It happens every night, with or without any apparent reason. It’s always brutal: a violent invasion of the home of a sleeping family, before the eyes of the women and the children, everyone abruptly awakening to a nightmare of dozens of soldiers, sometimes with dogs. An alien presence. The arrest missions of the Israel Defense Forces, perhaps the most salient sign of the routine of the occupation, are carried out both in times of unrest and periods of quiet. Hardly a night goes by without them.
The raids take place across the West Bank – including Area A, which is nominally under the Palestinian Authority’s control – and always at night. Every decent Israeli has the obligation to try to imagine the scene: to be woken up in the dead of night by armed, masked soldiers, their rifles aimed at you and at your terrified children. Often the troops resort to violence, tying up members of the household and beating them. Sometimes they use live ammunition.
At some point, they take someone, the wanted individual, into custody, with no explanation, no arrest warrant, no judicial oversight. In some cases, they don’t even let their captive get dressed. Days will pass before the family learns where he is, what his condition is, what the suspicions against him are. Or he might be released after a few days, again with no explanation. If he’s brought to trial, the charges against him will be revealed; some of them are real, others are invented or political in nature, as is usual in the military courts.
But generations of Palestinian children are growing up with fear, trauma and scars from the terror of those nights. The IDF doesn’t provide data about the scale of the phenomenon, but an unofficial estimate is that the number of people arrested during the past year reached some 2,700. The army does publish almost daily communiqués about the “booty”: how many were arrested the preceding night. Every person suspected of throwing a stone can expect a night visit of this kind, every Palestinian family can look forward to the unannounced arrival of these uninvited guests. In some cases no arrest is made; the raid was carried out to collect information, demonstrate control, maintain the troops’ vigilance, keep the local population in a state of constant fear.
A poultry shop in the nearby town of Beit Ummar. Khaider Abu Marya raises chickens in the yard of his house and also buys them in Jericho; he sells them whole for eight shekels ($2.15) a kilo in his store. On July 23, 2015, Khaider lost his father, Falah, 52, when soldiers invading his home to arrest one of his sons fired three live rounds into his upper body. From the poultry shop we drive to the home of the Abu Marya family, where the smells of a chicken coop and dead fowl hang in the air. Inside, the family tells us that Falah was killed after soldiers shot and wounded his son, Mohammed, and Falah had gone out to the balcony to shout for help. The soldiers made no arrests.
This past November 6, the day after the Halhul incident, IDF troops again arrived at the Abu Marya residence. It was 3 A.M. They were looking for another member of the family, Muhi, 21. They entered the house by force and, according to Khaider, hit his brother Yihyeh. Their mother, Faika, screamed, terrified that another disaster was about to strike the family. The dozen soldiers were accompanied by a frightening dog. They demanded the ID cards of the family members, but Faika, utterly distraught, had a hard time finding them. The house was in the midst of preparations for the wedding of another son, Nabil, the following week.
According to Faika, the soldiers attached an electric-shock device to Yihyeh’s chest and back, and beat him on the face until he bled. Hearing the shouting and screams from the floor below, Khaider’s three small children and Mohammed’s 18-month-old infant began to cry with fear.
Eventually the soldiers left, taking Muhi and Yihyeh with them, even though the latter was not on the wanted list. Yihyeh was freed a day later. On the day of our visit to the Abu Marya home, a hearing was held in Muhi’s case, but no one in the family traveled to the Ofer court and he is still in detention.
Asked for comment on the two incidents, the IDF Spokesman’s Unit provided this response: “On November 5, IDF troops entered the village of Halhul in order to arrest a terror suspect. When they arrived at their destination, violent disturbances began inside the suspect’s house. To carry out their mission, the fighters had to restrain three males who were behaving wildly.
“On their departure from the house, a disturbance broke out that threatened the lives of the soldiers, who responded by shooting at the lower part of the body of one of the individuals leading the disturbance.
“On November 6, while special forces of the Border Police were carrying out an action in the village of Beit Ummar, aimed at arresting a terror suspect, a member of the suspect’s family attacked the fighters. The soldiers responded by using a taser to hold him off, and, as he continued to present a danger to the force, he was arrested after attacking a policeman. Despite your claim to the contrary, no violence was used vis-à-vis other family members.”
Nabil’s wedding took place as planned, on November 17, without his incarcerated brother. The family says they have no idea what Muhi is suspected of. A photograph of the late father of the family looks down on us from the wall of the living room in his house.