and populating all the surrounding hills. On our way home we observed the Tapuach junction (dividing Nablus from Jenin). There was no line of cars, but the soldiers were manning the position and a Palestinian taxi parked off to the side was being inspected. We went through the Shomron gate. We were stopped, but when we said we were from Tel Aviv they let us through immediately.