HEBRON — A green Hamas flag fluttered in the wind atop the roof of the Abu Aysha house in Hebron Tuesday afternoon. It was placed just above a gaping black hole left by the IDF-induced partial detonation of the second-floor apartment of 32-year-old Amer, suspected by Israel of kidnapping and murdering three Israeli teenagers on June 12.
Inside the house was complete devastation. A living room with sofas overturned and broken. Bathrooms littered with shattered ceramic from sinks and toilets. A bedroom clogged with scattered clothes and smashed cupboard doors. Israeli soldiers destroyed everything using sledgehammers and their personal weapons, the family said.
Muhammad Abu Aysha, Amer’s uncle, was sitting down for his iftar fast-breaking meal at around 8 p.m. when he heard on the radio that the bodies of “the three soldiers” were discovered. (The three Israelis seized near the Alon Shvut settlement south of Jerusalem and killed on June 12 were civilians: Eyal Yifrach, 19, Naftali Fraenkel, 16, and Gil-ad Shaar, 16.) The Israeli army was on its way to the Abu Aysha and Kawasme homes, it was announced. By the time he arrived at the home of his brother-in-law, the IDF had already circled it, preventing residents from approaching.
“They put 24 people in a room downstairs and started breaking everything,” he said. “We heard the destruction, the sound of shattered glass.” More than 100 soldiers arrived at the scene, he added, some entering the building and others guarding the perimeter. A few hours later, the IDF partially detonated Amer’s apartment, collapsing most of the wall overlooking the front courtyard, before retreating.
“We started putting out the fire with water we brought from the neighbors in buckets. An hour and a half later a municipality firetruck arrived,” he said.
This was not the first time the Abu Aysha household was targeted by the IDF. In 1994 it was demolished by Israeli military order after Amer’s father, Omar, was suspected of harboring Hamas fugitives. It was the early days of the Oslo process, recalled a neighbor, the Palestinian Authority had received Gaza and Jericho but Hebron was still under full Israeli control. Amer was a child of 14 at the time.
In November 2005, Amer’s brother Zeid was killed in a confrontation with IDF soldiers. Amer, his uncle said, was placed under administrative arrest for six months, then released with no charges. His father, Omar, spent a total of two years in administrative detention, which was extended, under Israeli law, every six months.
Muhammad Abu Aysha described his nephew as a solitary, religious man, who used to frequent the mosque. “It’s true he’s religious, but is every religious person a terrorist? I also go to the mosque and pray.” Amer, a father of three, owned a metal workshop in Bethlehem where he produced door and window frames. “He would go to work and come back in the evening. The most important thing in his life were his children. Whatever object they asked for, he would bring. Everyone liked him, all he wanted was to build his home and live in it.”
Amer never resurfaced since his disappearance on the evening of June 12, when he was last seen at a family party. Now, said his uncle, “we don’t know if Israel has him, if he committed the operation. I can’t say if it’s him or not.”
But he doubted the Israeli account of that evening’s events, and of the frantic 18-day search that ensued.
“We believe the Jews took him,” he told The Times of Israel. “It’s impossible for two guys to capture three soldiers. Until now, we can’t wrap our heads around it.”
The circumstances in which the three teenagers were finally found on Monday in a field outside Hebron were also implausible, Abu Aysha said. “For 18 days [since they were killed] there was no smell?” he wondered. “If a cat dies, you smell it the following day. My conclusion is that there’s a game here. Something political happened which is greater than the entire Palestinian people.”
The Abu Ayshas are well-known Hamas family in Hebron. Speaking to Times of Israel reporter Avi Isacharoff on June 27, Abu Aysha’s mother said she was proud of her son and wished he would continue to evade Israeli and Palestinian security forces.
Half a mile down the road, at the home of Marwan Kawasme, the second suspect in the killings, family members were busy emptying the house of broken furniture, loading large cupboard doors onto the back of a pickup truck. On the roof, again, a green flag was proudly affixed above a black gaping hole in the wall, and it tilted precariously outward. Kawasme’s small basement apartment was ransacked over the course of four hours Monday night, his brother-in-law Dhiaa’ Kawasme said, before soldiers blasted his older brother Bilal’s second-story apartment.
When the three Israeli teenagers were abducted and killed, Marwan’s parents were on pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. A barber in his 30s, Marwan had asked them to bring back two haircutting machines for his business. When he disappeared from sight on June 12, he left behind a wife eight months pregnant with his first child.
“This proves he just wanted to work, to earn money. He wanted to see his first child. He didn’t want to do anything [violent],” his brother-in-law said. “I think the soldiers caught him. We don’t know anything, but we’re sure it’s a game.”
Marwan, he said, was “normal and peaceful and had no hostility in him at all.”
In the devastated Kawasme kitchen, yellow tracks of broken eggs marked the wall, behind a broken portrait of one of Marwan’s older brothers. Israeli soldiers tossed the eggs against the now-cracked wall in an act of spite, family members claimed.
The IDF spokesman’s office did not respond to a request for clarification by the time of publication.
“The Israeli standing army has laws, it is civilized, not like us,” he said bitterly. “Why did they do this? Is this a way to take revenge for the three who were killed?”
A devout Muslim, Marwan was in and out of Israeli and Palestinian Authority jails since the age of 18, Dhiaa’ Kawasme said. “They claimed he was Hamas,” he said, “but could someone his age be a leader? He was basically the same age as the three kidnapped teenagers.”
The PA, the brother-in-law indicated, treated Marwan poorly in jail. He was forced to sleep on the stone floor; and once, when his mother came to visit about two years ago, she was humiliated by the guards.
“There’s no freedom of speech here, but I’m not afraid,” he said, daring the PA to arrest him for speaking on the record to a journalist.
Murad Amer, 25, an activist with the local NGO Union of Youth against the Settlements, rushed to the Abu Aysha home on Monday night upon hearing of the IDF presence.
As he spoke, three cars sped by, their young passengers waving Palestinian and Hamas flags through their open windows.
“I don’t believe that home demolitions will ever destroy Hamas,” Amer said. “On the contrary, there’s public support for Hamas in Hebron as a result of the aggression. I, for one, don’t like Hamas, but I really sympathize with these people whose homes were destroyed. I’ll always stand with my compatriot against the occupation, even if we disagree.”