Otherwise Occupied

Israeli Soldiers in West Bank: Raiding, Arresting, Mapping and Getting Home for Shabbat

‘I’d just ruined the night, or the week, for four families – how was it that I didn’t remember their faces? You really suppress it, you suppress the entire situation.'

Israeli soldiers during a raid on the Jalazun refugee camp, June 16, 2014.
AFP / Abbas Momani

Our forces carried out 32 raids in Palestinian neighborhoods and villages in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) on the night of January 23 alone. On the previous night our soldiers were said to have carried out 24 raids. On Sunday night, January 21, there were only 19 raids. In the early hours of that Sunday morning, 22 raids. That’s the list of the latest daily summaries published by the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s Negotiations Department, based on the reports of the Palestinian security agencies.

There are other passages in the daily reports that outline the routine of administering our garden-variety apartheid and maintaining Jewish colonialism: arrests, short detentions, mobile checkpoints, armed attacks, settler violence, home demolition, confiscation of property. Every week thousands of soldiers, flesh of our flesh, create these statistics, which our amnesia devours.

The raids are so routine that if there are no wounded or dead, even the Palestinian media doesn’t interview the residents of the homes broken into by our soldiers: old people who have difficulty getting out of bed, frightened children, women who have barely left the bedroom. And what is the purpose of these raids and break-ins? Detentions, scare tactics, handing out Shin Bet summonses, searches. And as the members of Breaking the Silence teach us in their new booklet, “Why I Broke the Silence,” the routine raids are also used for “mapping.”

A staff sergeant from Battalion 50 of the Nahal Brigade gives testimony about the mapping mission he carried out in Hebron in 2010: “The purpose of the mapping is to take some house and map it from inside – how many rooms, which room overlooks what all the technical details of the house. The ultimate goal is to create a kind of better understanding of how the Palestinian area of the city looks inside the houses, so that afterwards, if there’s a need for ‘straw widows’ [ambushes from inside houses] or such things, then there will be an option to do that. We did quite a few mappings. It happens quite a lot.”

Was mapping the purpose of the raids in the Jenin area on Friday? Or are our forces still looking for Ahmed Nasser Jarrar, who is suspected of killing Raziel Shevach of Havat Gilad, the outpost that finally achieved its goal and is in the process of being “laundered”? The Palestinian news website Sama reports that the forces of the Israeli occupation broke into the city of Jenin from all directions and searched the houses. Likewise in Yamun village in the Jenin district.

How many houses in all? It doesn’t say. It’s not clear from the Sama report whether the residents of the houses were taken outside in the middle of the night into the freezing cold and the rain, or whether the stormy weather was mentioned because the writer was tired of using dry, telegraphic language. In the southern West Bank too – in the neighborhood of Jabal Johar in Hebron and the Al Aroub refugee camp – our 19-year-old soldiers were engaged in scaring 8-year-old children and humiliating men.

Another staff sergeant, also from Battalion 50, tells about his part in a routine raid in 2014: “We had a night of handing out summonses and carrying out detentions. We went to two villages. When we arrived in the second one I tried to remember what had happened about an hour ago in the first village, I didn’t remember whom I had detained, whom I had summoned, and it ate me up. Here I had ruined the night, or the week, for four families, how was it that I didn’t remember their faces? You really suppress it, you suppress the entire situation. You wear a mask, you’re the toughest guy in the world. ‘Army, jish,’ I would knock on the door, suddenly I realized the tough image I was putting on, and that’s not me at all.

“All I wanted was to get out of there fast. You know, you finish at 6 A.M., get up already at 8, then you’re already awake until the next arrest, and then it turns out that by 4 A.M. you’re already half asleep. It turns out that you’re asleep standing up inside someone’s home, and you’ve got your gun aimed, and then you also don’t even remember things, you’re dying to get out of there. So you do what’s necessary as fast as possible. But you enter a family’s home at 3 A.M. and a soldier comes to a Palestinian and speaks to him in this poor Arabic, they don’t really know Arabic, the interrogators. So how stupid is it that some soldier goes in, starts to threaten you in broken Arabic, but because he has the power there’s nothing you can do. [The Palestinian] is at a complete disadvantage and you have the upper hand.”

A staff sergeant from the Engineering Corps, searching for a “fellow” in 2002, also found a way to repress things: “You start going into the houses for no reason, and you have nothing to say. I remember that at the time I repressed the whole thing by thinking of it as an anthropological survey, we’ll see the houses from inside. It was Friday night, a day off for them too, all the families are at home. They’re all watching television with their satellite. You barge into the middle of their life, out of nowhere, go into their home, see their bedroom.”

Q: You didn’t care that this was an invasion of privacy?

A: “I cared more about getting home for Shabbat.”