Israeli Soldiers Use Palestinians to Train Army Dogs, Activist Says

Report claims IDF troops order West Bank residents to exit cars and wait, as dogs seek training explosive devices; army spokesman: Soldiers conduct searches to increase Israelis' safety.

Soldiers from an elite IDF canine unit have been confiscating Palestinian vehicles in order to train their explosive-detecting dogs, an activist monitoring the conduct of soldiers in checkpoints told Haaretz.

The unit in question is Oketz, directly subordinate to IDF command, and which, among other duties, trains dogs to locate weapons and explosives. Its training base is located in the Adam base west of Ramallah.

According to Tamar Fleischman, Oketz soldiers have been randomly stopping Palestinian vehicles in the last few weeks as they pass through the Jaba checkpoint, near the city of Ramallah.

The soldiers then reportedly order the passengers to exit and display their identification cards, with one soldier positioned with his weapon aimed at the Palestinians.

At that point, Fleischman said, a dog handler places an object inside the vehicle, which the dog is then sent to find, an receiving a treat upon its retrieval. The passengers then receive their IDs, and are allowed to return to the vehicle. The entire process usually takes around ten minutes.

Earlier this week, Fleischman reported that in one such session the dog was unable to locate the hidden object, prompting a soldier to crawl through the vehicle until it was found, with the passengers looking on as another soldier pointed his rifle at them.

According to Breaking the Silence, an NGO, which collects the testimonies of IDF soldiers serving in the occupied territories, the training of Oketz personnel and dogs using Palestinian vehicles has been performed in the past as well.

One testimony, given by a female dog handler, relates to the period from 2007 to 2009. She said that the soldiers were present at the checkpoints "only to train the dogs."

"We hide something in the case…like a [rifle] magazine. In the unit we use something called a snapir [fin], a stainless steel canister holding explosives held in a net, that keeps material, but allows scent to filter out," she said, adding that the container holds the blast in case it's dropped, "so no one can get hurt."

The past dog handler said that Oketz soldiers take the vessel with them "to the checkpoints, and hide it in Palestinian vehicles and then the dog looks for it…. The justification for the action is 'deterrent,' the passengers don’t know we're really not inspecting the vehicle."

"This happens all year, even if it's raining outside," she said.

According to testimonials, the training isn't time-bound, with sessions sometimes lasting for an hour, sometime three.

In one instance, three of four dogs were loaded onto a pickup truck, and driven to a checkpoint near the Adam base. At the Na'alin checkpoint, used by both Israelis and Palestinians, soldiers would stop "every Arab passing by, even if his wife was giving birth."

"Countless settlers pass through there, but you would never inspect those vehicles, she said, adding that the dog handlers made sure to ask the passengers to remove Korans and prayer rugs from the vehicles, as they they  would not be defiled by the dogs.

Speaking to Haaretz, Fleischman said that dog handlers have attempted to prevent her and other activists from filming the process from the other side of the checkpoint. In one instance, they did film, but the soldiers yelled out that they were being put at risk, adding that they had security clearance. They then stopped the training, and put the dog into a special cage, releasing him and resuming the session once Fleischman and the other activists walked away.

The IDF Spokesman's Office said in response that "following the appeal, the issue will be thoroughly examined. As a rule, the IDF conducts inspections in West Bank checkpoints as part of its routine activity, in an attempt to ensure the safety of Israel's citizens."

Tamar Fleischman