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From the field

In answer to B’Tselem, Israeli military confirms: Soldiers’ actions in entering Palestinian homes by night for “mapping” follow procedure

The village of Qusrah. Photo courtesy of Qusrah Village council.
The village of Qusrah. Photo courtesy of Qusrah Village council.

According to B’Tselem’s investigation, at approximately half an hour after midnight on Wednesday, 22 July 2015, a group of soldiers entered the Palestinian village of Qusrah, which lies south of Nablus in the West Bank. The soldiers stayed in the village until almost 4:00 A.M. During that time, they entered the homes of 19 families. B’Tselem field researcher Salma a-Deb’i gathered witness accounts from four of these families and spoke on the telephone with several others. Her findings indicate that the soldiers followed a particular mode of operation: they pounded loudly at the front door and after the family opened up, came inside and ordered the family to get their identity cards. The soldiers passed on the ID details on their two-way radio. They also put this information in writing and collected the cell phone numbers of all the occupants. The soldiers went through the rooms but did not search them methodically. In some cases, the soldiers ordered parents to wake their children, and in others they did not.

Sanaa Bsharat, 36, described how soldiers entered her home, where she lives with her husband and four children:

At around half past midnight, my husband and I were sitting out on the porch, because it was very hot inside. Our house is high up and you can see the whole neighborhood from it. I saw some jeeps driving into the village from the direction of the Esh Kodesh settlement. The soldiers got out of the vehicles about half a kilometer away from us, and went up to the house of our neighbor ‘Alaa. They banged on the door. I told my husband I was afraid the noise of the pounding on the door would wake the children and they’d be scared by the soldiers. My husband said I shouldn’t worry and asked me to close the door and window of the children’s room and turn the fan on inside, so they wouldn’t hear the soldiers. I prayed that the children wouldn’t wake up.

The soldiers went into two houses and then they reached us. They banged on our iron door. I don’t know why they do that. We have a doorbell and they could simply ring. I had prepared myself for their arrival but still, when I heard them banging on the door, my heart started racing and I began to shake. I also felt pain in my stomach. I’m eight months pregnant and I was afraid something would happen to the baby. My husband opened the door and seven or eight soldiers came into the living room…

I was having trouble breathing and I guess they saw I was afraid. One of the soldiers asked me if I was pregnant. I said I was. He asked me to sit down on a chair in the living room and said there was no reason to be afraid, because they didn’t want to do anything. One of the soldiers spoke with us in Arabic and translated for the other soldiers. He said that they wanted to go into the other rooms. My husband asked if he should wake the children, and the soldier said no. My husband went through all the rooms with them, including the children’s bedroom. They just looked inside and didn’t do anything.

The village of Qusrah. Upper left: settlement of Migdalim. Photo courtesy of Qusrah Village council.
The village of Qusrah. Upper left: settlement of Migdalim. Photo courtesy of Qusrah Village council.

Arwa Abu Rida, 27, related the experience she underwent with her husband and two daughters:

At around 2:30 A.M., my husband woke me and said soldiers were knocking on our front door. I didn’t know what to do and I started trembling. I looked for my prayer clothes, to put them on over my pajamas. I looked in the wardrobe and all around the room but I couldn’t find them, even though they were right there on the chair, because I was so confused and frightened. It took me a few minutes to find them, and then I quickly put them on. I went into the living room and saw about eight or ten soldiers carrying weapons. They asked for our identity cards. My husband stayed in the living room with them and I went back to the bedroom to get the cards. One of the soldiers wrote down our identity numbers and read them out to other soldiers over the two-way radio. The soldiers asked for our phone numbers, and then the soldier phone us to make sure we had given the right number. The soldiers asked my husband what he does for a living and who lives in the house. My husband said that we have two little girls and that they’re asleep. One of the soldiers went into the girls’ bedroom and looked inside. Then he walked around and looked into the other rooms. They wrote everything down on a piece of paper and left after about twenty minutes.

I don’t know what they wanted. Why didn’t they come during the day? Why do they go into houses only at night, disturbing and scaring people? I thanked God that my girls hadn’t woken up, especially the eldest, because she’s very scared of soldiers.

The testimonies given to B’Tselem at Qusrah are similar to many previously documented accounts of soldiers entering Palestinian homes in the northern West Bank at night to carry out what is termed “mapping”. In April and May 2015, B’Tselem documented nocturnal entry of soldiers into the homes of some twenty families in the villages of ‘Awarta and Madama, and in other areas such as Hebron and a-Nabi Saleh. The soldiers enter homes and document the inhabitants, sometimes on camera, and in some cases also make a record of the layout of the house, its size, and the number of rooms and entrances.

This type of operation has also been extensively documented in soldier accounts gathered by Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence. According to these former soldiers, this procedure is known in the military as “mapping”, and its aim is to collect information about Palestinian residents who are not suspected of having committed any offense.

In response to a letter sent by B’Tselem on the matter, the IDF Spokesperson stated that the military carries out “operational activity in structures (sometimes called “mapping structures”)” in the West Bank, and noted that some of the cases documented by B’Tselem were conducted as part of that procedure. He added that “the activity is based on an operational need and is carried out in accordance with the official orders of Center Region Command. These orders are aimed, among other things, at minimizing disturbance to the residents’ routine in the area”, and emphasized that “these are not random acts carried needlessly or for irrelevant reasons. They are operational missions authorized by the chain of command, serving a legitimate goal.”

Notably, the military had no qualms about admitting that soldiers do carry out this activity. The IDF Spokesperson explicitly stated that these are not “random acts” but rather action taken as part of a planned policy, due to a vague and unexplained “operational need”, whose nature he did not trouble to explain in this context.

However, gathering information about Palestinian residents while invading their privacy, terrifying them, and disrupting the daily lives of people who are suspected of nothing is not a legitimate form of action, and no so-called “operational need” can justify it. This activity constitutes an abuse of the military’s power and makes it clear to Palestinians in the West Bank that their lives, homes, and privacy are subject to the whims of soldiers, and that senior commanders feel no compunction about abusing their authority whenever they so please.

On 4 August 2015, B’Tselem wrote again to the IDF Spokesperson demanding a copy of the orders under which soldiers carry out these “mappings”. B’Tselem also demanded clarification about the purpose of these actions and the criteria for choosing homes to enter, and asked whether the definition of operational activity applies also to training troops in how to enter homes.