At the beginning of this month, I blogged about the shooting of three brothers in the West Bank village of Rammoun on 27 March that resulted in the death of one and was conducted by undercover Israeli agents, an act tantamount to perfidy and thus a violation of international humanitarian law.
Yesterday, Ynet reported that these undercover agents were actually performing a military training exercise and that the soldier responsible for killing Rashad Shawakha, 28, had been dismissed.
As Yossi Gurvitz points out, “The officers who planned the exercise… will remain in their posts.”
But the operation seems to go beyond just the purview of the commanding officers. Conducting the operation was the Duvdevan Unit, a division of the Israeli military that is characterized chiefly by impersonating Palestinians and carrying out undercover operations and trainings. It appears that the training exercise on 27 March, which incorporated a grave breach of international law, is an integral and systematic element of training this elite group.
The Dudevan Unit: experts at perfidy
The Duvdevan unit is known for sending undercover units into West Bank villages, disguised as Palestinian. The unit is considered one of the most elite of the Israeli army, and members supposedly undergo a rigorous selection process. The unit seeks out soldiers who speak Arabic and look Palestinian.
“These units undergo special training and do not follow the same instructions for opening fire as the regular forces. Their members receive military and psychological training so that killing is a routine and easy procedure.” Dr. Saleh Abdel Jawad, a professor of history and political science at Birzeit University, wrote in an article in 2000.
The unit has conducted numerous extra-judicial assassinations; among them was the infamous annihilation of the preeminent Black Panthers (Fahad al Aswad) group during the first Intifada. Soldiers from Duvdevan dressed up as peasant women and entered the Yasmineh quarter of the Old City in Nablus, where they executed the leaders of the group, a paramilitary wing of Fatah who took it upon themselves to punish those who collaborated with Israel.
Jawad writes that one of the final stages of the training of Duvdevan soldiers relates to “the art of disguise, acting and deception.” During this stage, professional actors and acting coaches are invited to instruct the soldiers how to effectively present themselves as Arab beggars, workers, villagers, Bedouins, etc.
“After they complete their training they are required either individually or in a group, to experiment with what they have learned in the real world. They are sent, unarmed, to different areas in Israel or in Jerusalem to mingle with the Arab or Israeli public to test their disguising skills.”
So it appears that after the soldiers are turned into expert killers and liars, they are sent out into the “real world” i.e. Palestinian villages, to test their skills. Except not only are they now training with “live extras” (as Gurvitz describes them) but with live ammunition as well.
As the human rights group al-Haq emphasizes in a report, disguising military agents in civilian clothes amounts to perfidy, one of the most serious crimes of international law.
Significantly, the soldiers perpetrated perfidy twice that night. First, by entering the village in civilian clothing, and again after the Shawakha brothers confronted them and the agents lied in order disguise their true identities.
“When the brothers confronted the soldiers, they could have just said we’re soldiers and we’re doing a training, but they continued to disguise who they were,” a representative from al-Haq told me.
The soldiers masquerading as Palestinian told the brothers that they had just bought land in the village.