By Palestine Center Interns — Jada Bullen and Marie Helmy
The Jerusalem Fund’s Gallery Al-Quds is showcasing a new photographic exhibition titled “Night Raid.” Featuring images of the residents of the Palestinian village of Bil’in, the show displays the Israeli military’s practice of raiding homes in the middle of the night and arresting individuals, including children.
It starts after midnight. Heavily armed and masked soldiers in military vehicles surround a house, pounding on the front door and demanding that the family leaves their home. Soldiers seize the child at gunpoint, blindfold him, and tie his hands behind his back with zip ties. Sometimes, the property is raided and destroyed. Younger siblings scream and cry in confusion. When family members try to follow soldiers and gain information, they are forced back into the house at gunpoint, offered little explanation of why their child is being taken or when they will return. In a state of sleep deprivation and extreme fear, the child is taken into military detention.
Night raids like this occur frequently and irreparably alter the lives of Palestinian children and their communities. Every week, the Israeli military holds an average of 75 night raids in occupied Palestine. In 2016, an estimated 1,000 night raids have occurred across villages in the West Bank, in places such as Abu Sadam, Nil’in, Queitun, Hebron, Ayda Refugee Camp, Northern District of Jenin, and Bil’in. Between the hours of midnight and 5am, troops of 30-40 soldiers in convoys storm through the quiet streets of a sleeping town, targeting homes and children.
Yet, the night raids are only the beginning of a larger military detention process, comprising a massive campaign of child incarceration. Once forcibly arrested, children are thrown in the back of a military troop carrier and taken to an interrogation center. Sleep-deprived, disoriented, and terrorized, children often wait for hours at detention center. During the interrogation, soldiers coerce confessions with threats and physical violence. Children lack access to lawyers and are rarely informed of their right to remain silent; most often, they are forced to sign documents in Hebrew, a language few of them understand. In their judicial hearings, children enter in shackles and prison uniforms, and they are usually denied bail and forced to plead guilty. Many children serve their sentences in Israel, outside of the Palestinian territory and away from their families.
These Israeli military tactics are not only dehumanizing and degrading–they contravene international norms. According to article 37 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the detention of a child shall be used only “as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.” Still, up to 700 Palestinian children every year are forced through the Israeli military detention system–an average of two a day–according to a UNICEF report. Fifty-six percent of the children detained and arrested in 2013 were seized by force during night raids.
To justify these acts, the IDF claims that Israeli domestic laws override provisions of international law. They claim that night raids are necessary and effective to conduct searches and arrests. However, the majority of minors taken into Israeli military court are arrested under accusations of throwing rocks. A brutal military detention system of this magnitude is deployed under the guise of “law and order.”
Israeli military night raids are not merely punitive; they are used to suppress resistance. According to Attorney Gerard Horton of Military Court Watch, the IDF targets children who have allegedly “thrown stones” and “endangered public safety” to identify boys with a “spark”—that is, a propensity for engaging in resistance activities. Enduring trauma at such a young age, Palestinian children who have experienced the military detention system are far less likely to rebel against Israeli authorities later on. These night raids take advantage of their vulnerability to create a generation of fearful and passive individuals, subdued by invasions of mental health and personal property over many years.
Night raid tactics also aim to obliterate all sense of control all Palestinians—not just children—have over their own property and security. For the child in particular, this means that violence is inescapable, even within their own homes; for the parents, it means they are helpless in effectively protecting their own children. The psychological traumas involved are deep and lasting–in fact, many children exhibit the signs indicative of post-traumatic stress disorder. Upon returning home from a military detention center, children are often paranoid and depressed. They lose their appetites, withdraw from friends, and spend their nights haunted by the waking nightmare of their reality. The suffering and humiliation extends past the singular child into the family and larger community, which is the objective of the IDF’s system of collective punishment.
Despite the odds, Palestinians continue to resist. This past September, Bil’in recently observed the 11th anniversary of continued defiance against Israeli settlers. For over a decade, residents of Bil’in have protested a separation wall that cut off the village from agricultural land and illegally annexed their town into the Israeli settlement of Modi’in Illit. Since the protests began in 2004, night raids in Bil’in have multiplied. While the intrusive violence aims to silence their voices, the IDF has not succeeded in extinguishing the “spark” of Bil’in residents.
However, during a recent raid on September 22, 2016, instead of pursuing young boys, Israeli soldiers raided homes and confiscated electronic devices with a recording ability, including phones, laptops, and cameras. Around 2:30 am, in the dark hours of the night, forty soldiers invaded the village and raided the homes of known local activists, confiscating a computer hard-drive, two camera memory cards, three laptops, and five phones.
Whether they confiscate these items to destroy evidence of their oppression or to halt the protests by confiscating the communication tools of rebellion, the Israeli military, nevertheless, recognizes the camera lens as a formidable device jeopardizing their claim to impunity. Cameras have proven critical to the movement, as Palestinians have recorded the night raids and posted them to social media sources. The uploaded video footage has served to inform a wider audience and capture international attention.
The camera lens is one way to recapture some control over Palestinians’ lives. By documenting the injustices, they inscribe their own narratives and actively reject Israel’s systematic attempts to subdue a generation. Acclaimed photographer Hamde Abu Rahma, born and raised in Bil’in, has documented many of the night raids at great personal risk, even following the murder of his cousin, Bassem, at the hands of Israeli soldiers. His family members have been robbed, raided, and imprisoned because of their continued activism. Yet, they remain resolute in their stance against illegal settlement and ultimately, against the Israeli military’s increasingly violent attempts to silence them.
Abu Rahma’s work has received international attention and support. In August 2016, he traveled to the UK and led several talks in Scotland and England to further illuminate the realities that Palestinians face both during the day and under the cover of night. A few of his photographs are shown in tandem with those of another journalist, Richard Cahan, at the most recent exhibition of Gallery Al-Quds, “Night Raid.” Their works seek to draw out the human experience from the dark reality of night raids.
Following a conversation with Attorney Gerard Horton about child incarceration and the disturbing night raids in Bil’in, Cahan decided to enter the town and perform a photographic night raid. He went throughout Bil’in, knocking on people’s doors, and asked if he could take a photograph. “I didn’t want to glorify them, and I didn’t want to show them as victims. I just wanted to show them like you and I . . . They gave me the gift of having this very short time together, these human moments together, and somehow I think the camera recorded that.”
In the photographs, Bil’in residents stand on the threshold of the open doorway to their home–just as they would have done if Israeli soldiers were to knock on their door in the middle of the night. Yet, the images convey a distinct message – absent of fear and subjugation. Instead, the photographs depict families, fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters repossessing the dignity and humanity that soldiers come to steal away in the night. The residents photographed exercised their right to represent themselves as who they are, rather than what the Israeli soldiers’ own fear and propaganda demonize them to be. These are narratives that must be honored and promoted.
Hamde Abu Rahma and Rich Cahan’s work can be viewed in the art exhibit, “Night Raid,” at The Jerusalem Fund’s Gallery Al-Quds. The images are exhibited from September 30 to October 14, 2016.
Jada Bullen and Marie Helmy are Fall 2016 Interns at The Jerusalem Fund and Palestine Center.
The views in this brief are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of The Jerusalem Fund.