Nablus, occupied West Bank – Rubble, destroyed window frames, remnants of a couch shrouded in dust and debris – that is all that was left of the 130sq-metre (1,300sq-feet) home of the al-Jouri family.
Overnight into Thursday, Israeli soldiers, backed by armoured vehicles and bulldozers, surrounded the three-bedroom apartment in Nablus, filling it with explosives and blowing it to smithereens.
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The destroyed apartment on the second floor of a residential building was once home to five people: mother Tamara, father Hani, and their three children: Kamal, now 23, Mohammed, 22 and Usaid, 16.
Kamal and Mohammed are prisoners in Israeli jails, the former having been accused of killing a soldier in October in a drive-by shooting in the northern occupied West Bank.
Kamal, who the army claimed was a member of the Lion’s Den, a small armed group, was arrested in February and Israeli forces demolished the second suspect’s home earlier this month, in a continuation of Israel’s collective punishment policy that destroys that homes of accused individuals, making their families homeless.
The Israeli military has claimed it was to deter Palestinians from carrying out any acts of resistance against their forces or settlers. Kamal’s mother, father and younger brother were made homeless.
“We were expecting them [the Israeli army], but we didn’t anticipate that they would come this quickly,” said Tamara.
“Since the Israeli military issued an order to demolish our home two weeks ago, Usaid and I have been staying with my mother nearby – we haven’t been sleeping at home.”
Tamara tried as best she could to clear the house of furniture and personal belongings in those two weeks, hurrying to save all the mementoes and pictures she could, packing them carefully and storing them wherever she could in relatives’ homes.
“When I was packing up the house before it was destroyed, all I felt was pain … agonising pain. Especially when I put away the boys’ clothes and packed up their bedrooms,” she said.
“We have nowhere to go now.”
The father, Hani, slept on a mattress on the floor of the apartment, refusing to leave. On the night the home was demolished, he had just stepped out to grab a bite to eat at his mother’s house nearby when he heard that the Israeli army was in his home.
He struggled to get back in his apartment, but the soldiers stopped him and he had to stand and watch as his home was blown up.
“I can’t describe my feelings. I wanted to be there but they [the Israeli army] forbade me from approaching.
“Kamal and Mohammed’s childhoods were spent in this home. Their memories are here. God give me the patience to withstand the pain of losing the place that held those memories,” Hani said, still stunned.
The military demolished the apartment and issued an order stipulating that the family cannot rebuild it. “If we do, they can demolish once again at any point,” Hani said.
Her voice faint and her face pale, Tamara gave a tour of the rubble that was once her home.
“This used to be the living room. And over here was the dining room,” she said, pointing at sofas and dining chairs covered in rubble and dust, making them ghostly in presence.
She took a few steps towards a room in a corner of the apartment and said, “This used to be the kitchen,” pointing to a corner that bears no resemblance to the place where she used to prepare lovely meals for her husband and growing boys for so many years.
The terrace had collapsed and in its place, a gaping hole stared back at her.
“We used to sit out here all the time,” she added. She took a few more steps into a hallway that opened onto a bathroom. A towel that was once pink hung on a hook, intact but coated in cement dust. Shampoo and a bar of soap peeked out of a heap of rubble.
The explosion shook the entire neighbourhood, Tamara said. With little else they could do, Palestinian youth threw stones at the invading forces, trying in vain to deter them from destroying yet another home. They were tear gassed – so much so that about 165 people were treated for tear-gas inhalation, according to the Red Crescent Society in Nablus.
“When I heard the explosion, I was not fazed. But when I got to the house and saw the wreckage, I felt pain and agony. Our hopes and memories were wiped out in a split second. But then, I snapped out of it. I told myself I have to be strong. I have two sons who are detainees – I have to be strong for them,” she told Al Jazeera.
“The house was full of memories of my children. Memories of special events, like Ramadan, and Eid. Unfortunately, the Israeli occupation is trying to destroy these memories.”