Eyewitness Account of a Home Invasion, Seida

By Aaron Lakoff
January 23, 2005 - Seida, Palestine

Seida is a Palestinian village of 3000 people, just to the north east of Tulkarm. It is surrounded by rolling hills, olive tree groves, and like all Palestinian towns in the north of the West Bank, the separation wall. Israel built this massive wall for one reason (according to them), and that was to keep the Palestinians out. One would assume then that this would mean one things for the IDF – that they keep out themselves. Their security interests should be finished here, but unfortunately for everyone, they aren’t.
We are invited into the home of Haroon. Haroon is a nurse in Tulkarm. He lives in a house with many of his family members. He and his wife and children are on the first floor, and his mother and some of the sisters are on the second floor. The family is well-educated, friendly, and welcoming. They smile and entertain us, but it is a feigned act. They know the inevitable in looming; the army will come tonight looking for two brothers whose whereabouts are unknown.
After a large meal of pita bread, chips, salad, olives, and hummus, the family gathers around the table to talk informally and joke over endless cups of tea. We are discussing with the family what to do if the army comes to their house tonight. To us foreigners, it seems so surreal, but to the family here, it is a grim reality.
However, there is hardly time to ponder over this. The rain starts to pour down, and the night has suddenly become movie-like. It’s all too ominous.
In a flash, the whole family is up from the table and peering out the windows. They have heard the army arriving.
At approximately 9:10pm, with intense shock, the front door is kicked open as we are standing right there. The first soldier points his gun at my chest, and we immediately have our hands in the air. The reality of this situation hasn’t sunken in yet, but it will soon. There is somewhat of a sobering effect to starring down the barrel of a gun. The fact that a 19-year old is holding it makes it much harder to digest.
Immediately the soldiers start asking “Where is Abed?! Where is Ahmed?!” We are trying to reason with them to keep calm and find out what they’re doing. The fact that my knees are trembling like jelly doesn’t make it any easier.
The whole family, babies and all, are ordered out in the cold rain. At this pint seven soldiers have come into the house, and are preparing to search it. Thankfully, we negotiate with the soldiers to get the kids out of the rain, and soon after we all follow back inside.
Once inside, we are all rushed into the living room, and ordered with guns aimed at us all, to sit down. I can’t help but feel like the family are being treated like prisoners in their own home. We keep pressing the soldiers, asking them how long they will take and telling them that there are now weapons in the house and therefore no need to be aggressive. With each attempt at communication, we are told to shut up by young soldiers with arrogant grins on their faces. But still they are pointing their guns in the childrens’faces as three generations of family sits by watching! We tell them this is unnecessary, and they lower their guns, still smirking at us.
One of the more talkative soldiers tells me their search will take no more than 30 minutes, but after 50 minutes of sitting in the living room and being held captive, we realize this is a bold-faced lie.
Now they start taking the adult men out of the room and questioning them in another room. We hear the soldiers saying, “Where did you find these strangers? Why are they here?!?” to which one of the brothers replies defiantly, “They arrived here by taxi.” The clever truth.
Our presence is definitely making a difference in this situation. While we aren’t allowed to talk to the soldiers or ask them questions or answer our phones, they do bring the family blankets and water. They’re even letting people leave to go to the toilets – certainly an irregularity. The soldiers are ransacking some of the rooms, looking for evidence. They return with photos, demanding to know which are the wanted men. The whole time, the soldiers are speaking and not shouting, a big difference from their last visit.
As I sit on the couch with everyone, feeling somewhat useless, I think to myself, “why should any child have to live through this madness? This is terrorism.” Some of the young children are crying and cowering behind their mothers.
At one point, one of the soldiers brings a suspicious-looking case out of a room, only to find it contains a pool cue. Way to go, boys.
Finally, at about 10:25pm, the soldiers are on their way out. We ask when they are coming back, and they tell us, “none of your business.” And as the icing on the cake, one of the soldiers has the gaul to say to Haroon, “if you know what’s best for your kids, you will stop smoking,” and marches out, so proud of himself.
This has been a much shorter invasion than normal. Usually they can last three or four hours.
After the soldiers sit in jeeps out front for another then minutes before finally leaving the family alone, but possibly moving on to another house.
This is a classic case of collective punishment. Whether the two wanted men are guilty or not of their crimes doesn’t matter to the IDF – the whole family will pay for it, and they will pay because they are Palestinian.
As Mohammed, another brother explains later on, “My brothers are 21 and 30. I can’t control what they do.” Certainly not, but the IDF will treat him as if he can.
I am left trembling, weak, and with a sick and disgusted feeling in my gut. I saw people treated as targets tonight. And we can only wait until tomorrow.