The Israeli Army’s Polite Raid on a Palestinian Graphic-design Business

What were the soldiers looking for when they stormed a small firm in Ramallah that publishes ads for the U.S. Consulate and articles about herbal remedies, musicians and travel?

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Sani Meo, whose company Turbo Design was raided by Israeli troops, June 2014.
Sani Meo, whose company Turbo Design was raided by Israeli troops, June 2014. Credit: Amira Hass
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

It was a polite raid – compared to the reports on the destruction left behind by Israeli soldiers in the hundreds of homes and institutions they’ve raided over the past two weeks. This time, at the offices of graphics firm Turbo Design, the 10 soldiers involved (including at least one woman) didn’t break anything, cut any cables or overturn tables and cabinets.

“They had a gentlemanly commander,” said the head of the firm, Sani Meo, a Jerusalem resident who pays taxes to the State of Israel. “They only confiscated two servers and five computers,” he told Haaretz late last week, sarcastically. “At least they left the Remington typewriter, which was in the souvenir-and-carpet store my grandfather’s father opened at Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem in 1872.”

The soldiers raided the building, about 100 meters from Ramallah’s Manara Square, a week ago Sunday at around 4 A.M. A few hours later the doorman called Meo and woke him up – Sunday is his day off. After he showed up and assessed the damage, he visited the Ramallah police to report it.

“What?! They raided your office?” the officer asked in astonishment. Meo received similar reactions from many other people, such as “What? Are they crazy?”

Not many people had heard about the raid; it got swallowed up in all the other reports that were much worse. According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, from June 19 through Thursday, the Israel Defense Forces carried out 127 raids in the West Bank, including searches of hundreds of homes.

Eighteen charity organizations were raided and some were shut down. The army also raided the campuses of four universities. During this period, Israeli soldiers killed four Palestinians, including a child and a mentally disturbed man. A man and woman also died of heart attacks when their homes were raided in Hares and the Al-Aroub refugee camp.

But for those who heard that the office of yuppie Turbo Design was targeted, it was another piece of proof that the IDF and Shin Bet security service were exploiting the disappearance of the three Israeli teenagers this month to terrorize an entire population — simply because they can.

Some agencies of the Palestinian Authority are among the biggest customers of the company, which was founded in 1985 and has survived two intifadas. The U.S. Consulate, the British Council, the UN Relief and Works Agency and the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music are also customers.

As a result of the raid, the firm’s work declined to about 20 percent of the usual volume. Its rich database of old and new photos and customer files is now buried somewhere between the IDF and the Shin Bet. Who knows if it will ever be returned.

Also down the drain are two big graphic-design projects that were nearly completed; now the team of 12 has to start over on a profile booklet for Al-Makassed Hospital in Jerusalem and a 200-page book filled with charts put out by the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction, which coordinates and oversees infrastructure and construction projects throughout the PA.

'This Week in Palestine'

Meo is terrified to tally the damages. In the last three years, the economic situation has been getting worse. Customers from both PA offices and the private sector are having trouble paying their bills.

In the office, emptied of its essential work tools, it’s impossible not to mention that Meo’s Christian family once owned property in West Jerusalem; it lost it in 1948 and the family had to start over. Meo studied computer science in the United States, then he and his brother-in-law, now living in Australia, founded Turbo Design.

For the last 15 years, the company has designed and published the English monthly “This Week in Palestine,” which began as a schedule of events and attractions aimed mainly at tourists. It morphed into a magazine that offers a glimpse of the thousand different faces of Palestinian society, without necessarily a direct connection to the occupation.

Musicians, writers, bird-watching, archaeology, story-telling traditions, herbal remedies, recipes and hundreds more topics (yes, including the occupation and the struggle against it) have been covered in the articles. The magazine is printed on fine-quality paper and filled with impressive photographs – all of it financed by advertising.

Meo admits he wants to promote a different Palestine than the one seen in news reports. “We want to document and capture things in Palestine that no one knows about,” he said. “You could really say that our firm designs booklets and advertisements that forget about the occupation.”

A vendor at a stationery store across the street had a similar take. After the raids of the past week, which in Ramallah were concentrated around Manara Square, he said: “People had forgotten that we’re under foreign Israeli control. Now with all these raids and assaults, we’ve been reminded that we live under an occupation.” Meo had to agree.

The IDF Spokesman’s Office responded: “Information increasingly indicated that propaganda and incitement materials linked to Hamas were being printed at this place. In the operation, a search of the office was conducted. A decision on the return of the equipment will later be considered by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.”

Israeli soldier watches as others visit shops in an attempt to obtain security camera footage during a search for three Israeli abducted teens in the West Bank city of Hebron, June 19, 2014. Credit: AP

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