In the several houses I visited there, the destruction inside was complete. This was done under the pretext of searching for a knife, the weapon that was used to kill the Itamar family. The villagers have not attempted to clean up any of the mess yet. Because the military comes in almost every night to continue their reign of terror, it is better to leave it as it is. Perhaps if they see they have already torn apart a home, they will pass it by the next night.
In one home I visited there are 3 floors, ground level, then a second and third story. An extended family lives there, their ages ranging from toddlers, children of school age, their parents and grandparents. Every room is destroyed, even the rooms where the children sleep. Their beds are piles of rubbish, toys are smashed up, mattresses and furniture cushions slashed open, family pictures torn up.
As I ascended to each floor of the house, more destruction…. until I reach the 3rd floor and find, to me, the most hideous site. After the soldiers have ransacked the home, they sit in what is left of a kitchen and eat, leaving their refuse on the floor. I remember I just kept saying to myself, “They ate? They ate? THEY ATE???”
But the above is just about “stuff” and no matter how necessary and precious stuff may be, things can always be replaced. The greater horror is what has been visited on this village psychologically. They are living in sheer terror. Though they put up a strong face, well… when they get a chance to talk privately, they admit they are terrified for their lives. One woman begged to me to stay with her because she said “they are going to kill me, they are going to kill me.” I decided at that moment I would of course stay with her, but then I realized that everyone in the village feels the same way and there has to be an organized effort from the international community to assist the people of Awarta. Every home in Awarta needs protection.
In another home a 16 y/o girl described what happened to her family. First, they were awoken in the night by soldiers at their door. Her father was not at home-he works in Jericho and sleeps there during the week. So her mother, grandparents, and 10 younger children were in the home. She said there were at least 50 soldiers. They made everyone get out of the house and stand in the cold while they ransacked the house. Then they called her father and demanded he return home in 5 minutes! He was in Jericho, far from Awarta, and he told them he could not return so quickly. So they told him they would take his wife. So they locked the rest of the family into one room of the ransacked house and took their mother. At some point they also took the grandparents, though I am not clear when this happened. However, this 16y/o was locked into a trashed room with 10 smaller children for 15 hours. They did not have a food, water or a bathroom. She said the children cried for their mother and she told them that mom had just went to check on their grandparents, but one of the children had seen her being taken away handcuffed and blindfolded and told the other children, which of course only heightened their distress. Still, the 16 y/o kept telling them their mother was fine, she was checking on the grandparents. While they were locked in the room the soldiers continued to tear up the more of the house. They could hear the destruction going on. They were denied access to the bathroom, solders stood outside the door shouting at them when they requested to leave the room. When they opened a window, there were soldiers below who screamed at them to close it. I imagine this was the longest night and day of these children’s lives. So far…
There is no telling what horrors will befall them in the days ahead.
Needless to say there is a level of uncomfortability in going through people’s homes, invading their privacy and taking photos of the carnage left by the IOF. Though a Palestinian friend told me it was no problem I thought I would get a sense of the situation once I arrived in Awarta. Actually, residents were pulling my into their homes, asking me to photograph. (I have found this to be one of the saddest parts of my work, and this was so even back in Iraq…. Innocent people are sure that if the world sees the illegal violence committed against them the international community will stand up for them. This is too often not the case)
So I visited the wrecked homes, took pictures and spoke to many people. I was about to leave when a couple of women from the village asked to remain because 1) they wanted international presense and 2) a young girl who had been in prison (PRISON, not a juvenile detention center) was being released and wanted me to meet her. So I remained in Awarta with the women and was introduced to a lovely young girl (age 16) who was good friends with Julia (the child soon to be released from prison) and also spoke excellent English. She was the girl who had been locked in a room with her younger siblings for more than 12 hours, while her mother was detained for questioning.
We spent about an hour chatting; she related how she tried to keep her young siblings calm when she herself was quite terrified hearing the destruction of her home from their locked room, how she wondered if they would ever release her mother. But interspersed with this was her teenage dreams… she was accepted at a prestigious school in Nablus to prepare her for college and she wants to become a physician like her uncle. She also wants to study in America and her school selected her for funding, but her father does not want her to travel abroad alone. She introduced me to her grandparents, who were also detained for a long period of time during the village raids, their fingerprints and DNA taken. Her grandmother laughed at them that would think she, in her 70’s and walking only with the aid of cane, could have walked to Itamar and broke through their security!
I was sitting outside with 10 or so villagers during this time. Then there came a general stir of excitement… Julia was arriving back in the village after her 5 days of imprisonment. Suddenly everyone got up and made their way to the car that had just pulled up. After family greetings, she gave us this report.
(thanks for Jordan ValleySolidarity Group for uploading my video!)
After this report Julia sang the most beautiful song which she said she kept singing to her jailers during her imprisonment. She sang it in English and Arabic. It told of how she didn’t know why she was being held, she didn’t know the answers to their interrogation, she didn’t know if she would ever again see her family or the light of day.
I will try to get that uploaded. The world should hear her song, as it is the song of every political prisoner in Palestine.