Israel’s “mapping procedure” reveals the profound control that it exerts on Palestinians living under its military rule.
The mapping procedure unfolds much like Israel’s routine nighttime arrest raids in the occupied West Bank.
Armed soldiers surround a Palestinian family’s home in the dead of the night. A squad bangs on the front door, waking everyone up. Once inside, the soldiers gather the residents into a single room.
The family’s ID cards are inspected and recorded, as is how everyone is related, and their phone numbers.
One of the family members may be taken by the soldiers as they go from room to room, and ordered to open closet doors, or lift up mattresses.
But unlike during an arrest raid, once the soldiers have gone through the home, they leave and move on to the next one, telling the family that they can go back to sleep.
“Map the entire civilian population”
That is how one former Israeli soldier describes his many “mapping missions” in Palestinian villages near Ramallah.
In the below video testimony published by the group Breaking the Silence, Eyal Weinberg states that “Our objective was to map almost all of the houses and the Palestinian population in the area. … We had to map the entire civilian population.”
The Israeli army has aerial photos of Palestinian villages in which each home is assigned a number. Troops are sent into the villages in the middle of the night to collect more data on particular homes, “writing down every possible detail about the house and its residents.”
The tables of information recorded by the soldiers are passed on to Israel’s intelligence apparatuses.
“There are layers of information on every person or family in the Palestinian population,” Weinberg explains.
He adds that mapping has nothing to do with investigating suspected “terrorists” and is carried out “with the only objective of having information about everyone.”
Though the mapping procedure may be less violent than arrest raids, and no one is removed from the home, it certainly terrifies the Palestinian families who are subjected to it.
A mother in Qusra village near the northern West Bank city of Nablus described to the Israeli rights group B’Tselem her fear when eight soldiers entered her family’s home in the middle of the night in July.
“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 my baby,” Sanaa Bisharat said.
Arwa Abu Rida, another woman whose home was among the 19 entered that same night, said that the soldiers looked inside the bedroom where her two girls were sleeping, but did not wake them up.
“Why do they go to houses only at night, disturbing and scaring people?” she asked. “I thanked God that my girls hadn’t woken up, especially the eldest, because she’s very scared of soldiers.”
In some cases of the mapping procedure, according to B’Tselem, Israeli soldiers record the members of a household on camera.
That may have been the case when this video was recorded by B’Tselem volunteers in February when Israeli soldiers entered their family’s home in the middle of the night and photographed the children living there:
Former soldier Weinberg says that “My commanders and the GSS [Israel’s internal intelligence apparatus, also known as Shabak or Shin Bet] believed that there’s no such thing as innocent people. In other words, everyone is a potential future terrorist and that’s why we have to know them all.”
The extreme violation and exploitation of Palestinians’ privacy was protested last year by a group of Israeli reservists affiliated with the elite “Unit 8200” electronic espionage operation.
In their public letter, the soldiers gave a rare acknowledgment of Israel’s spying on Palestinians in order to use personal information to coerce them into collaborating.
Israel has even outsourced some of this information-gathering to the Palestinian Authority and United Nations through the Gaza reconstruction mechanism to rebuild the nearly 100,000 homes badly damaged or destroyed last year.
There is nothing benign or impersonal about Israel’s occupation. And no Palestinian home is safe from abuses of its power.