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What Israeli Soldiers Never Tell Their Mothers

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Israeli security forces taking a child into custody during a protest in Kafr Qaddum, December 2016.
Israeli security forces taking a child into custody during a protest in Kafr Qaddum, December 2016.Credit: Nedal Eshtayah/Anadolu Agency

They gathered in the narrow street, on a cold and dark night. They were tense. The howl of a distant jackal broke the silence. For some, this was their first operational mission. They’d always dreamed of it, and they’d been in training for a long time. The adrenaline was flowing, just the way they liked it. That’s what they enlisted for.

Before they set out, they texted their parents to tell them not to worry. When the dawn broke and they returned safely to their base, they’d text again. Their mothers won’t ask what they did, and they won’t tell them. That’s how it always is. Their parents are proud of them: they’re combat soldiers.

As they formed up before leaving, their commanders checked their gear and ammunition, and gave them their final orders. The intelligence officer told them of the two wanted men; they must be found, at any price. Then the force went out into the night. Thirty soldiers. They went up the hill on foot.

They reached their target sometime after midnight. The village was deep in sleep, the orange security lights of the settlement across the way winking in the distance. And the order was given: Attack!

They leaped at the back door of the house and shook it until it was almost torn from its hinges. A dim light emanated from the second floor and a man came down in pajamas, still half asleep, to open the metal gate. Not one of them asked himself what he was doing there. Maybe that will happen when they grow up a little more.

The first four entered with their machine guns at the ready. Black masks covered their faces; only their eyes peeped out. They pushed the shocked Palestinian backward. He tried to explain to them that the children were sleeping and he didn’t want them to wake up to the sight of a masked soldier above their bed.

The soldiers wanted Tariq. And also Maliq. They ordered the Palestinian to take them to them. The two wanted men slept in a room that was all blue, including the sheets. The soldiers woke them with shouts. The wanted men woke up in a panic.

The soldiers ordered them to get up. Then they grabbed their arms, pushed them into two separate rooms and locked them in. Other soldiers broke into the house, whose inhabitants had all woken up in the meantime. Six-year-old Mahmoud began to cry: “Daddy, Daddy!”

The soldiers warned the two wanted men not to dare participate in any more demonstrations. “Next time, we’ll shoot you or arrest you,” they told Maliq. He remained locked up for about 40 minutes, until the force left. On their way out, the soldiers threw stun grenades into the yards of the homes they passed – the icing on the cake.

All of this happened about 10 days ago in Kafr Qaddum. All of it happens every night throughout the West Bank.

The two wanted men were aged 11 and 13. Tariq’s voice hasn’t broken yet, and Maliq has a bashful smile. Since that night, they will sleep only in their parents’ bed. Mahmoud has started wetting the bed. The large force of soldiers came in the dead of night just to intimidate them, and perhaps also to maintain their edge.

The Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson’s Unit wasn’t ashamed to say, “Soldiers spoke with youths who had taken part in the regular demonstrations in Qaddum.” That’s what IDF soldiers do: hold intimidating nighttime talks with children. That’s what they enlisted for. That’s what they’re proud of.

Kafr Qaddum, it’s worth noting, is a place that merits respect. It has been fighting for about five years now, with courage and determination, for the reopening of its access road – which was blocked because of the settlement of Kedumim. The settlement had grown right up to the edge of the road, leading to its closure.

Last Friday, Amos Harel reported in Haaretz about a steep decline in the number of young men from well-off families willing to serve in combat units. The Border Police is now the most sought-after unit, and its gates are mobbed by the weaker sections of society, whom Israel cynically incites against the Palestinians, so that all of them want to be Sgt. Elor Azaria.

Perhaps it’s good that the well-off are abandoning service in the territories. Or perhaps it’s bad, because they’re leaving it to others. Today, there is virtually no combat service in the IDF that doesn’t entail carrying out despicable missions like the operation in Kafr Qaddum.

This Friday, or the following one, Tariq and Maliq will resume demonstrating on the road, and perhaps they’ll also throw stones. They won’t forget the terrors of that night so quickly; those terrors will form their consciousness.

And the soldiers? They’ll continue to be heroes, in their own eyes and those of their people.

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