Thursday, September 09, 2004

The Twlight Zone/A Sound Sleep

The Twlight Zone/A Sound Sleep
Ha'aretz, September 9, 2004
By Gideon Levy

An elderly woman and six small children, among others, were
bombarded all night by the army, looking for wanted individuals. 
Now they sleep with the light on, crowding into one room below, on
the ground floor. It's the room of Rasmiya, the mother of the
family, an elderly woman of 70, whose eyes have grown dim and whose
body is half-paralyzed. But she, too, underwent the horrors of that
night with them. The terror of that night, between Monday and
Tuesday of last week, will be with them for a long time to come.

Basal, a six-year-old boy from Nazareth, goes from room to room in
his grandmother's house, touching the jagged holes in the walls that
were made by the missiles and the bullets, and muttering to
himself, "Get out, get out," in Hebrew, as he heard the soldiers
shouting at him at the end of that night of horrors, when the troops
ordered them to leave their shelter, behind the concrete pillar in
the corner of the living room. For three full hours they had
crouched on the floor behind the pillar, as they came under
relentless fire from every direction, the small children crying and
wetting themselves, the parents helpless.

It's hard to believe that no one was hurt in this battlefield. There
isn't a room that wasn't blasted, not a wall that wasn't perforated,
not a window that wasn't shattered, not a cupboard that wasn't
smashed. The missiles made gaping holes in the ceiling and the water
tanks on the roof were blow apart and flooded the house - but no one
was hurt.

For the residents of Jenin an unquiet night under fire is almost
routine. This time, though, there were guests in the house: Inthisar
Abudi, an Israeli woman from Nazareth , who had come to visit her
husband's family, and Adib, a son who lives in Saudi Arabia and had
come home after not visiting for the past four years. For them the
shock was even greater. They're not used to it. They went to sleep
late that night. It was a particularly pleasant summer evening, and
the guests from Israel and from Saudi Arabia sat with the family in
the living room under the glass chandelier, eating vegetables and
drinking tea.

"We were content," says the brother, Ahmed, in whose apartment we
are sitting, with his whole family, as on that night. Ahmed and his
wife have three children, aged five to 14; Mohammed and his wife
have a seven-year-old daughter; Khaled is single; Adib came alone
from Saudi Arabia ; and Abdullah and Inthisar came from Nazareth with
their two children and the grandmother. Rasmiya, who can barely
walk, has to be supported by her sons.

At midnight last Monday they all went to bed. The son from Saudi
Arabia slept downstairs, by his mother's bed, the guests from Israel
were on the middle floor and the others elsewhere in the three-story
structure. At about 3 A.M. Inthisar woke up. She heard the noise of
gunfire outside, along with the sounds of explosions and the flashes
of light that looked like lightning. Frightened, she woke up her
husband and the children.

"I was afraid, I was very afraid," she says in Hebrew. Since
marrying Abdullah, her life has been split between Nazareth and
Jenin. During vacations they are here, in Jenin, in the family home
of Abdullah, which is located on a high hill in the southwestern
part of the city, at the exit in the direction of Nablus . During the
rest of the year, they are in Nazareth , her home town. The children
attend an Israeli school, in Nazareth . Inthisar shouted in Hebrew
from the bedroom to the soldiers outside: "Excuse me, soldier, we
have small children in the house." Her shout, she says - and this
was confirmed later by neighbors - could be heard all across the

Adib, the guest from Saudi Arabia , also woke up from the gunfire and
saw Jeeps and soldiers outside. He dragged his mother into the next
room, the bedroom of his brother Mohammed and his wife and daughter.
Rasmiya has been paralyzed for three years, and her eyesight faded
three months ago. Adib says that he was confused, thinking at first
that maybe someone was firing at the neighbors, until bullets
started to whistle through the room they were in. They moved from
one corner of the room to another, not knowing what to do. The
shooting came from all directions. From above he heard his brother
Abdullah shouting, "The house is falling on us!" A missile,
apparently fired from a helicopter, slammed into the roof and made a
large hole in the ceiling.

Another deafening explosion was heard from the direction of the
roof. Dust began to cover everything, and a pungent smell of
gunpowder spread through the house. Windows were shattered one after
the other. On the floor above Adib and his mother, Inthisar and
Abdullah and their children sat on the floor of the bedroom,
protecting their heads with their hands, as they show us now.
Despite the gunfire, Inthisar decided to try to get to the barred
window of the bedroom and make eye contact with the soldiers
outside, to tell them about the children and beg them to let them
leave the inferno in which they found themselves. She got up and
started to walk toward the window, but her husband leaped at her,
grabbed her dress and pulled her back to the floor. Abdullah was
certain that if she approached the window the soldiers would shoot
her, and he was probably right. (That is how Prof. Khaled Salah was
killed a month and a half ago in Nablus, along with his 16-year-old
son, Mohammed, when he moved toward a window in order to tell the
soldiers that the door was stuck and he couldn't open it to let them
enter the house.)

Inthisar and Abdullah, despairing of trying to shout to the
soldiers, decided to improve their position. They crawled to the
concrete pillar in a corner of the room, and used it as a shelter.
They pulled the children through the dark room until they were all
huddled behind the pillar. The children cried and urinated, wetting
the floor around them. One floor below, the elderly grandmother
nestled up to her son. Anuar was crying, but her brother Basal told
her to stop making noise.

It went on like that for two hours, from 3 to 5 A.M. During that
whole time, they say, the soldiers did not address them, either to
warn them or order them out. They also say that they heard no
gunfire from the direction of the house at the soldiers. At about 5
A.M. , Inthisar turned on the light in the hall and signaled to the
soldiers that they wanted to go downstairs, to a safer place. With
hands raised the Abudi family ran toward the stairs leading to the
grandmother's room below, and the shooting in fact stopped for a few
minutes. But in short order, it resumed and became even more
intense. "Why didn't they let us leave the house?" Abdullah asks

At first light, about 6 A.M. , the soldiers, using bullhorns, ordered
the occupants of the house to come out. Again they were wracked with
fear, not knowing where to go out and deathly afraid of the
soldiers. "It was the first time I ever saw anything like that and I
didn't know what we were supposed to do," Inthisar says. They called
the Red Crescent emergency service and tried to summon help. Maybe
there are people who are dead or wounded in the house, they thought.
Inthisar emerged first, shouting to the soldiers that there was a
sick old woman in the house and small children, too. Then the
children and the men came out, their shirts rolled up at as per the
soldiers' order. They pulled out the grandmother slowly, supporting
her so she wouldn't fall, finally placing her by the side of a Jeep.

They came out barefoot, in pajamas. Inthisar told the soldiers that
there might be wounded people inside. The soldiers ordered Adib to
go back inside and make sure there was no one there. The Israel
Defense Forces used to call this the "neighbor procedure" and then
changed the name of the pernicious practice to "early warning,"
after the High Court of Justice prohibited the "neighbor procedure."
This week the president of the Supreme Court, Justice Aharon Barak,
called on the army to stop using the "early warning" procedure as
well. But last Tuesday, Adib Abudi entered the house on a mission of
the IDF, to mop it up, with or without an "early warning."

The five brothers were handcuffed and blindfolded. The marks left by
the plastic handcuffs were still clearly visible this week. They
asked the soldiers to loosen the handcuffs a bit, but the soldiers
told them to be quiet. Soldiers and dogs entered the house for a
search and added to the disorder and destruction inside. At 8:30
A.M. the men were taken to an IDF facility next to Araba, leaving
the women and children behind. They were questioned about whether
they had hidden wanted individuals in the house, and denied it. The
interrogators told them that there had been wanted men in the house
and that those men had opened fire from it at the soldiers. The
brothers said they had heard and seen nothing.

"Maybe they shot from the hills above the house," Ahmed says, "or
maybe from the roof. We heard nothing. Our house is clean, clean.
From the start of the intifada not one wanted individual has entered
and the IDF didn't enter and we have never been in prison. The
interrogators said there were wanted people. There is a mountain
here. People pass by here, but I am not responsible for those who
do. There were never firearms in our house, nor wanted people; and
you won't even find a flag there."

The IDF Spokesperson's Unit: "In the course of activity to make
arrests in Jenin, an IDF force came to a house where wanted people
were suspected of hiding. Massive fire was directed at the force
from the direction of the house and the surroundings, and the force
returned fire at the sources of the shooting. The soldiers called to
the occupants of the house to come out, and to the wanted people to
surrender. When the residents of the house came out, four
Palestinians were arrested and taken for interrogation by the
security forces. Afterward the force combed the house and the
surroundings to locate the wanted individuals, and after finding
none, left the place."

The brothers were held in custody until 3 P.M. and then released.
The soldiers dropped them off at a remote site, near Mevo Dotan, a
settlement that Palestinian drivers are afraid to approach. They
were barefoot and the asphalt burned the soles of their feet; they
sat down by the roadside, and waited. Finally a Palestinian taxi
passed by, and took them home. They arrived at 4 P.M. , about 11
hours after it all began. They didn't sleep a wink all night.

Rasmiya enters the room supported by her sons. After that night she
was hospitalized for a few hours and then released. She hasn't
stopped crying since. Silent tears. "What happened to us never
happened to anyone. I keep remembering the small children, their
fear, I hear the voice of my son Abdullah, afraid that something
happened to him." Her body moves from side to side, heaving,
refusing to be at rest.

Her daughter-in-law, Inthisar, also breaks into tears. One of the
granddaughters, Ula, is holding a pair of bullet-ridden black pants,
desperate to show them off.

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