A Palestinian-American woman was pulled out of bed in her family’s home in the West Bank and arrested earlier this week. Now her family in the U.S. and the Biden administration are seeking information about her case.
Israel’s military says Samaher Esmail, 46, of Gretna, Louisiana, was arrested for “incitement on social media.”
Her son, who is in Louisiana, told CBS News on Wednesday that IDF soldiers forced their way into the family home in the town of Silwad, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, late Monday and took her. The son said he has not heard from her since.
A video posted to social media by her son shows what the family said were armored IDF vehicles outside their home in the West Bank. Pictures and videos shared with CBS News show the aftermath of Esmail’s arrest, which left windows broken and belongings strewn across a bedroom.
“They took her out without her hijab, her headscarf,” Samaher’s son Ibrahim Hamed told CBS News. “It’s like they didn’t even respect her.”
The IDF told CBS News in a statement on Wednesday that Esmail was arrested for “incitement on social media” and that she had been “transferred to the security forces for further questioning.” They said she was being held by Israeli police, not the military.
Some of Esmail’s posts on social media reference Hamas. Her son Hamed said his mother’s social media posts simply call for “an end to the occupation” and do not support Hamas specifically.
“A lot of Palestinians don’t support Hamas, they want to end the occupation. It’s not promoting violence to say, ‘We are strong, we’re going to go past this occupation, ‘” Hamed added.
The IDF said it could not provide any further information on the social media activity that led to her arrest.
Esmail’s sister, Sana Esmail, told CBS News in the West Bank that she was deeply concerned because Esmail has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and needs medication.
The U.S. State Department said Wednesday that it was aware of reports of an American national being arrested in the West Bank and that it was seeking additional information and stood ready “to provide all appropriate consular assistance.”
As they seek further information about her whereabouts, Esmail’s family has called on the U.S. government to do whatever it can to guarantee her safety.
“We don’t know what prison she’s in,” Hamed told CBS News. “We don’t know that much. A lot of [the information] is hearsay.”
Lawyers and human rights organizationssince shortly after the start of Israel’s operations against Hamas in Gaza over what they describe as an erosion of free speech in the country and in the occupied West Bank.
Esmail is from the same town in Louisiana as a Palestinian-American teenager, Tawfic Abdel Jabbar, who was recently killed by Israeli fire in a village near Silwad. The State Department has said it was “devastated” by the killing of 17-year-old Jabbar in the West Bank on Jan. 19.
“We continue to engage urgently with the Government of Israel surrounding the nature of Mr. Jabbar’s death, which was alarming,” a State Department spokesperson told CBS News. “We understand the Israeli government is currently investigating the incident. We urge that it be conducted expeditiously and are eager to see the findings as soon as possible, including any appropriate accountability measures that will be taken.”
Israeli police confirmed to CBS News that it was investigating the killing, which it said involved a report of a “concerning firearm discharge, ostensibly involving an off-duty law enforcement officer, a soldier, and a civilian. This discharge was directed towards a perceived threat, individuals purportedly engaged in rock-throwing activities along Highway 60.”
The police said “additional information indicated the potential fatality of a 17-year-old Palestinian due to gunfire.”
No findings from the police investigation had been released as of Wednesday evening in Israel.
Meanwhile, Esmail’s family also remains desperate for more information. “We’ve been fighting our whole lives,” Hamed said. “Where is the humanity?”