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Israel's Humiliating Practice of Strip-searching Palestinian Women

Editorial Haaretz Editorial


September 05/6, 2023 - Information Clearing House - An Israel Defense Forces unit, which included soldiers from the canine unit and Kiryat Arba police, raided the Ajluni family’s home in Hebron following intelligence about illegal weapons.  According to the IDF Spokesman’s Unit, the search on the night of July 10 uncovered an M16 assault rifle, a magazine, and ammunition. The eldest son, married with three daughters, was arrested. His detention has been extended several times.  Twenty-six family members, including 15 children, were gathered into the apartment belonging to a brother, Abdullah, and his wife, Amal. As is usual in such raids, the women and children were separated from the men; they were held in two rooms guarded by armed soldiers.  The soldiers conducted body searches of the men while they were clothed. The female members of the family – the 53-year-old mother, her 17-year-old daughter, and the mother’s three daughters-in-law, all in their 20s – were each taken, separately, into the children’s room. There, according to what they told both B’Tselem field researcher Manal al-Ja’bari and Haaretz, two armed and masked female soldiers demanded that they strip nude.  Amal, the first who was asked to strip, was forced to do so with her terrified children present in the room. The women said there was also a dog in the room and that when they refused to take off their underwear, the soldiers let him approach and threatened to set him loose. 

The IDF Spokesman’s Unit said the dog wasn’t in the room, but didn’t explain why the women had to strip. If they were trying to hide ammunition or a rifle, that could have easily been discovered without touching them, certainly once they were down to their undergarments. 

Military raids on Palestinian homes are routine. They happen every night, sometimes to arrest people with weapons or an activist in the popular protests against the settlements, and sometimes for the purposes of gathering information, deterrence, or exercises.  Like in other raids, the Ajluni family was woken up by the sound of banging and shouting, only to discover dozens of armed soldiers, most of them masked. As always, the dogs (at least two) added to the terror, especially for the children. And here, too, the women rushed to cover their nightclothes with their prayer robes, which are easy to don quickly.  It’s rare for soldiers to demand that women strip completely, the B’Tselem researcher said. But in recent months, she added, there have been more such incidents. During the mass searches of homes in Hebron that followed a deadly shooting attack two weeks ago, soldiers came to her home as well. 

She, too, was told to strip, even though she wasn’t suspected of weapons possession. It’s clear the demand that women strip in front of armed, masked female soldiers can’t be interpreted as an “operational necessity,” but rather a method of humiliation for its own sake, for the larger purpose of automatic punishment, oppression and intimidation. If there are any actions over which the black flag of illegality flies, this is unquestionably one of them.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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