Military Affairs: In the middle of the night in the village

The 'Post’ joins IDF troops on a raid in the West Bank.

ON PATROL in the village of Kafr Nima. ‘Everyone has their time. Don’t worry, we will find them.’ (photo credit: ANNA AHRONHEIM)
ON PATROL in the village of Kafr Nima. ‘Everyone has their time. Don’t worry, we will find them.’
(photo credit: ANNA AHRONHEIM)
It’s a scene repeated every night – soldiers and Border Police officers gathering at a military base in the West Bank, waiting for the order to head out for another arrest raid.
It was 11 p.m. when I entered the base near the village of Rantis in the central West Bank. The troops were mingling and cracking jokes as I carried my flak jacket and helmet to the battalion commander’s office.
“We aren’t going anywhere yet, not for a few more hours,” one soldier said as he lit his cigarette, leaned back against a military jeep and went back to the game on his phone.
It was close to midnight as we packed up and jumped into that same jeep and headed to another base near the settlement of Dolev, closer to the village that the soldiers from the 90th Battalion of the Kfir Brigade were preparing to raid in order to confiscate terrorism funds and arrest Hamas members suspected of violence against Israeli civilians.
As we drove down the windy, empty roads, the troops played a song that I hadn’t heard in years – “Middle of the Night in the Village” by Harel Moyal – a song more than suitable for the scene.
“[In] the middle of the night in the village, I light another cigarette before the arrest, and a cleric sings from Ramallah. Between people in black I pass another fence that is difficult to cross. I find myself between El-Khader and Beit Jala.... [In] the middle of the night in the village, [the] moon illuminates the time that has passed. In the alley, a soldier is praying…”
We arrived at the other base, full of troops who had gathered. They were drinking soda and smoking as their commanders met to discuss final details of the raid. We waited until 2 a.m., when the first jeep in our convoy started down the road.
“Vests and helmets on,” ordered the female doctor who was in command of the Ze’ev armored personnel carrier. I had joined the medics of the battalion, and as we drove I was told that should a soldier or suspect need medical treatment, I would need to find room in another vehicle.
On the way to Kafr Nima, the convoy stopped at Nahal Dolev, where three weeks earlier an explosive device detonated as a family walked past, killing 17-year-old Rina Shnerb and wounding her father and brother. Those behind the deadly attack are still on the run.
The convoy stopped at the stream to wait for the all clear from the battalion commander, Lt.-Col. Liron Appelbaum, to head into Kafr Nima. Appelbaum had gone by foot into the village, only some 3 kilometers away but up the steep West Bank hills in the dead of night.
A similar script is followed over and over again as Israeli security forces, including the IDF, the Israel Police and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), carry out near nightly raids in the West Bank in an attempt to arrest Palestinians suspected of violence against Israelis.
With terrorist attacks continuing in the West Bank, the IDF arrested over 1,000 Palestinians in the first half of 2019 and confiscated 270 illegal weapons.
The numbers released by the military, while slightly lower than the previous year of 3,000 arrests, is significantly lower than numbers released in December by the Palestinian Prisoners’ Center, which said that 5,700 Palestinians were arrested by troops in 2018, including 980 children.
KAFR NIMA, a village not far from Modi’in, is “very violent,” Appelbaum said before he headed out, explaining that there have been several attacks by residents against Israeli troops and civilians.
In early March an officer in his battalion was severely wounded in a vehicular ramming attack at the entrance to the village. The IDF also claimed that the two suspects, who were shot and killed by troops at the scene, had thrown Molotov cocktails at cars at an intersection adjacent to Route 443, which cuts through the West Bank, earlier that night.
It was close to 3 a.m. when we rolled into the village. It was silent as I stepped out of the APC and followed troops to a building where they were planning to arrest a known Hamas member. “Middle of the Night in the Village” was stuck in my head.
The clothes belonging to the families inside were on the laundry line next to the stairs, still damp to the touch. The mother of the house must have just recently washed her husband’s and children’s clothes, not knowing that one of them wouldn’t be wearing them in the near future.
Suddenly, out of the darkness, Appelbaum and a number of other soldiers appeared, heading straight into the building. One by one, lights started turning on in the building, as the residents were awakened by the sound of boots running up stairs, followed by banging on their doors. It’s a familiar sound to Palestinian families across the West Bank.
While I was not allowed inside the homes where the arrests were taking place, the scene was likely no different from every other arrest raid: troops storming into a family’s home, waking them up and dragging the suspects from their beds in their pajamas from one room to another while soldiers go through their home, before taking them out in handcuffs and blindfolds.
“These operations are very important because we have to show them [the Palestinians] that we can get them in their homes,” Appelbaum told me, as we waited for troops to finish searching the home of another family in a separate part of the village.
While the troops who were searching for terrorism funds came out empty-handed, Appelbaum said that close to $3,000, including funds given by the Palestinian Authority to families of Palestinians in Israeli prisons, was confiscated that night.
“Sometimes raids in the middle of the night are the best way to get someone you need to arrest, since they will most likely be at home. They don’t know when we will get here,” Appelbaum said.
Unable not to bring up the explosive attack that claimed Rina Shnerb’s life, I asked Appelbaum why the perpetrators haven’t been caught yet.
“Everyone has their time. Don’t worry, we will find them,” he said. “Terrorists aren’t dumb; they want to succeed, and they learn after every successful attack. But they fail more than they succeed, in large part due to our intelligence.”
When asked if he thought these nightly raids didn’t just further radicalize the population against Israel and the IDF, Appelbaum was clear: he is saving lives.
“It doesn’t matter to me. At the end of the day, I have orders and I carry them out. If someone threw a Molotov cocktail at a car with a mother and child in it, I want to arrest him. Every weapon we get is one less weapon that can be used for an attack,” he said.
“I’m 100% sure that if the army wasn’t doing its job, if we weren’t in these villages every night, there would be a lot more terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens,” he continued.
“If Palestinians stop attacks, be it throwing stones or Molotov cocktails, then I won’t be here arresting them. I don’t want to be here, in this village or any other, at this hour. But... if I can stop [terrorists] before they carry out an attack, then I’m saving lives... even if sometimes it doesn’t look like it,” Appelbaum said, as we walked down the empty roads in the village.
As the raid wound down, with his troops having arrested three of the four wanted Hamas members and having confiscated thousands of dollars in terrorism funds, I asked Appelbaum if he thought there was any possibility of peace with the Palestinians, several of whom were on the ground, handcuffed and with a mixed look of shock and defiance.
Appelbaum didn’t hesitate for an instant: “There won’t be peace soon. There’s too much hate on both sides. One day it will be good. One day there will be peace. One day.”