The Israel Defense Forces acting as a subcontractor for the Shin Bet security service. That’s the situation when a Shin Bet agent wants to meet with a young Palestinian man: A force of 20 soldiers is sent to his home after midnight, they wake up the whole family, throw 15 people into a small room, where they are left for several hours, pummel a few of them with rifles and fists, and kick them when they collapse. The wanted young man is taken to meet the Shin Bet agent for an incredibly brief interrogation – for reasons never explained – and is then sent home. In the meantime, four family members need to be taken to the hospital in ambulances, after their beatings by the soldiers, and one is taken into custody until the conclusion of the proceedings against him – he has been accused of assaulting a soldier. All this to arrange a short meeting with a Shin Bet man.

“What was all that for?” – that is the question now being asked in this house, where some of the occupants are still in physical pain from the blows they were dealt by the troops. “You know, he could have been summoned by phone and he would have gone,” one member of the family says. But if a brutal nighttime raid can be mounted, why make do with a phone call? Just more proof of the fact that in the occupied territories the way of violence is the preferred modus operandi of the Shin Bet and the IDF. To be honest, it’s always the first option. A late-night invasion of someone’s home is apparently a good exercise for the troops, keeps them on their toes. It’s useful for demonstrating power and control over the area, and also good for breaking routine and dispelling boredom. The victims? Who’s counting?

The Salhab family lives in Qalqas, a small neighborhood of Hebron, adjacent to the settlement of Beit Haggai, on Highway 60, the main road in the West Bank. Qalqas consists of a few handsome stone homes in which the four Salhab brothers and their families live, all of them quite well-to-do and with good livelihoods. In the early morning hours between December 11 and December 12, soldiers raided the home of Mahmoud Salhab, 58, a father of eight, who teaches religious studies at Hebron’s Al-Hussein School. Six of the children still live with him and their mother, Nida, a 55-year-old teacher, in their two-story home; the youngest of them is 16.

The soldiers were after Mahmoud and Nida’s son Anas, a 23-year-old agriculture student at Hebron University, where he’s a campus activist. In 2019 he was convicted of “performing services for an unlawful association” under Article 85 of the Defense (Emergency) Regulations, enacted by the British Mandate authorities in 1945. He was sent to prison for 14 months, or more accurately, jailed for political activity, and resumed his studies after his release, a year and a half ago.

In the wee hours of that Sunday, when everyone in the house was sleeping, loud pounding was heard. Soldiers were battering the steel door downstairs with their rifles. Mahmoud Salhab leaped out of bed and shouted that he was coming down right away to open the door, but the pounding didn’t let up. When he opened up, the soldiers aimed their rifles at him and ordered him to keep silent. He estimates that there were about 20 of them, and he remembers that some of them wore officers’ insignia. They ordered him into an empty room on the ground floor, which is tiled in blue flooring. The shouting woke his wife and children. They emerged from their rooms and were herded into the same room, which contains not so much as a chair to sit on.

The shouting in the house intensified, waking Mahmoud’s brothers, who live with members of their families a few dozen meters away; some of them came out to see what was going on. Anyone who emerged was also ordered into the room in Mahmoud’s house: They included his brother Mohammed, 55, a worker in a shoe factory, dressed in a brown robe; and Ahmed, 56, the owner of a Chevrolet garage located at the entrance to the family’s compound, who speaks fluent Hebrew as a result of having Jewish settler-clients. The brothers’ wives and a few of their children were also herded into the room. Almost everyone was in pajamas. All told, the soldiers crammed about 15 or 16 people into the cold, unfurnished room.

According to testimony from the family, the soldiers took Anas, the wanted person, into an adjacent room and started to beat him. They also pummeled 16-year-old Ibrahim, Anas’ youngest brother, who refused to obey the order to sit on the floor. Mohammed relates that when he entered the room, he saw soldiers hitting Ibrahim with their rifles and kicking him after he fell to the floor. When he asked why they were hitting his nephew, they told him to shut up and began hitting him as well.

Then came the turn of Osama, 23, Ahmed’s son, to be brutalized, when he too resisted the soldiers’ order to sit on the floor. His father tried to protect him, but to no avail. About 10 of the troops present took part in battering his son, Ahmed tells us, when we visit earlier this week. After Osama collapsed, the soldiers dragged him down the stairs and out into the yard, leaving him there in the cold of the Hebron night. Mohammed also took a few rough rifle-butt blows to the ribs when he tried to come to his nephew’s aid – it would later be found that he suffered two broken ribs. He still groans with pain when he describes how the nightmarish incident unfolded to us and to Musa Abu Hashhash, a field researcher for the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem. Ahmed now needs a cane to get around.

Osama lost consciousness from the battering he took; his uncle Mohammed relates that he saw blood oozing from his head. An empty plastic aquarium crashed down on him as the soldiers dragged him out. Mohammed heard one of the soldiers say, “This one is dead, dead.” He shouted to the troops that they had to get Osama to a hospital immediately, but they told him to shut up. Osama’s mother, Nahala, 45, started to scream.

Neighbors summoned two Palestinian ambulances, but the soldiers initially refused to let them approach, and they remained out on the highway. The soldiers brought a stretcher for Osama into the yard. The members of the household say he lay on it for around 20 minutes before soldiers carried him to the roadside, where a military vehicle was parked. Ahmed tried repeatedly to get the soldiers to release his son so he could get him to a hospital, but they silenced him. “I told them, ‘My boy is dying, my boy is dying – give him to me so I can take him to a hospital!’”

Finally the soldiers relented and allowed Ahmed to take Osama to one of the two waiting ambulances, where he was given first aid. The ambulance was about to leave with Osama when the soldiers shouted, “Halt, halt! Don’t take him, he’s under arrest.” They ordered the youth to be removed from the Palestinian ambulance and transferred to an Israeli Magen David Adom ambulance that had in the meantime arrived at the scene.

Ahmed, distraught, called an Israeli Bedouin acquaintance and asked him to rush to Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva, which was nearby, to find out what happened to Osama. An hour later the man called to say his son was alive. He had been examined, his head wound had been stitched up and he had been taken for interrogation to the police station in Kiryat Arba, the settlement that abuts Hebron, after which he was incarcerated in Ofer Prison near Ramallah.

A video clip shows Osama being led out of the hospital by two soldiers. He is wearing light pajamas, in full view of everyone. (His father later brought him clothes, while he was being interrogated in Kiryat Arba.) Ahmed says Osama was shivering from the cold, with five stitches in his head, and an injury to his leg from being kicked. Ahmed begged the police officers to release his son, because he had exams to take at university. To no avail.

The soldiers left the family compound around 3 A.M., several hours after arriving to execute – and succeeding in – their daring mission: taking Anas away to the Shin Bet offices at the Etzion facility. As soon as they left, the two Palestinian ambulances took four wounded members of the extended family to Princess Alia Governmental Hospital in Hebron. The casualties: Mohammed, with two broken ribs; Ibrahim and his cousin Amjad (one of Osama’s brothers), both of whom had been battered; and Asma, Osama’s 16-year-old sister, who was traumatized. Their cousin Maryam, Mohammed’s daughter, 20, was also in shock, but remained at home. Mohammed was the most seriously injured; he was hospitalized for two days and, as mentioned, has not yet fully recovered or returned to work since that night.

The others were discharged after a few hours; the wanted man, Anas, whose brief interrogation at Etzion triggered all the events, also returned home.

The soldiers confiscated all the kitchen knives in the house. There are still bloodstains on a wall of the room where the family was concentrated. The photos taken by the family after the soldiers left, and in the hospital, evoke a battlefield. Osama’s blood on the wall and on the floor. Osama in Soroka. Mohammed on a stretcher in Alia. The Palestinian ambulances with the four casualties. Osama’s blood on a letter that was in the room. Ibrahim on a stretcher, his eyes closed. Ibrahim and Mohammed on the floor of the house before being taken to the hospital.

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit this week stated to Haaretz: “On December 12, 2021, operational activity took place to arrest a suspect on suspicion of involvement in terrorist activity, in the village of Qalqas which is under the jurisdiction of the Judea Territorial Brigade.

“During the arrest activity, some of the residents of the house in which the suspect lives physically interfered with the force’s operation. One of the residents resorted to violence, tried to pull the strap of a commander’s weapon and attacked the fighters. In response, the fighters took action to halt the assault, in the course of which the resident fell and was evacuated by the troops to receive medical treatment in a hospital.”

A week later, on December 19, Osama appeared in court before His Honor Judge Lt. Col. Shlomo Katz, according to the transcript. The prosecutor, Lt. Yaron Kanner, asked that Osama be remanded in custody until the conclusion of proceedings against him. “Even though this was not a planned event, but spontaneous,” Kanner said, “the circumstances surrounding the incident are extremely grave. It was not just a matter of shoving or of minor violence, but an attack on a soldier with serious violence, including fists, hitting the soldier on the head with a stool and other serious violence that went on for some time, and not a spontaneous, momentary outburst.”

The accused’s father was quoted in the minutes, saying, “I should prosecute them and not they us.”

Osama remains in custody.