For the last three months, residents of the West Bank village of Bilin have been subjected to constant night raids by the Israeli military. The raids are in retaliation for their five-year campaign of nonviolent resistance against Israel’s wall, which is being constructed on the village’s land. The Israeli authorities have arrested members of the Bilin Popular Committee as well as teenagers and young boys from the village in order to obtain forced confessions against committee members. The home of Abdullah Abu Rahme, the Bilin Popular Committee’s Media Coordinator, was raided on 16 September 2009. The following is his account of the raid as told to The Electronic Intifada contributor Jody McIntyre.
It was a Wednesday morning [16 September]. At around 1:30am, my wife heard sounds outside, near our home in Bilin. She rushed to the window to see what was going on and saw scores of Israeli soldiers climbing over our garden fence. Within a matter of seconds, they had reached the front door.
My wife ran downstairs as quickly as she could to open the door, which the soldiers were beating ferociously. They asked her, “Where is Abdullah?” and she replied, “Abdullah is not here, he is Ramallah.” The soldiers didn’t care, they just pushed her aside.
Masked and heavily armed, they poured into all the rooms of our home, damaging cupboards, ransacking drawers and leaving our belongings strewn across floors. My wife and nephew, whom they had woken from their sleep, were ordered to stay in one room as they searched the house.
My two daughters, Layan, 5, and Luma, 7, awoke to find themselves staring at many masked strangers in green uniforms. They wondered why they were looking through their toys. Immediately, they burst into tears — their mother asked if she could take them from the bedroom but the soldiers stopped her from doing so.
Feeling helpless, my wife called my friend Mohammed Khatib, a fellow member of the Bilin Popular Committee. International volunteers who were staying in the village distracted the soldiers at the front gate, which allowed Mohammed to climb over a garden wall and get into the house. The moment the soldiers saw him inside, they brutally attacked him — they didn’t want anyone to see the damage they were doing to my home and, more importantly, my two young daughters.
The international volunteers, still standing outside, heard Mohammed’s screams as he was beaten so badly that he could barely stand, but still they were prevented from entering the home. Luckily, my wife was able to release him from the soldiers by standing in their way.
The soldiers moved on to the first floor of the house, where there is an apartment for internationals to stay in. They started to destroy the door, which was locked. My wife told them that she had a key and could open it for them, but they refused her offer, and smashed down the door. It was clear that the army wanted not only to arrest me, but to leave a path of destruction in their wake.
They continued on to the second floor, where they stole Palestinian flags and shields we use to protect ourselves from harm during our weekly nonviolent demonstrations against the wall. The shields bear the image of Bassem Abu Rahme, a close friend of mine who was killed during one such demonstration in April, as he called on soldiers to hold their fire because an Israeli girl had been injured. They also took a banner we had made to welcome my brother Ratib home from studying his Ph.D. I really don’t understand how such a banner can be perceived as a threat to Israel.
But what hurts me the most is that the soldiers broke into my mother’s room, again destroying the door in the process. It was also locked, but only because my mother died a month ago. She died in al-Makassed hospital in Jerusalem. I wasn’t given a permit by the Israeli authorities to pass the checkpoints and the wall which separate Palestinians in the West Bank from Jerusalem to go visit her. My mother and I had a very close relationship, but I didn’t get to visit her as she suffered. She died alone, and I didn’t get to see her, to tell her one word, or to put my hand on her face for one moment. The Israeli occupation separated me from my mother when she was at her most vulnerable — I hate it.
Our nonviolent struggle against the wall and settlements which are being built on our land is now in its fifth year. Before she died my mother would wait at the door of our home every Friday to welcome me back from the weekly demonstration. She would ask if I was OK, and thank God that I hadn’t been injured. I love her very much, as I love my wife and daughters who the Israeli soldiers woke in the middle of the night, and as I love my land which the wall has stolen.
Finally, the army gave my wife an “invitation” for me. They told her I had to go visit the Shabak [Israel’s internal security service, also known as the Shin Bet], and threatened that if I didn’t they would do the same terrible things to my home every night. They told her that I wouldn’t live to see Eid.
But it was my children and my brother’s children who were affected most by the whole experience. Particularly my nephew Mahmoud, 8, who ran screaming into the street when the soldiers invaded. Two days later he had facial spasms for more than an hour, leaving his entire family heartbroken as they tried to reassure him. How can we reassure our children when we know this will happen again and again?
My daughter Layan told me that she didn’t want to sleep at home because she was afraid that the soldiers would come to arrest her father and kill the rest of the family. Five days later she went back. But she woke up in the middle of the night and pleaded with her mother to take her away, fearing that the soldiers were on their way back.
My daughter Luma was the top student in her class at school. But two days after the invasion she told me that she hated school and didn’t want to go. I told her a joke and she burst into giggles, and I said I was happy to see her laughing. “Daddy,” she said, “I’m laughing, but inside I’m crying.”
I haven’t done anything wrong, but they want to arrest me because I am a nonviolent activist. Israel does not want our model of nonviolent resistance to spread, and this is one of the ways they are trying to crush us in Bilin — by invading the village and attacking our homes. But until we remove the wall and settlements from our land, our struggle will continue.
Abdullah Abu Rahme is Media Coordinator of the Bilin Popular Committee.
Jody McIntyre is a journalist from the United Kingdom, currently living in the occupied West Bank village of Bilin. Jody has cerebral palsy, and travels in a wheelchair. He writes a blog for Ctrl.Alt.Shift, entitled “Life on Wheels,” which can be found at www.ctrlaltshift.co.uk. He can be reached at jody.mcintyre AT gmail DOT com.