Getting My Head Kicked In — in the Palestinian Territories

"It sounded like hell when they war-cried and smashed a door a floor below. As they came in, I experienced true fear."

Source Uriel Sinai/Getty

Why you should care

It’s slow going on almost any road to peace. 

It was about 2:30 am when they came.

We’d been awake for around 60 hours, watching them come, make plans and then go. It’s not unheard of for the Israeli military to come to a village in the dead of night to attempt a demolition — morale and energy are lower, the majority of the press is sleeping. It’s just easier.

I’d arrived in the Palestinian Territories a month before with my wife. Working with an organization, we’d covered the cutting off of water supplies to farming communities; multiple injuries and deaths; the cultural resistances of shopkeepers, artists and craftsmen; the slow breaking up of the West Bank; and a 9-year-old who was sitting on a doorstep and got shot in the head by a stray bullet.

I was to begin a narrative for a documentary earlier that week. Dialogue, footage and interviews were already in hand. But for days we’d been in Wadi al-Hummus, a small village in Sur Baher, Jerusalem, observing the military as they scouted buildings that they planned to demolish.

They said go. But every time I tried to stand they would punch and kick me back down.

This was Area A, a Palestinian authorized area. We’d been staying with a family in their home. On our final night, we had prepared for a morning visit from the authorities, and we had discussed, as international activists with some semblance of immunity, direct action — in this case, peaceful occupation of this family-owned home. They had built it themselves, and the teens had lived in it their whole lives. This new demolition order had come by way of an unpublicized order to keep all building work about 820 feet from the fence that the Israeli forces had made after this house was built.

The border police cut through their own security fence around 2:30 am on the final night, just as we had started to rest. We hadn’t slept the two previous nights; tensions were too high, and they’d kept showing up to point fingers, wave and smile. They’d surrounded the entire village by 3 am to close off entry and exit points. No press were getting in. The world wasn’t watching.

They planted explosives on every floor of an adjacent building, just 100 feet away from the home where we were. Buses of soldiers came, roughly 1,000 of them, hyped up, laughing and ready for one village of about 150 people. Construction and destruction machines came. Then they sneaked through and surrounded the home.

 

Four of us chained ourselves to each other and sat in the small cramped bathroom to delay their eviction, while four more sat in the girl’s bedroom doing the same.

They stormed it. And it sounded like hell when they war-cried and smashed a door a floor below. As they came in, I experienced true fear. Their roars sounded like thousands, not hundreds. Sound grenades and rubber bullets inside. Close range. 

One of the many illegal acts to come. Screams, choking from tear gas.

They smashed through the bathroom door, saw us bent and chained together, eyes closed; they laughed and threw multiple tear gas canisters into the tiny unventilated room and slammed the door. We began to choke. I breathed very slowly into a colleague’s shoulder to try and minimize the suffocation. They eventually smashed the door down, screaming, and punched and pulled at us until my legs were pulled from underneath me.

image4

A view from the house.

Source Chris Richardson

I was lifted off the floor, and then one soldier started stamping on my head, throat and torso. My head crashed into the tile. They pulled at my colleague’s hair and pepper-sprayed us, dragging us into the living room as they tore us apart, cutting our wrists in the process. When I heard and saw my wife screaming, I reached out to her, and they stomped on my arm and held me down.

I saw through punches and kicks that my colleague was being strangled with her own scarf and pulled off the ground by her hair. Their faces were angry, but they were laughing. I said, “OK, enough, we will leave.”

They said go. But every time I tried to stand they would punch and kick me back down, and they laughed while they dragged my wife and my friends and the family. I eventually got to the stairs, and they threw me through a table. It smashed beneath my weight and my first thought was, “Oh, man, I’ve broken their table. The one they fed us on.”

I was then thrown down the stairwell into the world’s worst mosh pit. Through punches I pushed my way back through to find my wife. I saw my colleague bleeding and screaming on the floor, so I picked her up and carried her toward the exit and got her out. I was pulled back and had my arm twisted behind my back. I twisted out of that and was pushed toward an opening that led to a steep drop. I screamed and pushed back purely out of fear of the drop, but I was thrown out by the same bastard who had stomped on me so many times earlier.

I grabbed his uniform and we fell down together. I saw his face as we toppled, with him punching me the whole way. I saw my wife and climbed to her, and I saw another colleague drop to her knees screaming as they pepper-sprayed her. They pushed us up a hill as they cocked their guns and laughed, making loud noises to simulate shots. It felt like they were going to line us up and shoot us.

We were looking at them all, asking why, asking how. Eventually, we came to a road, and they got in their cars and drove back to demolish everything. The boys cried. I cried. Then the boys took us to the hospital. They saved us, even though we couldn’t save their home.

Israeli laws, international laws — broken. Peaceful action somehow warranted hundreds of laughing soldiers treating us all — Palestinian women, children and men; internationals — like prey. We couldn’t, and didn’t, manage to stop that onslaught. Is the world watching now?

During the United Nations Human Rights Council’s 41st session in Geneva this year (June 24–July 12), statements were delivered calling for the cessation of the Israeli government’s demolition of Palestinian homes and buildings in southeast Jerusalem’s Wadi al-Hummus region, where 16 large buildings, home to 500 Palestinian people, have been destroyed.

OZYTrue Story

Good stories from around the globe. Essays and immersion, into the harrowing, the sweet, the surprising — the human.