Deir Istiya 2015; A year marked by house raids, kidnappings and military harassment of Palestinians


The raid began at 2:30 in the morning. Amel Abu Hajleh, the mayor of Deir Istiya, woke on the 12th of January to Israeli Occupation forces kicking her front door and demanding to be let inside. As she and her three children slept, roughly 80 soliders stormed the village on foot, with two military jeeps in tow. They flooded in from the Yaqir illegal settlement just down the road. She had no idea that nearby, at her sisters house, a similar scene was unfolding.

She rushed to wake her sleeping children, but the soldier’s yells became more violent and her husband rushed to open the front door; causing a flood of thirty masked Israeli Occupation soldiers to stomp inside of her home; muddy boots leaving tracks everywhere they went. After demanding to know where her children were, they entered the room of her 8 year old son before quickly moving on to where her 20 and 14 year old sons had moved their mattresses before the fire, for warmth on the bitterly cold January night.

Still asleep, the 20 year old was grabbed by his shoulders and dragged violently to his feet, “Talk! What is your name? Talk!” Amel recalls the traumatic scene, “He wasn’t fully awake and they were shining flashlights directly into his eyes and screaming at him.” What followed exhibits the systematic cruelty and psychological abuse that has become a trademark for the Occupation Forces. “They dragged him into the bitter cold with no jacket, no socks and no shoes. I rushed outside and forced a jacket over him and socks and shoes on his feet. That is when I first noticed that my nephew had also been arrested. After we followed them all the way to Yaqir, we watched them drag the boys, who had been blindfolded and shackled a far distance through rocks and mud to the police station.” Her sister would have been with them, but after watching the violent arrest of her son, she fainted and was immediately taken to the hospital.

That evening at 7pm, the frantic parents got a call from their son saying that he had been released in a dangerous area near the settlement all alone under an Isreali watch post, where he could have been shot just for being a Palestinian inside the illegal settlement. His parents rushed to pick him up and once they got him and attempted to cross Yaqir into Deir Istiya, they were stopped by the police where the father asked the soldier to release his son’s personal items, but when the soldier at the checkpoint called the commander at the police station he was told that their son was released by mistake, and they were coming back to re-arrest him. Soon after, he was back under Israeli custody in administrative detention. Amel believes that this wasn’t simply an error committed by one of the biggest and most informed militaries in the world, “His release was no mistake, this was planned to play with ours’ and our son’s emotions.”

To this day, over two months later, Amel’s son and nephew sit in Israeli Administrative Detention. At her son’s first court date, she waved to him and was immediately thrown out of the court room. Their next trial is set for the 29th of March.

This scene has played out again and again in the small village since the beginning of 2015 where house raids- and worse, ‘training raids,’ have become the norm. “They use full weaponry during training raids,” Amel stated, “sound grenades, tear gas… And they terrorize young children, for what?”

Just days ago, IWPS reported on a farmer who was approached by Israeli soldiers with dogs as he, and his paid workers, began to plough his land. “The farmer, who had already paid three hundred NIS to his workers, which represents ten percent of his monthly income, informed the soldiers that he would provide them with both his and his worker’s identification cards and leave upon completing his work but the soldiers, who had dogs with them, demanded that he leave immediately.”

Incursions on human rights, theft of resources, threatening the sovereignty of Palestinian farm land, using stolen Palestinian water and growing cash crops for export markets in illegal settlements established on land in the occupied Palestinian territory along with blatant violations of International law have become a constant presence in the lives of Palestinians in the illegaly occupied West Bank.

Just over a week ago, Palestinian farmers received written threats from the Israeli Civil Administrion, an arm of the Israeli government. The warnings were to advise Palestinians that they would be banned from their land in the Wadi Qana, a lush valley this spring full of orange, olive and lemon trees and blankets of blooming flora crawling up the hill sides. Last year, Occupation Forces uprooted over 1.000 olive trees. This year, they decided that the farmers should be forced to uproot their own trees, in total, over 200. “Olive trees are crucial to the Palestinian economy- 60 percent of Palestinians are farmers and make a living on the land; olive oil in particular.” The bans and uprootings come each year on 20th March for a holiday for illegal settlers who fill the Wadi and celebrate under guard of armed Israeli soldiers.

After two dozen Palestinian farmers, supporters and international Palestinian solidarity groups, IWPS and ISM members camped the night before the ban was to be in effect, convgering the following morning with nearly 100 Palestinians who bused in from Dier Istiya and surrounding villages; the Civil Administration abruptly cancelled the event citing unspecified, “security concerns.” Palestinians and supporters took advantage of the beautiful day with a picnic, music and a joint effort trash clean up of the valley. Seen at the entrance to the Wadi Qana was a massive banner with a Palestinian flag proclaiming rightfully, “Wadi Qana is for us!”

A UN Committee took up the question of permanent sovereignty of Arab peoples under occupation over their natural resources, they described the “serious grave injustices faced by the Palestinian people. As well as confiscation of land and aquifers, harvests were stolen, access to crops was denied and agricultural land was inundated with waste water. It is a systematic effort aimed at driving Palestinian landowners from their property, in order to allow Israelis to take it over. Around 68 per cent of the total of lands controlled by Israel was in the Jordan Valley, the largest area of cropping in the West Bank.”

Amel brought IWPS members to meet a Palestinian shop owner whose home was visited three nights earlier at 2am by 3 Israeli occupation soldiers who appeared to be doing a census. They gathered the family in the main area of the home and photographed every room, including the bathroom. Each of her four brother in laws have an apartment in the building. One by one, the apartments were entered, ID’s, names and ages of the residents were recorded and every room was photographed. Afterwards, the soldiers went up to the roof and took photos and abruptly left. This could have been done at 4pm for instance, but startling families in the middle of the night have become signature.

Amel then led IWPS members to a road in the village leading out towards the Yaqir illegal colony where a massive earth mound road block had been in place so long, grass was growing through the large stones. Not only do the road blocks stop Palestinians from driving through the area- even in emergencies, “In addition, they restrict the movement of many pedestrians who have trouble bypassing them: the elderly, sick persons, pregnant women, and small children.”

Military blockades of the roads into Dier Istiya have also become a common occurence; its part of their system of collective punishment which includes cutting water- Palestinian water which is stolen and diverted to the illegal settlements which Israel then sells back to the Palestinians- as well as cutting electricity. “They shut off the electric and turn it back on numerous times a day which causes our appliances to burn out and sometimes catch fire.” Last year, IWPS reported, “At the close of 2012, OCHA counted approximately 532 physical obstructions a month, compared to an average of approx. 434 obstructions in May through December 2011 and an average of 519 for the year 2010.”

As afternoon comes to Deir Istiya, Amel continues her work in the village as her son and nephew continue to languish in Israeli custody. Farmers wake each morning to deal with the struggle the Israeli Forces cause them just to work their own land. And children play in the street, many knowing all too well that the next door bashed in during the early hours of morning could be their own. This is the face of the occupation in Deir Istiya and surrounding villages and cities in Occupied Palestine.