(photo credit: )
The army jeeps cruise down the main street of this southern West Bank village Wednesday, bringing a large contingent of locals to their porches, wary of this IDF raid. Samua at 2 a.m. is quiet, except for the barking dogs awakened by soldiers kicking in doors and prying open barred windows.
Lt.-Col. Didi, commander of the Lavi Battalion stationed outside the nearby settlement of Otniel in the southern Hebron Hills, leads his men as they surround their first target - a detached house on the outskirts of the village thought by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) to house an office of Hamas's Dawa charity.
The soldiers enter quietly, pointing projectors and the lasers on their weapons at the structure to deter any gunmen who might be waiting inside. The troops use a large sledge hammer to pry open the bars on one of the windows, and jump inside, where they find classrooms lined with pictures of students and neat rows of small plastic chairs.
They search the rooms, flipping through folders and prying open cabinets, but don't find what they are looking for - evidence linking the Hamas-controlled Palestinian Authority government with the funding of terrorism.
Since Cpl. Gilad Shalit was kidnapped just outside the Gaza Strip on June 25, the IDF has been targeting Hamas charities as well as the organization's military wing. Dozens of night-time raids have been carried out on Dawa offices in the West Bank in search of documents linking Hamas fundraising, allegedly for humanitarian ends, with financing the suicide and Kassam rocket attacks carried out by the organization.
The operation, which The Jerusalem Post accompanied in the pre-dawn hours of Wednesday, was called "Burning Hametz" - after the pre-Pessah custom when Jews burn their last pieces of bread, a nickname for what soldiers do when they collect documents and computers from Hamas charities. They don't burn them.
The raids, Didi said, were also used to search for evidence to be used in formulating indictments against the 60 Hamas ministers and lawmakers arrested last week.
"Hamas is an organization that operates terrorist activity through Dawa institutions," the lieutenant-colonel told subordinates before the raid. "We need to do everything to crack down on this organization."
As the soldiers leave the school, they spot four Palestinians hiding in a nearby hut and order them to stand facing a concrete wall outside.
An officer begins drilling 19-year-old named Ahmed regarding the location of the Dawa offices in Samua. The visibly frightened man says he works in a vegetable store and was walking home with friends after watching the Italy-Germany World Cup match when he saw the soldiers and decided to hide in a nearby hut.
After some coaxing, Ahmed points to a tall green-lit building. "That is the Dawa office," he says.
The troops quickly take up positions as the company commander and a few soldiers begin searching the building to ensure that Ahmed hadn't sent them into a trap. After a quick search, the soldiers begin kicking in doors and find offices filled with Hamas charity documents and computers.
Maj. Sha'adi, an officer with the Civil Administration, which supplied the intelligence for the operation, sifts through the documents and fills cardboard boxes with material to be analyzed by intelligence experts.
As the troops file back into their armored vehicles after another long night on the prowl, Didi and his men return to base, knowing it won't be long before they enter nearby villages in search of terrorists and the money that supports them.