Palestinian children traumatized by Israeli home invasions

AJ Staff

Al-Jazeera  /  September 23, 2021

Rights groups and medical advocates say that Israeli raids are having a dire effect on the mental health of Palestinian children.

Occupied Palestinian territories – Nidal Rajabe says his children are traumatized and in a permanent state of fear as his family home in Silwan, occupied East Jerusalem has been invaded several times by Israeli security forces.

“My children are unable to sleep at night peacefully, always fearful of the next raid by the police,” Rajabe told Al-Jazeera.

He said family members had been arrested during the raids, including his 17-year-old son Harby, but he also believes they were designed to intimidate him.

Rajabe is one of more than 1,500 Palestinian residents in Silwan facing the threat of home demolition and forced expulsion.

Israel has claimed that demolition orders are issued to people who built properties without building permits.

Palestinian residents and human rights groups contend that Israel makes it almost impossible for Palestinians to get the required building permits and that this Israeli policy is a deliberate plan to Judaize the eastern sector of the city.

Rajabe’s butchery was demolished in July for not having a building permit. His home is also under threat of demolition for the same reason.

When Israeli security forces, accompanied by bulldozers, invaded his business to carry out the demolition, Rajabe says he and several of his brothers were assaulted and jailed for a few days for resisting arrest.

Rajabe’s son Harby was shot in the back by Israeli forces during a protest against the demolition. He underwent surgery to remove shrapnel from his internal organs after the bullet exploded internally. He now struggles to walk.

“Harby has been deeply traumatized by his experience but so have my other children: Ahmed (17), Marwa (13), and twins Muhammad and Bisan (9), and it has affected their behaviour,” Rajabe told Al-Jazeera.

Human rights groups and medical advocates say that Israeli raids are having a dire effect on the mental health of Palestinian children.

A report titled A Life Exposed published late last year by three Israeli human rights organizations – Physicians for Human Rights Israel, Yesh Din and Breaking the Silence – documented the grievous mental health repercussions, including on children, of Israeli raids on Palestinian homes in the occupied West Bank.

The report was based on three years of research involving 158 interviews of Palestinians who experienced home invasions, as well as more than 40 soldiers who carried them out.

“The ever-present threat of possible invasion makes this policy a violent, oppressive tool that serves as a central element in Israel’s system of control over the Palestinian population,” the researchers said – adding that “home invasions may seriously impede daily functioning and the emotional and mental development of both adults and children”.

The raids normally lasted 80 minutes, involving anything from a handful of soldiers to approximately 30, and are usually conducted at night.

The Israeli rights groups said the Israeli security forces conducted raids on Palestinian homes to search for money, weapons or other items; to make arrests; to scope out the physical features of the house and the identity of its occupants; and to seize for operational security needs, like setting up an observation post.

But while the military claimed these raids were for security reasons, the authors of the report concluded that they were used foremost as a tool for “creating deterrence and intimidation to increase military control over the population”.

Citing the report, alongside other research, an editorial in the BMJ Paediatrics Open journal published last week said that the way the home invasions are conducted is a violation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child – which Israel has ratified.

“Home invasions by the Israeli military are characterized by unjustifiable and excessive use of force, arbitrariness, unpredictability and frequency, leaving families and individuals vulnerable to the decisions of soldiers, who hold immense power,” the editorial stated.

“They inflict psychological damage on both individuals and communities, as they involve a sudden, forced intrusion into the victims’ private space along with a real threat of physical harm.”

The editorial called on Israeli and international paediatric organizations to speak up on behalf of the children traumatized by Israeli raids and “act as representatives of the children who have no voice and appeal to the Israeli government to end these critically harmful practices”.

The editorial said that the forcible home invasions come amid already high levels of trauma, citing research that suggested the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among children living in the occupied West Bank is estimated to be 34.1 percent to 50.4 percent, compared with an average of 6.8 percent to 12.2 percent worldwide.

The Israeli authorities did not respond to a request to comment on this story.

‘His arrest shocked us’

Khalid Shteiwi (15), from the village of Kafr Qaddoum, near Nablus in the northern West Bank, still lives in fear of being detained again after he was arrested two years ago and imprisoned for four days.

“I didn’t expect to be arrested when the soldiers came as it is usually my father who is arrested so I was very surprised when they blindfolded me and took me away in a military jeep because I didn’t know where they were taking me or what they planned to do to me,” Khalid told Al-Jazeera.

During his interrogation he was accused of taking part in protests and after his release, the teenager found it hard to articulate his experiences and was withdrawn. He said he was beaten and not given food or water for hours during his time in custody.

“We had to watch him closely and give him a lot of support because his arrest shocked us all,” his father Murad Shteiwi told Al-Jazeera.

Murad Shteiwi is one of the main organizers of Kafr Qaddoum’s weekly protests against the expropriation by the Israeli authorities of large tracts of village land for the benefit of the neighbouring illegal settlement of Qadumim.

The expropriation has blocked a village road leading to the nearest commercial city of Nablus, forcing villagers to take a longer, circuitous route to reach the city.

“My other children are still scared by previous raids into my home to arrest me and the regular targeting of our house with tear gas and rubber bullets,” said Shteiwi.

“But as resistance to the Israeli occupation is part of my commitment as a member of the committee involved in the protests, I’m in a better position to explain the situation to my children and offer them the necessary emotional and psychological support. Other children in the village are not so lucky.”

Meanwhile, the Tamimi family in Nabi Saleh village, near Ramallah, are grieving over the loss of their son Muhammad Tamimi (17), who died in August after Israeli soldiers shot him in the back three times with live ammunition during a raid on the village.

“Muhammad was in the back yard when the soldiers shot tear gas into our home, forcing me to take the other young children into the inner rooms of the home for their safety,” his mother Bara Tamimi told Al-Jazeera as she recalled the events leading up to Muhammad’s killing.

“My youngest son, Omar, who is three, still repeatedly asks where Muhammad is and calls for him.”