Israel Defense Forces troops conducted a predawn raid on Palestinian nongovernmental organizations in Ramallah on Tuesday. IDF raids in cities and villages throughout the West Bank, along with nighttime arrests of people in their homes, happen every day. Therefore, Ramallah residents wondered whether this was just a matter of routine military bureaucracy, which always searches for accessible targets, or whether there was a special message in raiding the offices of civil-society organizations: Addameer, the Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association; the Union of Palestinian Women Committees; and the Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations Network.
Palestinian security sources said that shortly before the raid, the Palestinian police were informed that an IDF force was about to enter Ramallah, as is standard practice under the rules of security coordination. But the sources told Addameer employees that the IDF did not indicate the target of the raid.
The IDF jeeps were seen entering Ramallah from three directions at about 1 A.M. In coordinated fashion, they converged on two points: the relatively new building in which Addameer and PNGO are quartered, located on Edward Said Street in a well-off neighborhood of the city, and the UPWC office in the small Qadura refugee camp, which is near the government hospital.
A security camera belonging to a resident of Edward Said Street managed to capture the movement of some of the vehicles. Four army jeeps positioned themselves below the building, and soldiers disembarked from them. Other cameras documented part of the raid on the old building in the Qadura refugee camp. They recorded eight or nine jeeps, along with unmasked soldiers carrying cardboard boxes containing their plunder.
Residents of Edward Said Street, which is more middle-class in character, did not phone Addameer workers to tell them what was going on in real time. However, they said, they did inform the Palestinian police. Residents of the Qadura camp, who were awakened by the sound of the jeeps, quickly contacted UPWC activists. One said that youngsters threw stones at the soldiers, who tried to disperse them with tear gas.
The simultaneous raids on the two buildings lasted about an hour and a half. The soldiers left behind broken doors, file folders and their contents strewn all over the floor, cupboards that had been forced open, empty drawers and torn-up posters (featuring, for instance, hunger striking prisoners or maps of Palestine ).
The soldiers left Addameer with four laptop computers, a video camera, a hard drive, and business cards belonging to employees of the organization, which supplies legal aid to many Palestinian detainees at military courts. Other computers in the office were not confiscated.
The office on the other side of the building, belonging to PNGO, was also raided, but neither the computers nor any other equipment were confiscated.
At the office of UPWC, which was founded in 1980, soldiers confiscated seven computers, four hard drives, camera memory cards, an external hard drive and a projector. Experience teaches that the security agencies don't return such confiscated equipment, even after all the data they contain have been copied.
The UPWC office's cash box contained NIS 3,000, but the money was nowhere to be found after the raid, one of its employees told Haaretz on Wednesday. Four iron doors and one wooden door were damaged during the raid. Soldiers wrote a number on each door or glass partition.
Also taken from the office were an embroidered girl's dress, hand-made in the 1980s; posters of George Habash, the deceased leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine; and posters of Jawaher Abu Rahma from Bil'in, who died after inhaling tear gas fired by IDF soldiers to disperse a demonstration on December 31, 2010.
Nor were those the only things confiscated from the office of the UPWC, which operates 21 preschools and day-care centers in the poorest communities of the West Bank. Also taken was a box containing 60 children's T-shirts that bore the name Ghassan Kanafani, a Palestinian writer born in Acre who served as one of the PFLP's spokesmen and was assassinated by Israel in 1972 (UPWC nursery schools are named after him ); a box containing ceramic thank-you plaques inscribed with drawings of a woman's head; children toys; children's drawings; and books and puzzles.
The room left in the worst state of disarray was a small one belonging to the person who runs the preschool network, Nadia Tamaizi. Two other women, who work on special children's projects, share the room with her. Tamaizi, who suffers from back problems, said she uses a special chair that looks more "important" than the other chairs. She therefore speculated that the soldiers thought the chair belonged to the organization's executive director.
After workers got over the shock of seeing the raided offices, and after they had finished picking up the scattered papers and files, putting them back where they belonged, bringing in carpenters to repair the doors and writing statements for the press, they all returned to their regular work: visiting preschools, defending detainees, monitoring the state of Palestinian prisoners staging hunger strikes, and keeping posted on overseas activities to encourage a boycott and sanctions on Israel.
"Our lawyers can be found at military courts all the time. If they are dangerous - if we are dangerous to Israel's security - why don't they come to arrest us?" one of Addameer's researchers asked defiantly.
Two months ago, one of Addameer's researchers was arrested: Ayman Nasser, 42, from the village of Saffa. He was interrogated by the Shin Bet security service for 39 days. The interrogation yielded a meager indictment for membership in the PFLP and participation in two rallies. Nasser denies membership in the PFLP, and also denies being involved in one of the rallies. As for the other demonstration, staged to support the prisoners during their mass hunger strike last April, this was a pan-Palestinian event, not specifically a PFLP rally, he said.
Nasser's attorney, Mahmoud Hassan, said the prosecution also relied on testimony indicating that somebody had told Nasser about his intention to shoot Israelis, but that Nasser had yelled at him in response, telling him that was the wrong way to think.
Nasser told his attorney that he was tortured during the Shin Bet interrogation, held in isolation and deprived of sleep for long hours. He said he was held for 20 consecutive hours with his arms cuffed behind his back and fastened to the back of the chair, and his legs cuffed to the chair's legs. He said he was in pain but never received adequate treatment.
The Shin Bet spokesman told journalist Hagai Matar (who wrote about the detention on the 972 website ) that during his interrogation, Nasser was examined several times by a physician who confirmed that he was in adequate health for continued questioning. The spokesman told Matar that the Shin Bet complied in full with the doctor's instructions. He also denied the allegations about torture: The interrogation complied with relevant laws, and Nasser's rights were upheld, the spokesman said.
In response to Haaretz's inquiries about the raid on the NGOs, the IDF Spokesman said, "Overnight on Tuesday, searches were conducted of offices used by a terrorist organization, the PFLP, in Ramallah. During these searches, devices, items and documents suspected of being used by this terrorist organization were confiscated."
"Terrorist" is a convenient word to silence any questions about the reasonability of such raids. But for the three Palestinian NGOs, the raids are "just what you would expect from an occupying regime." Just like in the past, during the first intifada, they said, the IDF and Shin Bet are targeting civil-society organizations that do what is natural and self-evident: resist the foreign regime.