ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 141

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Reporter's notebook

Amid Gaza war, IDF steps up West Bank raids to quell potential additional front

ToI joins reservist battalion during overnight operation in Beit Furik, arresting 12 wanted Palestinians, including six Hamas members

Emanuel Fabian

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Israeli troops detain a wanted Palestinian man in the West Bank town of Beit Furik, early November 28, 2023. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)
Israeli troops detain a wanted Palestinian man in the West Bank town of Beit Furik, early November 28, 2023. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

BEIT FURIK, West Bank — It was just past 2 a.m. Tuesday when around 100 soldiers, some on foot and others in a convoy of armored vehicles, began their movement toward a Palestinian town in the northern West Bank.

The overnight operation, like many others in the West Bank in recent weeks, was focused on arresting suspected members of the Hamas terror group and other Palestinians accused of involvement in terror activity — mostly for hurling stones and Molotov cocktails at Israeli vehicles in the area.

It came amid Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, which has taken much of the media spotlight. But tensions in the West Bank remain high.

The IDF says troops have arrested some 2,000 wanted Palestinians across the West Bank, including more than 1,100 affiliated with Hamas, since October 7. According to the Palestinian Authority health ministry, some 200 West Bank Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces, and in some cases settlers, during the same period.

Sitting in a Tigris armored vehicle — a heavily modified Ford F-550 — Maj. (res.) Arik Pupov, the deputy commander of Samaria Regional Brigade’s 8109th Reserve Battalion, told The Times of Israel the coming night’s operation would be larger in scale than usual.

“We have 17 arrests tonight, it’s a lot,” Pupov said as we drove from the Samaria Regional Brigade base into Beit Furik, just south of Nablus. “We will try to carry out the arrests as quickly as possible, with as little friction as possible, and bring all the suspects to be questioned.”

Israeli troops operate in the West Bank town of Beit Furik, early November 28, 2023. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

Some would be released hours later after questioning by Shin Bet interrogators, while others were jailed for being involved in terror.

But not everything went to plan. As we arrived at the first of the 17 homes to be searched, troops dismounted from the armored vehicles and converged on the building in hopes of detaining the wanted Palestinian. Moments later, they came out with unexpected news.

“Commander, the dad says his son has been living in Turkey for the last five years,” one soldier said to Pupov.

Either the father of the suspect was not telling the truth, or the intelligence the troops were given was incorrect. The soldiers left the family with a letter calling on the suspect to turn himself in for questioning if he is actually in the country.

Israeli troops operate in the West Bank town of Beit Furik, early November 28, 2023. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

As we moved on to the next home in the town, two Palestinian boys hurled stones at the armored vehicle, which the troops ignored.

“Sometimes there are riots, but because we are a lot of forces it will likely deter them,” Pupov said. “When we carry out one or two arrests with smaller forces, that’s when we face riots.”

Military officials say that alongside the high Palestinian death toll, the number of terror attacks carried out against Israelis in the West Bank has been noticeably low during the past month and a half, in comparison to a wave of terror in the region over the past two years.

According to military estimates, the vast majority of the 200 Palestinians killed since October 7 were shot dead by troops during clashes amid arrest raids. Around 60% of them, according to data seen by The Times of Israel, were armed with either a firearm or an explosive device. The IDF is aware of at least three cases of uninvolved Palestinians being killed by troops in recent weeks, and a handful of cases of settlers killing Palestinians, which are still under investigation.

Israeli troops operate in the West Bank town of Beit Furik, early November 28, 2023. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

“When you carry out hundreds of arrests every night, it’s statistical. In relation to the number of operations the [number of dead] is very limited,” Pupov said.

He said that “since the beginning of the war, our operations have been more intensive,” noting that reservist battalions are much larger. “Lots of arrests, things that were much more difficult to do with the standing army battalions, whose number of personnel is much more limited.”

“Because we have a lot of forces from the reservists, we have more freedom to arrest all those who have been wanted for years,” he added.

Pupov’s experienced driver took us through the narrow roads of Beit Furik, winding between the homes where suspects are supposed to be detained by the 8109th Battalion troops.

Israeli troops search a wanted Palestinian’s home in the West Bank town of Beit Furik, early November 28, 2023. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

One suspect was brought out of a home blindfolded with his hands tied behind his back. The soldiers checked his ID card to make sure it matched the list provided to them by the Shin Bet, and he was put into the back of the Tigris before we headed out to another site.

For the most part, the raids in Beit Furik passed without major incident. But dozens of armed troops breaking into a Palestinian’s home in the middle of the night to arrest one of the family members is never a pleasant experience.

As the troops barged into one of the homes in the town, the mother of the suspect began to scream. The wanted man initially refused to come with the soldiers and was eventually dragged out by force.

“Slowly, slowly, guys,” one of the soldiers said to his comrade as they escorted the detainee to the armored vehicle.

Israeli troops detain a wanted Palestinian man in the West Bank town of Beit Furik, early November 28, 2023. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

“You can see it doesn’t always go nicely. He refused, and a little bit of force was needed,” Pupov said.

As the wanted man was taken to the Tigris, his mother continued to shout at the soldiers from a window. “Don’t respond to her, let’s go,” one of the soldiers said.

On the way out of Beit Furik, the soldiers picked up two more detainees to be brought to the Shin Bet, leaving little to no room in the back of the Tigris, which another five soldiers needed to fit into.

One of the detainees just had leg surgery, and was in pain from being squashed in the back of the vehicle. The soldiers worked to move the other detainees around so that the  man with the injured leg could be slightly more comfortable during the short drive back to the Samaria Regional Brigade base.

“Are you good?” one soldier asked the man in Arabic. “So-so,” he responded.

Israeli troops detain a wanted Palestinian man in the West Bank town of Beit Furik, early November 28, 2023. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

By the end of the night 12 of the 17 wanted Palestinians were arrested in Beit Furik. According to the IDF, six of them were Hamas members, including one considered to be a senior official in the Nablus area. Troops left letters with the families of the other five, calling on them to turn themselves in.

The IDF says it has cases against all of those it detains, and would not expend effort on detaining and questioning people who are not suspected of anything. Most of those detained in recent weeks have been Hamas members, while the rest, according to the IDF, are members of other terror groups or “instigators” involved in rioting.

“In the end, the main threat here is shooting attacks and explosives, against Jewish civilians and Arabs too,” Pupov said. “The population here wants quiet. Our goal is to maintain order here — doesn’t matter if it’s Jews or Arabs — so that daily life is not disrupted.

“Because we are in a war, we especially want to keep [the West Bank] a quiet area, and not allow another front to open,” he said.

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