IDF to significantly limit controversial West Bank ‘home-mapping’ operations

Rights groups laud decision on practice they’ve long criticized as ‘arbitrary;’ IDF doesn’t explain reason for move, says exceptions to be made for concrete security needs

Illustrative: The IDF carries out overnight raids in the West Bank, August 1, 2016 (IDF)
Illustrative: The IDF carries out overnight raids in the West Bank, August 1, 2016 (IDF)

The Israeli military will substantially limit its controversial practice of conducting nighttime reconnaissance operations in Palestinian homes, the Israel Defense Forces said on Tuesday night.

“As of now, and in accordance with the current security assessment, the ‘structure-mapping’ activity will no longer be employed in Judea and Samaria except in unusual circumstances,” the Israeli army said in a statement, referring to the West Bank by its biblical name.

The IDF declined to explain the change in policy on the record.

“House-mapping” has long been a common but controversial tactic used by Israel to ensure security in the West Bank. The military had long defended such operations as an important intelligence-gathering tool, while human rights groups have condemned the practice as arbitrary and invasive.

In a mapping operation, Israeli soldiers enter a Palestinian home with little forewarning, often in the middle of the night, to collect information on the building and its residents. Soldiers typically wake up inhabitants, ordering them out of bed to take photographs and record identification numbers.

Illustrative: IDF troops make a late-night arrest in the West Bank on January 11, 2017. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

“The goal of ‘mapping structures’ in Judea and Samaria is reconnaissance for various reasons according to a well-substantiated military need,” the IDF told the B’Tselem rights group in response to a 2015 query.

Rights groups contend the Israeli military arbitrarily maps houses or even entire villages so as to gain information without any specific operational purpose in mind.

The army has declined to explain how homes are chosen for such operations, saying the criteria are classified for security reasons.

The IDF stressed in its Tuesday statement that the practice will nonetheless continue in a more limited capacity, in cases where “there is a concrete security-operational need. But each individual action will require permission by senior Israeli commanders, it said.

Nighttime arrests of Palestinians suspected of security offenses will also continue, a spokesperson for the Israeli military confirmed.

Left-wing rights groups who have long agitated against the practice hailed the decision as an “important success.”

“Home invasions are some of the cruelest and most wide-spread practices which Palestinians living under occupation experience…even though this practice will continue, at least we have stopped the structure-mapping,” tweeted Lior Amihai, who directs the Yesh Din rights group.

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