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Settlers' murder investigation turns into collective punishment

The army has taken control over the village of Awarta, which lies near the settlement of Itamar, where 5 members of the Fogel family were murdered. According to reports, hundreds of Palestinians have been arrested, some beaten; all young men were forced to give DNA samples; settlers have built an outpost on the village’s land, which is now guarded by the Israeli army

Army roadblock inside Awarta

Ever since the terrible murder of five members of the Fogel family in the settlement of Itamar, the nearby village of Awarta is going through what is officially a murder investigation, but looks more like a form of collective punishment—some would say organized revenge — led by the IDF and Israel’s Internal Security Service (Shin Beit).

The events have been going on since March 12, when thousands of soldiers entered the village and began house-to-house searches, accompanied by dogs and Shin Bet interrogators.

Hundreds of Awarta’s 6,000 residents were arrested and questioned. According to locals, the soldiers have taken over four houses in the village and turned them into an improvised interrogation facility. Several of the Palestinians said they were beaten by the soldiers and by their interrogators.

According to reports, all the village’s men between the ages of 15 and 40 were forced to give fingerprints and DNA samples.

A door which was forced by soldiers, in Awarta

15 families have reported of damage to their homes. In several cases, Palestinians claimed that large sums of money – between 500 and 5,000 shekels – disappeared from their houses after the soldiers left. In other cases, doors were broken and furniture damaged during the searches.

Settlers have passed through the village, thrown stones on homes and broken car windows and mirrors. Settlers from nearby Itamar have also taken over private agricultural land owned by the village’s farmers and established on it a new outpost, consisting of four mobile homes and guarded by the army.

A view from Awarta. to the right: the hill now occupied by settlers

On Thursday, Palestinian news agency Maan reported that another 100 of the village’s women had been arrested and interrogated.

Awarta has been under curfew from the previous Saturday until Wednesday, and human right activists have not been allowed entrance into the village. Once the curfew was lifted, activists from the Israeli NGO “Checkpoint-Watch” managed to get to Awarta and report some of the events in the village.

The Israeli media hardly reported the events in Awarta, and the only articles that discussed the curfew and the mass arrests were a translated report of a New York Times story by Isabel Kershner, and a few comments by Akiva Eldar, both published by Haaretz a while ago.

At the time of writing, dozens of the village’s people are still under arrest. Their exact number is unknown.

Broken window in a house in Awarta

I have contacted the IDF spokesperson unit this morning (Sunday) with a series of questions regarding the mass arrests, forced DNA sampling, searches and other activities against the people of Awarta. Late afternoon, I received the following reply:

Since the Itamar murder investigation is still under way, theses issues are still being checked [which “issues”?]. IDF soldiers are present at the outpost due to the high tension in the region.

UPDATE: Maan has reported that the army has raided Awarta again yesterday. Nine Palestinians were detained, including three members of the same family, a father, a mother and their daughter.

UPDATE II: Haaretz is quoting [Hebrew] security officials who claim that a breakthrough with the Itamar murder investigation is expected “soon”, following the Army’s activities in Awarta.


Advocacy groups for Israel and government spokesmen often claim that even under the military occupation, the West Bank is governed by the rule of law. Some people say that Palestinians are not confronted by Israeli soldiers and that they are free to “run their own business” under the governing of the Palestinian Authority.

As events in Awarta prove, this is no more than propaganda. When it matters to Israel, IDF soldiers do whatever they want, wherever they want. Palestinians have no basic legal rights. No Miranda, no Habeas Corpus. When the army decides, it can detain thousands of people and invade hundreds of homes, like it is doing in Awarta right now. No warrant is needed, no specific suspicion against someone is necessary (so far, there hasn’t been one public charge against a resident of Awarta). If Palestinians are beaten, or if their property is destroyed or looted, there is nobody they can turn to.

There have been at least four murder cases of Palestinians from the region by settlers from Itamar in recent years. In the last case, the perpetrator was released on bail and didn’t show up for trial. In the one before, the settler who shot a 24 year-old Palestinian farmer in front of witnesses was never tracked down. Itamar wasn’t placed under curfew, nor were dozen of men rounded up by the police (in criminal cases the settlers are under jurisdiction of civilian authorities, not the army).

This is the occupation’s rule of law. One law for Jews, another for Palestinians.

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    1. Danny

      Thank you Noam. I hope officials in the United States and other countries still friendly to Israel (the list gets smaller by the day) see this item.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Piotr Berman

      The Cabinet determined that the killers are Palestinians, so it is military duty to assume that this is so.

      Revenge is perhaps a wrong word, because it assume avenging some wrong. Since nobody (except for the Cabinet!) knows the perpetrators, perhaps a better word is “opportunity”.

      Reply to Comment
    3. @Jon: There was no confirmation for the Thai murderer story. Seems like a false rumor.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Norman

      Yes, the broker door is a terrible terrible thing. A huge violation of human rights. This village is hosting two baby murderers, but the broken window, jesus christ now THAT is truly horrible. is the Thai rumor true or false? or god, let it be true.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Andrew

      Norman – what about the murderer of the Oshrenko family? Why didn’t his village get the same treatment? After all 2 sleeping children were brutally murdered in their home, along with their parents.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Drus

      How long is your article on the Fogel family’s murder? Where are the articles on the constant bombing from Gaza.
      Try and have a little less bias perhaps your articles will be worth more than a quick glance then.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Norman

      Andrew, I’m sure the police broke a few doors and windows to get to the Oshrenko family murderer. But you will not read here about those who had to suffer for the investigation. They are just poor Israelis with a difficult past and present and no future. No one here wants to write about those (and they are the people who will vote for the right, btw. they, also, will never read those fun entertaining articles on 972)

      Reply to Comment
    8. Leonid Levin

      Norman, it’s not about a few broken doors, it’s about land grabs, mass arrests and humiliation.
      Thses are just poor Palestinians with a very difficult past and present and no future. But I guess you don’t want to hear about them. And these articles here are no entertainment, it’s about human lives, rights and dignity, both Israeli and Palestinian.

      Reply to Comment
    9. directrob

      Maybe the IDF lost the UHDR document, here is a link to the Hebrew version:http://www.ohchr.org/EN/UDHR/Documents/UDHR_Translations/hbr.pdf
      Article 5
      No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
      Article 9
      No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.
      What happens here clearly constitute a grave infringements of human rights. It is remarkable that people like NORMAN and DRUS do not seem to care.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Eli Yaron

      One of the murderers uncle committed the same act in Itamar at 2002. A lot to be said about family tradition. Taanit Gaza, Tikkun, 972 and other “Liberal Jews” that were upset about the way Israel was searching the nearby village where the murderers lived, have yet to issue a statement. When would reality sync in?

      Reply to Comment