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The Dark Knights of the Israeli Army: Are Soldiers Teaming Up With Settlers?

Were sheep really almost stolen from the illegal outpost of Havat Maon - or did its residents use soldiers to harass residents of the nearby village of a-Tawani?

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Amira Hass
Amira Hass

On Sunday, October 6, residents of the unauthorized and illegal West Bank outpost of Havat Maon suspected that someone was trying to steal sheep from the flock owned by Yehoshafat Tor. “A resident of Havat Maon spotted two suspicious people on the farm’s land,” declared a news item on the right-wing website Hakol Hayehudi (“The Jewish Voice”). The item went on to explain, “Despite the looming suspicion that this was a criminal act, Israeli army troops decided to initiate the procedure known as ‘Dark Knight 3,’ pointing to the suspicion that an armed terrorist had infiltrated the community. Nearby communities were also alerted that an infiltration might have taken place.”

At nightfall, the dark knights raided the nearby Palestinian village of a-Tawani, whose olive trees are vandalized at least once a month (as of press time, the last time this happened was October 4). The police and the army never catch the vandals. This is the village whose residents are frequently stopped by certain Israelis from taking their animals out to pasture while the army stands idly by or actively stops them as well. This is the village where children cannot attend school without an escort, either from the army or international peace activists, for fear of being attacked by Havat Maon residents.

A single flash bomb got the village’s inhabitants out of their homes, and they discovered settlers in their village. “There are settlers in the village, there are settlers in the village,” they shouted. When the settlers began walking toward the school, the residents followed. “We asked them why they had entered the village, and they didn’t answer,” Mahmoud Salman told Eitay Mack, an independent lawyer. They had flashlights, which they pointed at homes and school and trees. Then they went toward the wadi. Then the villagers saw soldiers with the settlers. “We asked the soldiers why there were settlers in the village, but they didn’t answer,” Salman said. At that point, the soldiers began searching homes.

Salman’s father, Salman Rabai, 68, heard knocking so loud that it shook the front door, and the soldiers shouting “Open up, open up!” Rabai, who describes himself as ill and elderly, limped toward the door, leaning on his cane. When he opened the door, the dark knights aimed their rifles at him. They kept the weapons trained on him as he limped, on their orders, to every door in the house and opened each one.

“I asked them what they wanted,” Rabai told Mack, but they did not answer. They touched nothing in the house; they only looked. But that was enough to make Rabai’s 3-year-old granddaughter tremble with fear for a long time afterward.

Then the soldiers went to the neighboring home, as Rabai followed them. “My nephew — it was his house — was afraid and didn’t want them to come in. He told the soldiers there were small children inside. One of the soldiers got annoyed and pulled out a hand grenade. He threatened to hurl it if he wasn’t allowed inside. I intervened. I told the soldiers to calm down, that everything was all right. I opened the door myself. Another soldier took the grenade away from the comrade who had made the threat and told him there was no need to search the house. Then they went to another house.” Oops — maybe the sheep-stealer/armed terrorist was hiding there?

The soldiers got into an argument in the other house, too. One of them ordered all the residents out, including the small children who had already gone to sleep and were now frightened. But one of them said, “The little ones can stay inside.” In the end, more soldiers arrived, aimed their rifles, searched and forgot to order the inhabitants out.

Aisha Harini and her five children were already asleep. Later, Harini would hear that her husband and eldest son had been stuck at the village entrance. She awoke to loud knocking on both metal doors of her home. The soldiers also knocked on the windows, breaking the glass. “I was afraid to open the door by myself, without my husband. The children and I hid in an inner room. All the children, except for two who hadn’t woken up, clung to me. Two of them were crying. I told them to calm down and didn’t speak with the soldiers. I heard them go up onto the roof. They stayed there for about 20 minutes. Then...I saw soldiers ransacking the room and looking in the refrigerator. They also moved two sacks of grains.”

Meanwhile, another group of soldiers blocked the village entrance with jeeps, stones and tires. Gradually, residents — including women, children and babies — who had returned from Yatta and were not allowed to continue to their homes gathered there. It was cold. The soldiers shouted and took car keys from the drivers. They yelled at them, ordering them to stay in their cars and forbidding them from talking on their cellphones. The women tried to take their frightened children home. The soldiers, those chivalrous knights, shoved them violently and blocked their way. After about an hour and a half, more army vehicles arrived. Seliman Adra recalls that a Border Police officer told them: “‘Take your cars and get back on the road to Yatta. There’s an incident in progress here.’ When we asked them to let the women and children go home, the soldier said, ‘I don’t want to let you in — I don’t want there to be a conflict or a fight.’” Later, Adra realized that the “conflict” the soldier referred to was with the settlers who had broken into the village.

Were suspicious figures really spotted in Havat Maon? Or did the settlers enlist the soldiers as part of their upgraded scheme to harass the village? The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit did not respond to questions from Haaretz as Eitay Mack has filed a complaint with the Military Advocate General.

Israeli soldiers stand alongside settlers from the Maon Farm outpost in the West Bank. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

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