No place is safe: Israeli army 'terrorise' Palestinians with night raids in their own homes
On 12 December, the sound of violent banging on their front door woke the Salhab family up from their deep sleep. It was one o'clock in the morning.
When 57-year-old Mahmoud Salhab went to open the door, a dozen Israeli soldiers burst into his home, shouting at him and assaulting any person who came before them.
The soldiers forced all the family members into one room while they ransacked the rest of the house. Mahmoud told Middle East Eye that “anyone who tried to even speak to the [soldiers] was beaten up".
'Night raids... hammer home the idea [to the Palestinians] that even their safest spaces are not off-limit for Israeli soldiers'
- Human rights organisations
The Israeli military had already searched their home in the village of Qalqas, south of Hebron, several times before and arrested their sons. But this latest incident was the most violent by far.
The soldiers hit family members with the butts of their rifles. They also arrested 25-year-old Anas Salhab after he was beaten to the point of unconsciousness.
The soldiers prevented Palestinian ambulances from reaching the family, and it was not until nearly 90 minutes after the army’s withdrawal that the injured could seek medical treatment.
“My brother and I, and four of our sons, were taken to [Hebron Governmental Hospital]. We were badly bruised, and many of us felt sick to our stomachs. Even now, we suffer from aches and have difficulty standing or moving,” said Mahmoud.
The women and children in the family were also traumatised by the incident. One little girl in the family was taken to hospital after suffering a seizure brought on by hysteria and shock.
“We couldn’t comprehend what we were going through. It was as if we were in some collective nightmare from which we could not wake up,” Mahmoud told MEE.
‘We came to beat them up’
Night raids - such as the one experienced by the Salhab family - are one of the methods adopted by the Israeli army to terrorise the loved ones of Palestinian detainees in their own houses.
They are a way to hammer home the idea that even their safest spaces are not off-limits for Israeli soldiers, according to human rights organisations.
At the time of this writing, there were over 4,500 prisoners languishing in Israeli jails, according to monthly reports put out by Addameer, a Palestinian prisoner rights group.
2021 saw a marked increase in Israeli military violence against Palestinians in their homes. This harassment has not been limited to the vandalism of property but has also included field interrogations, verbal humiliation, and physical assault.
On 25 November, a similar raid took place in the home of Ali Nassar in the village of Silwad, east of Ramallah. The 62-year-old Ali, along with his sons, Imad, 25, and Shehadeh, 37, were beaten by Israeli soldiers.
Imad had already been arrested by the Israeli army on three separate occasions since he turned 16 and told MEE that the soldiers shoved him up against the wall and started hitting him.
"My father and brother couldn’t stand by and watch and tried to help me, so the soldiers started hitting all of us,” he said.
After the beating, Imad was taken to one of the rooms where he overheard a call made by the battalion’s commander to a colleague, during which he said “we didn’t come to arrest anyone or conduct a search, we came to beat them up and leave".
“They didn’t ask us a single question, and they didn’t search the house. They just beat us and left, exactly like the officer said,” Imad recalled.
Tell their own truth
The attack on the Salhab family was recorded in the weekly report by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights.
Activists believe that assaults on Palestinian families in their homes during arrests are part of the broader systemic violence perpetrated by Israel.
However, no amount of reports or statistics protect the Palestinians from the brutal intrusions of Israeli soldiers, so many turn to social media to tell their side of the story.
A video published on YouTube on 17 November captured Israeli soldiers’ nighttime visit to the home of the Da’na family in Hebron.
The footage clearly showed more than a dozen children being rounded up by soldiers for a group photo, with one of the young girls visibly upset and wiping her eyes, while women in the family tried to reason with the soldiers.
The video was posted by the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories (B’Tselem), and while it provoked various reactions on social media, it failed to curb the violent behaviour of the Israeli army.
A few days later, on 22 November, the Gaith family spoke to the media after suffering a dawn raid in their home in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Silwan.
As for the Salhab family, Mahmoud turned to Facebook to document and share the aftermath of the raid. He posted photos and videos showing bloodstains on the floor, ransacked closets, as well as several family members lying on the ground being treated by paramedics.
‘Terrorised’ in our own homes
But the Israeli army’s raids don't only leave bruises and psychological scars on the Palestinians - they have also led to bullet wounds and premature deaths, as the Abu Ahour family have learned first hand.
The death of Rahmah Khalil Abu Ahour, 66, was announced by her family on 17 February. She died from a stroke following a raid on her family’s home in the village of Abu Njeim, south of Bethlehem.
Rana Ibrahim Abu Ahour, 32, told MEE that prior to the raid, her family received a call from one of their neighbours, warning them that the Israeli army had begun encircling their house.
Rana woke up her children and her mother-in-law, Rahmah, to prepare them for the impending invasion.
“Over 80 soldiers had surrounded our house, shouting and banging on the doors. It was a terrifying sight for all of us.
“I left [Rahmah] for a few moments and then returned to her side to help her. I noticed that she was unable to breathe and had become extremely fatigued. Her state only worsened when she saw the soldiers pouring into her home,” Rana said.
Upon entry, the soldiers saw how ill Rahmah was and allowed her family to take her to the hospital but she died minutes before reaching al-Hussein Governmental Hospital.
According to Rana, Rahmah had suffered from high blood pressure and diabetes and simply “could not handle the shock”.
For two-and-a-half hours, the army continued to raid their home, vandalising the property, destroying furniture, blowing up doors, and unleashing abuse on the family.
During the entire time, the soldiers did not say a word to them, nor did they arrest anyone or reveal the reason for the invasion, Rana said.
“My 14-year-old daughter, Sadeel, suffered from constant migraines for several days after the incident, because of the shock of the raid and of the death of her grandmother… my children have lived through horrors they will never forget.”
A week earlier, on 8 February in Jenin Refugee Camp, Nour al-Baytawi was shot by Israeli soldiers atop the roof of his own home at 4am, when he was looking for the source of commotion that woke him up.
Israeli soldiers had climbed onto neighbouring rooftops and the moment Nour appeared, they opened fire on him.
When Nour said he had been shot, the soldiers forced him to go down the stairs and tear off his jacket to show his wound.
“I heard a door exploding and soldiers shouting, and then Nour came back down and told me that he was shot in the stomach,” his wife, 23-year-old Nidiya al-Baytawi, told MEE.
Upon seeing his wound, Nidiya started screaming and demanded medical treatment for her husband.
In response to her reaction, one of the soldiers “threw a sound grenade towards me, while I was holding my four-month-old baby girl,” she said.
The moment was “disorienting”, recalled Omar al-Baytawi, Nour’s brother.
“I tried to understand what was happening, and in seconds I found soldiers surrounding me from every angle," he said. "Everything was happening all at once.”
At the time of writing, Nour still remains imprisoned in Israeli jails, after undergoing several surgeries that removed a portion of his intestines.
The Israeli court has charged him with the possession of a firearm, even though no weapon was found or confiscated from his house, and no investigation has been launched into the incident of his shooting inside his own home, according to his family.
Unleash the dogs
The Israeli army is also known for deploying dogs during its night raids, both to assist in searches and to terrorise residents.
Several cases have been documented in which the army’s setting of dogs on people in their homes had led to direct bite injuries.
In a recent incident, the Israeli army set a dog on Abdallah Mifleh, 23, during a raid on his home in Beitunia, west of Ramallah on 23 November.
Abdallah’s mother, Arabiyya al-Sharafa, told MEE that the family was woken by the sound of the army’s attempt to break down the door to their house.
Arabiyya tried to tell the soldiers that she would open the door for them, but the soldiers did not listen and continued trying to tear down the door, she said.
“The moment they entered the house, they set their dogs on Abdallah. One dog bit on Abdallah’s foot and did not let go during the entire arrest, which lasted for half an hour.”
“I tried to move the dog off of Abdallah, but it was big and scary, and the soldiers kept preventing me from reaching my son,” Arabiyya told MEE, insisting that the use of dogs was totally unnecessary, as Abdallah was asleep and did not attempt to escape.
Where's the accountability?
The Israeli army usually carries out its house raids in the dead of night to minimise the chance of clashes.
However, they still face staunch resistance in Palestinian villages and camps, with residents throwing stones at military vehicles in the early hours of the morning. At times, these clashes escalate into armed confrontation, which is what happened last summer in Jenin Refugee Camp.
'The army uses families as a way of pressuring Palestinians from the very first moment of their arrest, with the objective of getting a confession out of them'
- Ihtiram Ghazawneh, activist
On 11 August 2021, during an army night raid in Deir al-Ghusun, north of Tulkarem, 24-year-old Luai Ziyad Abu Zaytoun was hit in the face with a sound grenade from a short distance outside of his home, and then the soldiers beat him severely, shooting him in the legs with rubber bullets before arresting him when he was already unconscious.
Luai suffered from a broken nose and jaw, partial hearing loss in one of his ears, and bleeding in the eye.
He told MEE that he was subjected to field interrogation during his arrest, despite his injuries.
He was eventually transferred to an Israeli hospital, where he remained for a few hours, after which he was taken away in a civilian car.
The army completely absolved itself of any responsibility for what happened to Luai, and refused to provide him with the necessary medical treatment.
Ihtiram Ghazawneh, the coordinator of the documentation and research unit at Addameer, told MEE that the Israeli army’s night raids aim to cause psychological harm to Palestinian prisoners and their families in a calculated and systematic way.
“The army uses families as a way of pressuring Palestinians from the very first moment of their arrest, with the objective of getting a confession out of them. They do so by enacting violence upon their family, aiming to put the [detainees] in a state of psychological distress and making them fear for their families.”
Many violations occur throughout the night raids, including the detonation of doors, terrorising families, shooting and launching grenades inside homes and their surroundings, using families as human shields, subjecting entire families to interrogation, strip searches, handcuffing family members, and even carrying out extrajudicial killings.
These atrocities amount to war crimes and violations of international law, especially with regards to the collective punishment that is exacted upon entire families, Ghazawneh said.