It’s midnight. There’s a knock on the door. You yell that you are coming to open it in hopes that the soldiers don’t blow it open. Moments later, dozens of soldiers invade your house. Your children wake to masked soldiers with guns pointed directly at them, yelling in a language your children don’t understand. They force your family into one room and tear your house apart without explanation. This is the reality that many families have faced across the West Bank.
Night raids are one of the most devastating acts of the Israeli military occupation in the West Bank. The violent raids occur between midnight and 5 AM, often without the families getting an explanation. According to the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling, 1,360 night raids are executed every year, the majority within 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) of a settlement or near roads that settlers frequent.
Ecumenical Accompaniers with the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) respond to a variety of incidents, including night raids. Our team met with the Sabre family the following morning after their house was raided. Majed Sabre recalled the incident to us; In the village of Bruqin, on January 9th, 2019, at 12:15 AM, an estimated 70 Israeli soldiers and Israeli Border Police surrounded three houses, and for three hours, simultaneously raided the homes of Majed, his father, and his son. They received no explanation as to why they were being searched, nor were they given a search warrant. When the group of soldiers finished in one home, they moved to the next house to conduct another search. Dogs, too, were present, and the guards openly threatened to unleash them on the young children. Majed’s wife felt severe pressure from this raid. Her grandchildren were in the house (15-month-old twins and two other young children). Crying and inconsolable, the infants needed care. She asked the soldiers if she could make them bottles of milk, but the soldiers did not grant her permission. Nervously she said, “You can kill me, but I need to give them milk.” With guns to her back, she stood in the kitchen preparing bottles of milk. She recalls that she could not stop shaking and felt immense pressure to protect her grandchildren. Traumatized, she was hospitalized for psychological support following the event. The children’s rooms were picked apart, mattresses overturned, and their belongings thrown around. The soldiers finally left around three in the morning, but the children were scared and anxious and took two hours to settle down.
Children suffer the most from these raids as it traumatizes them from an early age, creating an atmosphere of constant fear and anxiety. Raids impact their mental well-being by inducing night terrors, sleep deprivation, incontinence, and low self-esteem. According to parents and teachers, raids also impact academic performance, social interactions, and their overall feeling of safety. According to Military Court Watch, the raids are also conducted to suppress resistance, especially among young boys considered by the Israeli military to have the potential to rebel against the occupation. On average, 700 children are arrested each year; in 2013, 56% of the children arrested were detained by force during the night raids. For Palestinian children who have experienced a night raid, one impact is that they may no longer feel safe.
Adult males are often victimized with humiliation and intimidation. During the raid, Majed and his son were forced to stand in the freezing rain and wind, separated from the family. Majed is frustrated. “We don’t know why they came,” he says, “they did not tell us.” To him, this is just another way to intimidate the village and its families. This routine systematic violence also has long-term psychological effects on women, including severe sleeping disorders, stress issues, and depression. Women report sleeping in their day clothes and headscarves because when the raids occur, the Israeli soldiers do not allow families to dress.
As a party to the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel is bound by an obligation to International Law. According to the Fourth Geneva Convention, the occupying power has a responsibility to ensure the well-being of the civilian population in the occupied territory. The occupying power also has a responsibility to ensure the right to physical and mental health. These violent night raids are just another example of the Israeli military’s systematic abuse of human rights and unjust policies carried out on the occupied Palestinian territories.
Bless those who are responding to the plight of humanity and the needs of their communities. I pray that you walk with the people of Palestine and Israel. Please, open our hearts and minds so that we may rise towards peace and justice.
Jess served with the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) as an Ecumenical Accompanier. Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the WCC nor Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).