After two years of research, three Israeli human rights groups have condemned the military’s widespread practice of entering Palestinian homes in the occupied territories, often in the middle of the night, resulting in long term trauma.
The report by groups – Breaking the Silence, Yesh Din and Physicians for Human Rights Israel, details the severe psychological impact on individuals, families and wider Palestinian society of raids usually without supporting paperwork and whose arbitrary nature may be in breach of international law.
With testimonies from soldiers, doctors and Palestinian families, the report claims that Israeli troops enter homes in the occupied territories on average more than 250 times every month to conduct arrests.
The raids are also used for other purposes including “mapping” houses, to use roofs for observation posts or to search for money, weapons or for intelligence gathering.
Soldiers interviewed for the report, including several who spoke to the Observer, said they believed an important function of many raids was intimidation – a claim denied by the Israeli military.
Among some 40 Israeli soldiers who gave testimonies for the report, a number described rudimentary training and also often a lack of language skills for interacting with the Palestinian families they encountered.
Avner Gvaryahu, the executive director of Breaking the Silence, who himself conducted home invasions while a sergeant in a sniper unit, described the report as exposing part of the occupation more often hidden from wider public view.
“Like checkpoints and the separation barrier it is part of the DNA of the occupation. For soldiers like myself it ended when we walked back to the jeep and went back to camp to sleep. But for Palestinians it is a long-term trauma. What it means is that you cannot feel safe in your own home or bed. For me the last memory is of the piercing looks of fear and hatred,” Gvaryahu said.
To Fadel Tamimi, the 59-year-old imam at a mosque in Nebi Salih on the West Bank, the raids have become familiar over the past 20 years. He says he has lost count of the number of times soldiers have entered his home.
“The reason they do this is to scare everyone. To show who is in charge. They never say why or show an order or piece of paper,” he told the Observer last week.
“On one occasion, I remember I had gone to the mosque for the first early morning prayers. When I came back the soldiers were in my house. They had put all of my family in the kitchen. When I went into my bedroom I found three soldiers resting on the bed,” Tamimi continued.
“The consequences are psychological. You feel your privacy is being invaded. It’s horrible for a conservative family and a traditional society. The aim is to control and humiliate,” Tamimi said.
“What comes to my mind,” says Dr. Jumana Milhem, a psychologist who works with Physicians for Human Rights Israel, “is that the process involves the dehumanisation of a whole society. [Its] point is to break their human spirit.”
At an individual level, says Milhem, the consequences can lead to trauma. “People are reporting stress weeks after these events.
A spokesman for the Israeli Defence Forces denied that entering homes was to intimidate, saying its frequency depended on security threats.
“The entry of security forces into the homes of Palestinian residents in the Judea and Samaria area [the occupied West Bank]is carried out in accordance with the provisions of the applicable law in the area, which does not require the issuance of a preliminary judicial order,” the spokesman said.
He went on to say that “it should be emphasised that the number of entries to homes depends on the level of terrorist threats and the operational needs to thwart terrorist acts against Israeli targets”.
“The claim that the entries to Palestinian homes in Judea and Samaria are used for intimidation is false,” the spokesman ended. (Source: The Guardian)