Israeli soldiers interrogate a Palestinian family during a raid in the West Bank refugee camp of Jalazon in June 2014. (AFP/Abbas Momani, File)
BETHLEHEM (Maan) -- A constant stream of people filter into the Hebron branch of the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society, climbing up a dimly-lit stairwell of the nondescript office building tucked into the folds of the occupied city.
Musa sits in the chair opposite the office secretary. “I’m trying to find my son,” he says, beginning a conversation that has been repeated by bleak-faced family members in the same room hundreds of times before.
“I think he’s in Ofer but I don’t know if they transferred him,” he continues, referring to an Israeli detention center in the West Bank.
The secretary opens one of dozens of binders that lay beside her, flips to the file of Musa’s son, and phones someone with access to information on his whereabouts.
After a brief exchange of identification numbers and dates, the secretary hangs up the phone and hands Musa her card. “Call us back later today, he’s finding out."
A group has now gathered at the entrance of the prisoners’ society office, mostly fathers. They represent a fraction of Palestinians across the occupied West Bank awaiting news on loved ones recently detained by Israeli military forces.
The number of those detained has skyrocketed since Oct. 1, with around 2,000 Palestinians landing in Israeli jails over the last two months, according to prisoners’ rights group Addameer.
The detentions are one of several policies implemented by Israeli authorities in an attempt to quash an escalation of youth demonstrations as well as attacks by individual Palestinians on Israeli military and civilians.
Mass arrest campaigns are usually carried out following attacks. Palestinians expect them. Despite the normalcy that accompanies arrest raids, Abed Alaal Alanani, the West Bank director of the Palestinian Prisoner's’ Society, told Ma’an that the last two months have marked a noticeable change in how detentions are being carried out.
During the Second Intifada, Israel would often target Palestinian political groups who were responsible for orchestrating attacks on Israeli interests. The majority of attacks since Oct. 1, however, have been carried out by individuals who have no background of "security violations" with Israel, and no strong political affiliation.
Because no political group is taking responsibility for attacks, Abed said, the relationship between Israeli security forces and Palestinian families is shifting: Instead of punishing political groups, the families of individuals have become the target of Israeli crackdowns.
“It’s a big problem for the Israelis,” Abed told Ma’an. “Why? Because in general all of the people that make problems with the Israelis now are not going to do so by an order of their political committee. This is different from the Second Intifada."
The lack of political backing or organization of recent attacks has, in effect, pitted the Israeli security establishment against individual Palestinians and their families, Abed said.‘They have to show something’
Israeli police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld told Ma’an that police, "as part of ongoing investigations," often become involved with the family members of the perpetrator following an attack.
“After every attack, it’s important to understand how they [the attacker] arrived to the area, how they made their way to the scene,” Rosenfeld said.
“Sometimes, members of the families are questioned. We go into the houses to see what different materials there are that the terrorist had access to. We also look on computers and access their social network accounts to see what the person was involved with before the attack.”
Murad, a legal assistant at Addameer, told Ma’an that the measures police and security forces have taken with family members since Oct. 1 go much further than simple questioning.
“Detaining family members, this is a new thing,” he told Ma’an, citing both detention of attackers’ families as well as relatives of Palestinian youth who participate in demonstrations against Israeli forces.
“They [Israeli forces] have to show something. They have a responsibility as security forces to show Israeli society that they are doing something to save their [Israeli] lives.
“They punish the family, because they need to put the responsibility on the shoulders of someone,” Murad told Ma’an.
Where Palestinian political leadership is absent to channel the sharp edges of Israeli action following attacks, Palestinian families have been left to bear the brunt.
Rather than acknowledging the ongoing military occupation, Murad said, Israeli authorities are exercising collective punishment -- illegal under international law -- on innocent relatives in attempt to exert pressure on families to stop activity against Israel.Collective punishment, collective anger
Mass detention hasn’t been the only measure implemented by Israeli forces against Palestinian relatives to those involved in demonstrations or attacks.
Amjad a-Najjar heads the prisoners’ society in Hebron, the largest city in the occupied West Bank and site of nearly a third of recent detentions.
He points to Israel’s withholding of bodies
of Palestinians who were killed while carrying out attacks on Israelis as one example of the direct Israeli affront on families.
The practice was initially used during the Second Intifada to punish orchestrators of attacks when suicide bombings made it impossible to punish those who actually carried out the attacks, as well as to prevent funerals-turned-nationalistic events.
Israel’s revamping of the temporarily-lost practice ignited the Hebron area last month. Dominated by a handful of major family names, the refusal to return one body rippled across the city, defaming hundreds outside of the immediate family of the killed attacker, Amjad told Ma'an.
Meanwhile, Israel has increased demolition of homes belonging to the families of Palestinians who perpetrate attacks, revoked the residency for Jerusalem families related to the suspects, and sealed Palestinian villages and towns following attacks since October.
In some ways, Amjad sees as a good thing the disintegration of political affiliation and accountability that he says potentially influenced Israel’s increased policies of collective punishment.
Amjad -- who spent ten years in Israeli prison for involvement with the Fatah party -- said that in the past, political affiliation posed as a deterrent for many from gaining common ground against the Israeli occupation.
“Before...not all people were political. I’m with Fatah, but my brother didn’t care to learn about the Fatah movement. He didn’t get involved.”
“Now,” Amjad said, “Israel has taken all of the people to Intifada...it’s an entirely different situation. They have no focus….they are instead punishing everyone.”
While Hebron is unique, Abed told Ma’an he sees something similar occurring across the occupied territory. “It’s not about the Fatah organization, or Hamas organization...When one person is killed, the families want to take action. It’s between Israel and individual families.”