Awarta, a small village near the West Bank city of Nablus, has been the target of relentless Israeli military raids and collective punishment since early last year, after a family was found brutally murdered in the nearby spawling settlement of Itamar on 11 March 2011.
Two youths from Awarta were arrested a month after the killings and confessed shortly therafter. Despite the apprehending of those apparently responsible for the crime, the village has been subject to an ongoing siege of collective punishment.
According to a recent Al-Haq report, “For 18 months, the Israeli military, still ostensibly investigating the case, has repeatedly raided the village, ransacked houses and destroyed private possessions while intimidating and harassing the residents of the village.”
On 4 September, the Israeli military surrounded the home of Mazen Niyyaz ‘Awwad, 45, the father of Hakim ‘Awwad, one of the two teens who confessed to murdering the Itamar family. According to the Al-Haq report, one of the two accompanying intelligence officers in the raid “Put a knife against Mazen’s neck and told him, in Arabic, that they were destroying the home because ‘they gave birth to Hakim’ and to teach a lesson to the entire village.”
“When Mazen’s wife protested, the officer threw a vase at her, but it smashed against the wall without harming her.”
After approximately one hour of “searching” the house while destroying furniture, the army left, detaining George, 22, Hakim’s brother.
A week earlier, on 29 August, the Israeli military besieged the home in the dark hours of the morning, forcing the family outside while they ransacked the house.
“The soldiers ordered Mazen to report to Huwwara military base the following morning,” according to an Al-Haq report.
When Mazen arrived the next morning, he was “handcuffed, blindfolded, insulted and questioned, for more than 15 hours, about his son George and about Hakim’s involvement in the killing of the settler family.”
Continued collective punishment
Collective punishment of the residents of Awarta began after the March 2011 killings in Itamar. The Israeli military immediately presumed that the murderers came from Awarta — a village that had suffered from repeated settler attacks. In 2010 Israeli soldiers killed two young villagers.
In the early morning of 12 March 2011, the Israeli military began surveillance of the village using unmanned aerial vehicles and F16 airplanes. A few hours later a curfew and closure was imposed on the city, preventing residents from leaving for work or school, that lasted for four days. Though the strict closure was lifted, the military raids and incursions remained. Approximately 30 homes were turned into military bases. Business, school, ambulance and even mosque services were halted, and hundreds of men and women of all ages were rounded up, fingerprinted, strip searched and detained.
After over a month, the gag order on the investigation was lifted. On 17 April the military announced Amjad and Hakim ‘Awwad, cousins of high school age, had confessed to the murder. After several months the youths were both convicted by an Israeli military court and sentenced to life in Israeli prisons. (I wrote about their trial that included an in depth look at the Israeli military court system here.)
But the punishment of the village did not stop with that. Last spring the Israel Security Agency recommended that the homes of Amjad’s and Hakim’s homes be demolished.
Awarta is located not far from a military training base. Though unconfirmed, commentators have suggested that Awarta has been used as a training site for the Israeli military. When I reported from Awarta during the siege in April, many residents told me that the army conducted itself as though it were training new soldiers.
A violation of the Geneva convetions
Collective punishment, of which Awarta is clearly a target, is strictly prohibited under Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and Article 75(2)(d) of the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions.