It was a few minutes past midnight when hundreds of Israeli soldiers stormed al-Amari refugee camp. They had come to demolish the house of Latifa Abu Humaid, a widow in her seventies.
Latifa was expecting the raid from Israel’s forces of occupation. The previous day, she had been instructed to evacuate her home within 24 hours.
She decided to stay put. Youth from the camp – situated south of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank – had joined her, determined to resist the invaders.
When they arrived, the Israeli troops beat and pushed the people gathered inside the home. They fired stun grenades and tear gas before dragging Latifa and everyone else out. Many of Latifa’s neighbors were rounded up.
“We were first detained in the football field, in the freezing cold, at 1am,” said Naimah Fayiz, 64, who lives near the Abu Humaid family. “The football field was full of detainees, including children. We were forced to stay there for almost half an hour before being taken to the village’s school.”
Israel’s mid-December raid on al-Amari sparked confrontations with local youth that lasted for hours. It was never going to be a match of equals. An army was taking on a widow. The invading soldiers had modern weapons; the local youth had rocks and Molotov cocktails. A small refugee camp was pitted against Israel, a state backed by the US and other powerful governments.
At 5:30 am, the Israeli military blew up Latifa’s home with dynamite. Her home was located within a four-story building. Four hours later, the military blew up that entire building.
The home of Naimah Fayiz was damaged in the second explosion. So were the homes of several other neighbors.
“Not since the invasion of the second intifada can I recall a raid like this,” Tamer Hammad, a resident of the camp, told The Electronic Intifada. “It was as if they were planning to carry out a full-blown military operation, not just demolish a house.”
The tactic of punitive home demolitions is used systematically by Israel. It involves collective punishment. A whole family gets penalized for the resistance activities allegedly undertaken by one of its members.
Israel suspended its policy of punitive demolitions in 2005. Yet it was reactivated under the government led by Benjamin Netanyahu a decade later – officially as a response to a Palestinian uprising which began in October 2015.
“It is difficult to comprehend why they brought such a large number of troops when they could have demolished the house with a much smaller unit,” said Yousif Abu Humaid, one of Latifa’s sons. “Perhaps because they expected the resistance to be strong or maybe it was done to boost Netanyahu’s popularity. It is hard to know.”
The demolition in al-Amari and the way in which it was orchestrated went beyond “normal” punishment or retaliation. It appears that the Israeli military sought to turn punishment into a public spectacle aimed at humiliating a community.
“If they think that this demolition will break me, they clearly know nothing about me and my family,” Latifa – who is also known as Um Nasser – told The Electronic Intifada. Her home was previously destroyed by Israel in 1991 and 2003.
“This is the third punitive demolition that targets my home,” she said. “And each time they demolish, our commitment to the liberation of Palestine grows even greater.”
Latifa’s son Islam is accused of dropping a marble slab from a rooftop – thereby fatally injuring a soldier – during an Israeli raid earlier this year. He is being held in Ofer, an Israeli military jail within the West Bank. Latifa has been able to visit him only once since he was arrested in June.
“Israel wants to portray Islam as the aggressor for killing the soldier,” one woman living in al-Amari said. “But he was defending his camp, his people. The attackers are the Israeli soldiers who repeatedly invade the camp and terrorize us. Are we expected to celebrate their raids?”
Four other members of the family are imprisoned, having been convicted on charges relating to suicide bombings and other armed actions inside Israel. Jihad, another of Latifa’s 12 children, is being held without charge or trial – a practice known as administrative detention.
Whenever Latifa has been able to speak with her sons in jail, she has always offered them words of encouragement. She recalls going to see her son Nasser on one occasion. “I told him to remain defiant just as I raised him to be,” she said. “When you choose the path of Palestine, you should never look back.”
Latifa has also suffered the pain of losing a child. Her son Abd al-Munim was assassinated by Israeli forces in 1994. He was accused of killing an intelligence officer during an ambush in the Ramallah area. Abd al-Munim was a commander in the Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas.
Israel issued an order to confiscate the land on which the family’s home was built following Abd al-Munim’s assassination.
A protest tent has now been set up next to Latifa’s demolished home in al-Amari. Many visitors to the tent have spent time in prison with her sons. Others – such as Hazem Shunnar from Nablus – know what it is like to see their home destroyed.
“They also demolished my family’s home as punishment for our involvement in the resistance,” Shunnar said. “Our pain takes different forms but its substance is the same.”
Originally from Abu Shusha – a village near Ramle in historic Palestine – Latifa was an infant during the Nakba, the ethnic cleansing at the time of Israel’s foundation in 1948. She has spent most of her life in al-Amari.
“I’ve seen my children grow here,” she said. “I’ve lived my happiest and hardest moments in this home. I shared my life with my husband here. I’ve rebuilt the home after they demolished it. It is rooted in me. It’s not about the physical structure, it’s about the memories, the moments.”
One of her sons, Naji, has an idea for what should be done with the demolished building. He thinks its first floor – severely damaged but not entirely destroyed – should be turned into a museum.
“We will restore it and turn it into a museum that commemorates the resistance of our family and of al-Amari camp,” said Naji. “Unfortunately, my mother will not be able to live here again. But her house will continue to bear witness to our perseverance and to Israel’s oppression.”
Budour Youssef Hassan is a Palestinian writer based in Jerusalem. Blog: budourhassan.wordpress.com