Activists claim harassment after Israeli reservists ransack rural Palestinian hamlet

Villagers from Halat al-Daba say residents were beaten, had possessions stolen in raid by ‘settlers in uniform’; IDF says small number of bullets, ‘incitement flags’ discovered

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Sacks of flour cut open, allegedly by IDF reserve soldiers, during a raid on the Palestinian hamlet of Halat al-Daba on December 8, 2023. (Courtesy The Villages Group)
Sacks of flour cut open, allegedly by IDF reserve soldiers, during a raid on the Palestinian hamlet of Halat al-Daba on December 8, 2023. (Courtesy The Villages Group)

Dozens of reserve IDF soldiers raided the small Palestinian hamlet of Halat al-Daba in the South Hebron Hill last week, causing heavy damage to homes and allegedly stealing electronic devices, work tools, and a large amount of cash.

Pictures and videos from the aftermath of Friday’s raid showed homes turned upside down, windows smashed, doors damaged, sacks of flour cut open, and the belongings of the villagers strewn across their premises, while activists said five villagers were beaten.

The Israel Defense Forces said the raid was approved by regional commanders and that reserve soldiers were searching for weapons and ammunition. “After checking,” the army added it was unaware of any incidents of theft or violence by the soldiers who conducted the raid.

The IDF provided pictures of some bullets it said were discovered in a child’s backpack, along with some knives, saws, farming equipment, coats, and what it called “flags of incitement,” including a “Hamas flag,” which nevertheless appeared to be Fatah and Palestinian national flags, alongside a t-shirt of the Israeli anti-judicial overhaul group Brothers-in-Arms.

Two men were detained during the operation and subsequently released without charge.

According to activists in “The Villages Group,” which supports rural Palestinian communities in the West Bank, around 10 civilian vehicles left the illegal outpost of Avigayil early Friday morning and entered the hamlet of Halat al-Daba around 6:30 a.m.

A convoy of vehicles, allegedly bearing IDF reservist soldiers which raided the Palestinian hamlet of Halat al-Daba, December 8, 2023. (Courtesy The Villages Group)

Over a span of around three hours, some 50 reserve soldiers in IDF uniforms entered every home in the hamlet and scoured each residence.

“They went to every house and the school, took everything out, they trampled on food and vegetables, and beat five people,” one activist who asked not to be named told The Times of Israel.

She said most of the reservist soldiers who carried out the raid had their faces covered, but that some were identified as residents of the nearby illegal outpost of Havat Maon, which anti-settlement activists have long accused of being a source of violence against the local Palestinian population.

Following the October 7 atrocities perpetrated by Gaza-ruling Hamas, six volunteer reserve battalions were enlisted by the IDF into the reserve forces protecting West Bank settlements, made up of volunteers from the settlements themselves as well as from inside the Green Line.

Several anti-settlement organizations have accused these battalions of persistent attacks against Palestinian residents and their property since October 7, which have led over 1,000 people in 15 rural communities to abandon their homes.

The contents of kitchen cupboards strewn across the room following a raid on the Palestinian hamlet of Halat al-Daba on December 8, 2023. (Courtesy, The Villages Group)

The activist added that the villagers still do not have a full list of what is missing because of how the hamlet was turned upside down during the raid.

According to Yair, another activist in The Villages Group who did not wish to disclose his last name, several electronic devices and valuable work tools — including a pneumatic drill  and a generator — were confiscated during the raid, along with a large amount of money in cash and 12 gold coins.

Two people were detained by the reservists, including the mayor of the nearby town of A-Tuwani, Mohammad al-Rabai, who made his way to Halat al-Daba during the raid. He was released shortly after being detained, while another villager was released later that evening.

Yair said that although numerous people phoned the police to report on the raid as it took place, the police stated that they could not intervene since IDF soldiers were present.

In response to the incident, the IDF stated that “during the course of operational activities to search for weapons in Halat a Daba in the Judah District, IDF reserve forces searched a number of houses for weapons. Incitement flags, including Hamas flags, and military equipment was found in these searches. In one of the buildings, ammunition was found in a child’s backpack. A suspect was arrested and taken for questioning by the security forces.

“After examination, we are unaware of incidents of the theft of jewelry or the use of violence by the soldiers.”

A small number of bullets in a child’s backpack, together with some a Fatah and Palestinian national flag, knives, a saw, and other items discovered in the raid on the Palestinian hamlet of Halat al-Daba on December 8, 2023. (Screenshot from IDF video)

Yair dismissed the discovery of bullets and flags by the soldiers as inconsequential, and said that if anyone in the hamlet posed a security threat, they would have been arrested and not released without charge a few hours later.

“It is settlers from the area who are now in uniform and who all of a sudden have authority they didn’t used to have carrying out these raids,” he said.

“Every day and every night there are raids like this, not based on anything at all or any [intelligence] information, and they go back to the same places again and again, not to look for weapons but to harass the residents.

“The Yatta region was never a source of terrorism or hostile activity. These people are all about getting a living from the land, they are not political people, but the settlers want this land and don’t want the Palestinians there.”

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