Collective punishment in Awarta continues
By Ana Thorne and James Knoop
Mazen Awwad with four of his children. Photo by Lazar Simeonov.Awarta – The Awwad family have been through a lot since March 2011, from multiple house raids by the Israeli occupation soldiers, harassment, witnessing wild pigs ruin their crops, to interrogation summonings for the father, heart disease and various illnesses for the mother, and a whole lot of trauma for the young children.
October 6, 2012
Last month on September 4th, at approximately 10 pm, the family’s home was raided again. The soldiers came at night and sawed the front door open, even though the mother, Nouf, tried to explain to them that they didn’t have to do that as she could just open the door. She was ignored and her words fell on deaf ears as the soldiers forced their way in.
The soldiers pointed their guns and aimed the laser light at the children. Their father Mazen, who works as a farmer, was still not at home. The soldiers ordered the family to lock themselves up in one room and then proceeded to wreak havoc inside the house, destroying furniture, throwing frames from the wall on the ground, and slashing pillows.
"Look at this pillow," Nouf said. "My children gave it to me for Mother’s Day. The soldiers ran their knives through it and took the stuffing out."
The pillow, adorned with a glittery silver M for "mother" looked fine on one side. Turned over, Nouf’s attempt to mend the pillow through her jagged sewing stuck out like an ugly scar.
The soldiers then ordered the oldest son, 22 year old university student George to come to the living room for interrogation. Nouf was also called in, and as she kept protesting about the soldiers’ presence in her home she was told to shut up. She refused to do so, and one soldier threw a vase at her head which she managed to elude as it shattered into the wall.
By then, Mazen had arrived and saw his house entirely surrounded by soldiers. His son George was already in handcuffs by then, being led away to one of the army vehicles.
Last time George was arrested it was to stand as a witness against his younger brother Hakim and to testify against his cousin. As a result, he spent five months in prison under interrogation. The parents had to pay a 3000 shekel bail in order to secure George’s release.
The recent arrest of George in September worries his father because he will be missing out on his last year at the An-Najah University where George is studying economics. Mazen explained that normally low income families get financial help in the aftermath of the imprisonment of a family member, but the Awwad family despite filling out various applications received no such aid from the Ministry of Prisoner Affairs, and the bail was paid by the family’s own money.
Inside the living room, an intelligence officer who had previously interrogated Mazen before, threatened him with a knife and said in Arabic that the harassment of the family and the destroying of the house was a punishment for giving "birth to Hakim and to teach a lesson to the entire village."
Charged with murder, Hakim’s story won’t be heard
Hakim is the Awwad’s second oldest son, and was a 17 year old high school senior when he was arrested by the IOF on April 5th 2011. His arrest was part of the village crackdown by the Israeli army, who had carried out over 600 arrests and blockaded the village in response to the brutal murder of five members of the Fogel family a month earlier in the encroaching illegal settlement on Awarta’s land, Itamar.
Before charging anyone with the murder of the settler family, the village of Awarta was subjected to repeated forms of collective punishment by the Israeli army, including mass arrests, house raids, imprisonment and interrogations without charges, and village-wide closures. The villagers have all been subject to a massive investigation and humiliating procedures, such as taking DNA samples from the women arrested, and these measures have not desisted a year and a half later.
Nouf herself was arrested as part of this intimidation campaign, as well as her oldest daughter Julia. At 1 am, soldiers arrested Nouf from her home. She was still breastfeeding her youngest daughter Shahd at that time, and during her detention she kept asking the soldiers to bring her baby to her, but they refused. She was released the following night at 11 pm, meaning that the daughter was left without food for 22 hours.
Mazen was summoned for investigation before the arrest of Hakim. As he arrived to the military base he was blindfolded, handcuffed, insulted and questioned for over 15 hours about Hakim’s involvement in the killings. He was told to go back to the village and tell how Hakim committed the murders, and when he refused the Israeli soldiers kept twisting his arm.
The Israeli investigation was put under a gag order until it was completed, and when it was lifted it was revealed that two young men had confessed.
Hakim and Amjad 'Awwad (not related), aged 17 and 19, were tried and found guilty by Salem Miliarty Court for the stabbing the parents and two of the three young children – including a 3 month-old baby- to death. The third child was shot with an F-16 automatic rifle.
A year prior to the Fogel family slaying, two young males, Saleh and Muhammad, cousins aged 18 and 19, were attacked by Israeli settlers while working in their fields and later shot and killed by the Israeli army when they tried to intervene. The Fogel family slaying were said to be in retribution for the attacks.
Despite this, many community members were convinced that a Philippine or Thai gardener was likely responsible, after not receiving payment for his work for the Fogels. A story in the Palestinian media ran to this effect. There remains doubt as to whether the confessions were forced or not, as during the whole court case and investigation, only the Israeli side was heard.
The investigation revealed that Hakim and Amjad decided to carry out the attack just a few hours after they developed the plan. They left the village at 9 pm under cover of rain and traveled by foot for ten minutes before reaching the settlement. The young men then climbed the security fence and infiltrated the settlement, breaking into a settler house and stealing the F-16 automatic rifle and several magazines that were used in the crime.
Then, they broke into the Fogel family home and proceeded with the killings by stabbing four people and shooting the fifth. Gunfire was not heard by the neighbors on account of the weather.
They left the settlement around 11 pm and the crime was discovered by the daughter of the family who had just arrived home. Hakim and Amjad were said to have received help from Hakim’s uncle, Selah 'Awwad, a former political prisoner and PFLP member. The uncle helped hide the knives that were used in the attack as well as burn the clothes the boys were wearing.
"I have no way of knowing whether my son committed this atrocious act or not," said Mazen. "I haven’t been able to see or talk to him since his arrest, and it’s been 17 months. Everything that we heard about from the investigation was told to me personally while I was under interrogation by the Israeli intelligence officer. I haven’t, nor will I be able to, hear Hakim’s story."
"He didn’t do it," Nouf declared. "My son is not a murderer. He’s a good boy, and helped his younger brother a lot. How could he murder a whole family and then go to school a few hours later? His behavior did not change at all, there was nothing suspicious about the way he acted."
Traumatized children, exhausted parents
Another raid on the 'Awwad family had taken place on August 29th at 3 am. The Israeli soldiers besieged the family’s property and forced the family to wait outside, while they ransacked the house. The family was brought into the house and one of the soldiers stamped on the youngest son’s legs.
Nouf explains that her youngest son, 9 year old Jibril was born with leg problems and was not able to walk properly. He has been through several operations and had both of his legs set in cast.
"How will he grow up?" she says with a sad look in her eyes, "He is too psychologically twisted."
There are lot of things that scare the children. They get very afraid when someone is knocking on the door, and they suffer from nightmares and often scream at night. They have lost their appetite and have problems with concentrating in school. 10 year old Noor used to be one of the cleverest in the school, but ".. now she can hardly open a book," says Nouf.
Mazen relayed that no local or international organization had offered to help the family cope with the raids, nor with providing legal services to prove Hakim’s innocence, or at the very least to reopen the investigation and conduct it with impartiality.
"I have six other children to take care of as well – what can I do?" he said with an empty look in his eyes. "Hakim has been sentenced to 500 years in prison."
"What have we done to deserve all this?" Nouf asks in exhaustion. "We are banned from visiting our son. Only his elderly grandmother and 10 year old sister are able to go."
It is hard to say whether Amjad and Hakim Awwad really committed the crime mainly because, as mentioned before, during the most important time of the case the Israeli authorities placed a gag on the whole case, and it was first removed after the boys had confessed.
But one thing is for sure – the collective punishment of the whole village and especially the Awwad family is strictly against all rules, which by mutual sources (UN, Al Haq, B’Tselem has been labeled as an enormous violation of the Human Rights and especially Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention where it is stated that collective penalties, intimidations or terrorism is strictly prohibited.
Nouf’s following comment says it all: "Where is the democracy they talk about? What the soldiers did to us does not measure up to even the worst horror movie. Even if Hakim committed the killings, does the family deserve so much punishment?"