“Arrests are an exciting activity for soldiers. At least in the beginning. It’s the only sort of operation they’re involved in that’s like combat. All the rest are policing missions. This is more of a military mission.” Thus two young Israelis told me last year, not long after completing their compulsory service in the Israel Defense Forces, adding, “We had to go on long marches, do target practice, we worked our butts off and so on – and in the end all we did is open the gates for some [Palestinian] workers in the morning? Arrests are the only part of the operational routine where combat soldiers get to fulfill their potential and their duty.”
Were the soldiers who raided the Tamimi family home in Nabi Saleh at 3 A.M. on August 23 “fulfilling their duty” when Halima, a 74-year-old grandmother was choking on pepper spray and her young grandson Samer was crying? Did they feel like they were in a combat operation when they arrested 21-year-old Hamada?
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“You have something to brag about to the guys,” the same discharged soldiers, who had also given their testimonies to the anti-occupation Breaking the Silence organization, told me. They went on to explain that “As a soldier, your day is very routine. You open gates, serve as reinforcements for troops protecting roads. An arrest is interesting. It’s an adrenaline rush to enter a village at night with a loaded rifle. Soldiers love it.”
Hamada was surprised by my question, a few days after his arrest: Of course the soldiers sat him down on the floor of the military vehicle, blindfolded and cuffed with his hands behind his back. Isn’t that the norm?
It dawned on one of those former soldiers, during our conversation, how natural it was “For us to sit the detainees on the floor of the vehicle. Because there was no room on the seats (that were filled by soldiers). In the field, everything is done for logistical reasons; they don’t dispatch a special vehicle for an arrest. And when you return to your post – you put the person who was arrested in whatever room is available, sometimes for an entire day.”
In other words, the humiliation and mistreatment aren’t always deliberate – they are just a function of crowding and budgets.
Hamada was stuck at one IDF outpost for four hours, and then at another army facility for 10 hours. Blindfolded and handcuffed, as the soldiers went about their business around him. As they go about a routine that includes detaining people this way – bound and blind.
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The IDF spokesman says the arrest was conducted “At the request of the security forces.” But during the four days of his detention, Hamada (Mohammed) Tamimi was not questioned for even one minute. Neither by the Shin Bet security service, nor by the police. So what other security forces could have demanded his arrest?
When a person is taken away (“abducted,” Palestinians say, by way of correction) by soldiers, their detention should be extended within 96 hours of their initial arrest. As this period was about to expire, Hamada was not included on the list of individuals whose custody the police were asking the military court to extend. Hamada was released in the evening of August 26.
The IDF spokesman said his arrest was made for “operational considerations.” What were they? A need for the soldiers to train? Or to convey a message to the village, exhausted by the last 10 years of struggle, not to disturb the settlers of nearby Halamish who took over their spring and their lands?
“Members of the Tamimi family behaved violently,” said the IDF spokesman, explaining why the soldiers sprayed pepper spray at them in a closed room. That is a lie. The Tamimi family did not behave violently, they just refused to remain quiet and to obey the orders of the people who had invaded their home. And they also filmed the events there. The IDF prefers its Palestinians meek and submissive.
When violence on the part of the security forces reaches extreme dimensions and is caught on film, some Israelis are still shocked. This is not a testament to their humanity, but rather to the normalization of the daily, routine aggression of soldiers along the separation barrier, protecting settlers on land that isn’t theirs, at mobile checkpoints and by means of late-night arrests.
Pity the soldiers whose role is to keep a civilian population on a short leash, under our foreign and hostile rule, and to see that population as a military enemy. Pity Israel, that continues to raise its children to continue to be like this forever.