The use of human shields and the destruction of homes during the Israeli invasion of Nablus

A hole in a Palestinian home made by the IDF during a search, Deheishe refugee camp, Bethlehem District, 11 March, 2002 (Photo: Magnus Johansson, Reuters)

The following are testimonies that residents of Nablus gave to B’Tselem’s researchers. The testimonies indicate that, during the IDF’s invasion of the city, which began on 19 February 2003. The soldiers used civilians as human shields, in violation of the state’s commitment to the High Court of Justice, and blew up the interior of houses.

The residents describe how families with their children were forced to stand outside in pouring rain while IDF soldiers conducted prolonged searches of their houses. The soldiers then imprisoned them in one of the rooms for many hours.

Some of the occupants were taken by soldiers to serve as human shields during searches of their houses and houses of other residents. After they were finally released, the occupants revealed that the soldiers had planted explosives inside the houses and then detonated them.

Following a petition filed by human rights organizations, the IDF promised the High Court that it would not force Palestinians to serve as human shields for IDF soldiers. This promise also included the use of the “neighbor procedure.” The State then presented a new procedure, which allowed the soldier to “be assisted” by residents who willingly consented to help. The IDF promised not to use women, even with their consent. These testimonies clearly show that the IDF has breached its commitment to the High Court.

  • Testimony of Sana’a Ruhi Muhammad Quni, born 1963, widowed and mother of four, teacher, resident of Nablus. The testimony was given to ‘Ali Draghmeh at the witnesses’ home, 11 March, 2003.

    “I live in the a-Sheikh Msalam neighborhood in the eastern part of Nablus. I have four children, ‘Imad (17), ‘Ahed (12), ‘Abid (8) and Amir (4). My husband was killed by Israeli soldiers on Thursday 4 March, 2002, when the Israeli army invaded Nablus for the first time. He was killed in the old city of Nablus. He used to work as a security guard at the headquarters of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society.

    On Thursday, 6 March, 2003, around 03:00 P.M., I left the high school where I teach. This is a high school for the invalid located in the Red Crescent headquarters. I went in the direction of my sister-in-law’s house, Fatina Quni. Her house is about 30 meters from mine. My children were with her at her house. On the way, neighbors told me that Israeli soldiers were in our neighborhood, so I decided to go get my children and take them home. When I got to the alleyway leading to my house, I saw three Israeli soldiers standing near the front door. I was about ten meters away from them, when one of the soldiers shouted at me in Arabic: “Go home!” I told the soldiers that this was my home and that I wanted to go inside. As I was talking to him, I heard a loud explosion inside my neighbor’s house, Rafik Abu al-Kalabat. It was a very strong explosion. The windows in the neighbors’ houses shattered. My children and I retreated a little. My daughter, ‘Ahed, went into convulsions. Her eyes opened wide, her mouth was gaping and the muscles in her hands kept contracting. She was afraid of the soldiers standing at the entrance to our house. The other children fled back in the direction of Fatina’s house.

    I took ‘Ahed to Fatina’s house, and began rubbing her hands until she was back to normal. I spent the night at Fatina’s place, because my children were really scared and refused to go back home. Around 11:00 P.M., as I was standing next to the window trying to make out what was going on in the neighborhood, I saw the neighbors’ daughter, Yusra with some Israeli soldiers. The soldiers were standing behind the door of the neighbors’ houses. I saw Yusra knocking on the door of Marwan Calbuna’s house, an old man who lives with his wife. Afterwards, Yusra left. I saw the soldiers going to Ragheb al-Khariz’ house. They blew the door open and went inside. I saw them leave the house with Ragheb al-Khariz. His eyes were covered and his hands were tied.

    Then I saw them go to ‘Amer ‘Awad’s house. He’d recently got married and lives with his wife. I saw ‘Amer leaving with the soldiers and heading in the direction of the house of another neighbor, ‘Ala’a Nazal. Then the soldiers covered Amer’s eyes and tied his hands. ‘Ala’a Nazal lives with his wife, two children (a daughter of three and a son of two), mother and 27-year-old brother who suffers from retardation. I saw the soldiers go into ‘Ala’a’s house and then saw Ala’a knocking on the door to my house.

    Then, they tied his hands and blew open the main door to the house. It didn’t work. The door stayed in its place. The soldiers left my house and went to the house of Muhammad Mubsalat, who lives with his wife, and his two year old son. saw the soldiers apprehending Muhammad Mubsalat and leading him between the house in the neighborhood. They vanished from my sight.

    At around 02:30 A.M., Friday 7 March, 2003, I went to sleep. At around 08:00 A.M., I heard a loud explosion close by. I stood close to the window to see what was going on in the neighborhood and I saw smoke rising from the western end of my house. I decided to go to my house with the keys to open the door for the soldiers, because I was afraid they would try to blow it up again. I arrived at my house and started to knock on the door from the outside. I was afraid that the soldiers inside would fire at me. At the same time, one of the soldiers came out of the alleyway next to my house and shouted at me: “Go Home”. I told him this was my home. As I was talking to him I heard soldiers speaking Hebrew inside the house. I began to shout and cry. I told the soldier, “Don’t destroy my house. I’ll open the door for you. Here, take the keys”. The soldier refused to take the keys. I didn’t know how the soldiers got in the house. As I was standing opposite the door, a soldier came from alleyway. He was holding a 20 liter bucket. The soldier poured out the contents of the bucket in the alleyway and an unpleasant smell wafted from it, like the smell of gunpowder. Smoke was coming out of it too. I got nauseous when I smelled it. I walked back about ten meters in the direction of the main road where an ambulance was passing by. The men inside saw me. They pulled over, came up to me and gave me oxygen. When I felt better, they left.

    I decided to go back home. Before I got there, I heard a loud explosion in the kitchen, which is in the eastern part of the house. I gathered that the soldiers were blowing up the houses from inside. This was around 09:00 A.M. I didn’t go into the house. I went back to my sister-in-law, Fatina’s house. When I got there, I broke down in tears because of the house I had lost. At around noon, I heard another explosion close to my home. The explosion was in my neighbor, ‘Omar Tufaha’s house. It’s close to my house. At around 01:00 P.M., I decided to go up to my place and when I got there, I found a yellow piece of plastic under the outer door. I think it was left over from the bomb the soldiers used to blow up the door. I was afraid to open the door. I didn’t hear soldiers inside the house. I went back to the street and asked some of the passersby to help me open the door.

    They helped me open the door and when I went in I saw a horror. My house has two floors. On the first floor there is a living room and a kitchen and on the second floor there are two bedrooms and a toilet. In the center of the living room, which was completely destroyed, there were some big rocks. The furniture in the room had also been destroyed. I found a broken picture of my husband with boot prints on it. I found an opening in the western wall of the room. When I went to the kitchen all I found was pieces of the fridge, the washing machine and the oven. All the appliances in the kitchen had been destroyed and burnt in the fire. I have to mention that I rent this house. It’s an old building. The explosion in the kitchen exposed an old room behind the southern wall which had been closed from all directions. When we brought the 83- year-old landlady to take a look, she told us that she had never seen that room before. When I went up to the second floor, I found that the two rooms had been completely destroyed. The television set had been destroyed and the children’s’ books had been torn. Today, my children and I are homeless.”

  • Testimony of ‘Ula Kamal Shafik ‘Awad, age 22, married and mother of four, housewife, resident of ‘Awarta in the Nablus District. The testimony was given to ‘Ali Draghmeh at the witnesses’ parents’ home on 11 March, 2003.

    ‘Ula ‘Awad and her four children (Photo: ‘Ali Draghmeh/B’Tselem)

    “I am married and live in the village of ‘Awarta, which about 15 kilometers south of Nablus. I have four children: Barakat (5), Yasmin (4), Ayman (3) and Shirin (18 months). My mother, who lives in Nablus, underwent surgery at the al-Ittihad hospital in Nablus and about ten days ago, I went there to help her out. My children came with me.

    On Thursday, 6 March, 2003, my mother was released from hospital and returned to her home in the a-Sheikh Msalam neighborhood in Nablus. That same day the Israeli army had invaded the neighborhood. In the late hours of the morning and the early hours of the afternoon we heard people knocking on the walls of the houses in the neighborhood. My mother lives in an old two-storey building. The first floor is used for storage and the second is where my family live. Around 12:30 A.M., I heard a loud explosion close to our home. I went downstairs with my children, my father (60), my mother (55), my sisters Su’ad (18), Yusra (16), and Ikhlas (12), and my sister-in-law Laila and her one-year-old son whom she was carrying in her arms. My brother, Laila’s husband, was not at home at the time. We went down the stairs that lead from the second floor directly to the outside to see what was going on. Once outside, I saw a large number of Israeli soldiers. They ordered me and the rest of the family to enter a room on the first floor. When I went inside I saw that the soldiers had blown up an opening in the western wall of the room. I figured it must have been the explosion we had heard earlier. The soldiers used the opening to enter the house adjacent to ours, the house of Ziyyad a-Samadi.

    The soldiers ordered us to sit on the floor. Some of them remained inside the room with us, while others went up to the second floor. I sat on the floor with my daughter in my lap. One of the soldiers ordered me to leave the room. I left with my daughter and the soldier ordered me to take her back inside. I was really afraid of the soldiers. Their faces were painted. They ordered me to walk in front of them and go up to my parents’ apartment. As we were going up the stairs they told me in Arabic that if they found any men inside, they would shoot them and me. I did not say a word and entered the house ahead of them. They told me to go into the rooms, one after the other. They went in after me with their rifles pointing at my back. After they made sure there was nobody in the house, they told me to go stand in a corner while they searched the house, meticulously. The search lasted until 03:00 P.M. I stood by and watched them.

    Around 03:00 P.M., the soldiers brought the rest of the family up from the first floor and made us all sit in one of the rooms in the western part of the house. The soldiers spread out in the other rooms. After about ten minutes, the soldiers ordered me to leave the room and took me to a neighbors’ house, Rafik Abu al-Kalbat. They made me knock on his door. The house is located about fifty meters from my parents’ house and has two floors. Rafik himself had passed away and his widow and her daughter, ‘Ureib, (27), live on the first floor. No one lives on the second floor. I knocked on the door several times, and one of the soldiers asked me whose house it was. I told him that as far as I knew, an old woman and her 27-year-old daughter live there. I kept on knocking on the door until ‘Urieb and her mother opened. The soldiers told them to join the members of my family in my parents’ house.

    I stayed with the soldiers. They ordered me to open the door to the second floor. I told the soldiers that there was no one there. The soldiers then ordered me to go to the woman and get the key. I went to my parents’ house and asked ‘Ureib’s mother for the key. She said she didn’t have the key and didn’t know where it was. I went back to the soldier and told him what the woman had told me. The soldier demanded that I go back to her and tell her that if she didn’t get the key, they would blow up the door. I went back to the woman and told her that the soldiers would use explosives to open the door if she didn’t hand over the key. The woman again told me that she didn’t have the key, and said the soldiers could blow up the door if they wanted to. I returned to the soldiers and relayed her message. The soldiers blew open the door. Afterwards, they ordered me to go back to my parents’ house. While we were in the room, the soldiers that were standing guard let us drink water and use the toilets only with their express permission.

    In the evening the soldiers that were in the house left, but we still heard soldiers in the area. Some hours later, the soldiers came back to the house and took my sister, Yusra. When she got back, she said that the soldiers had taken her around the neighborhood and asked her questions about different houses. Then, they ordered her to knock on the door of Marwan Calbuna’s house and when he opened the door the soldiers told her to head back home on her own. She said that she wasn’t sure whether Marwan had seen her or not, because the soldiers ordered her to go home when Marwan was still inside. After my sister came back into the house, the soldiers locked the main door from the outside with plastic strips normally used as handcuffs. In the morning, after the soldiers had left, the neighbors came and opened the door for us.”