What do you call a regime that every night drags people from their beds? How would you label mass detentions without a warrant? How would you define brutal home searches in the dead of night, some of which have no purpose except as training exercises? What should we call such acts, which the army, the Border Police and the Shin Bet security service carry out nightly? What should we call the state in whose name they act — a democracy, the only one in the Middle East? Do you recall dark regimes, think of Latin American juntas, are shocked by Turkey? Welcome to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, night after night, just a short drive from your home.
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Each morning, in its Twitter account, the IDF describes its misdeeds of the previous night, with a touch of pride: “During the night our forces arrested wanted men who are suspected of popular terror activities and violent disturbances. They were handed over to the security forces for interrogation.” Wanted men, popular terror, disturbances — the language is polished yet stilted, with childish Hebrew acronyms that seem to conceal a secret. The wording is formulaic, without naming or otherwise disclosing the humanity of the detainees. The army is like a nighttime hunter who each morning displays his nightly catch. Last week there was a night with 23 arrests, 14 the previous week, 10 and 11 in the weeks before that. There is no night without such abductions. Who are they? What did they do? Who cares? They are all part of the “popular terror” movement, all of them now in the hands of the security services.
Sometimes, there’s a special treat: “Last night our forces sealed off an apartment and a warehouse in Nablus, which had served for the preparation of terror explosive devices.” Explosive devices? An apartment, a warehouse? By what authority? Nablus is in Area A, supposedly controlled by the Palestinians, but who cares about such trifles? Occasionally there is money involved. “During the operations of the Etzion Territorial Brigade, our forces seized thousands of shekels that were used to finance terror. These were transferred to the security services.” Sometimes it borders on the grotesque: “The forces of the Ephraim Territorial Brigade also arrested a person suspected of violent and disorderly conduct in which he climbed onto an army vehicle two months ago. He was sent for interrogation by security forces.” He climbed on a vehicle? Should we laugh, or cry?
To anyone familiar with the nature of these operations, there is nothing funny about them. They are stomach-turning. Hundreds of thousands of people live in constant terror: children who wet their beds, parents who are afraid to even close an eye. The soldiers blow up the doors of the homes and invade. Before you can even understand what is happening there are dozens of armed men, their faces sometimes covered, in your home, in your bedroom, in your children’s bedrooms, in the bathroom. This is how the nightmare begins, the search and the arrests, with neither an explanation nor a court order.
Sometimes the occupants are pulled out of their home and into the street, without being allowed to get dressed. Occasionally a father is beaten in front of his children. Frequently belongings are broken. All accompanied by bullying and humiliation. Tear gas is often sprayed at the neighbors, outside. These are traumatic experiences for any human being. There is no Palestinian who has not experienced it. There is no Israeli who can imagine it. I once spent a night in the Jenin refugee camp. When soldiers approached the home I was staying in, I almost died of fright. In the end they did not come in, but I will never forget those moments of terror. That’s only the beginning of the nightmare. Then the “wanted person” is taken, handcuffed and blindfolded, for an interrogation whose end is difficult to predict. It will go on for weeks and it will involve humiliation and torture, sometimes without any foundation. Nearly one million Palestinians have been arrested in this manner in the course of the occupation. Nearly one million.
The Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported last week, based on a United Nations report, that between October 4 and October 17 there were 178 such nighttime raids, around 14 each night. This, in a time of relative calm, apart from the lone-wolf attacks that no raid can prevent. A girl who seeks to die won’t be arrested at night. The nighttime terror may actually drive others to another desperate attack.
Every night, while you were sleeping. And afterward there are more Israelis who dare to claim — out of ignorance or chutzpah — that the occupation is over, or at least that discussing it bores them.