In which Ron Ben-Yishai plays soldier with the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) in Qalandiya refugee camp:
The operation had three objectives. The first was what the military calls ‘mowing the lawn’ – detention of suspected terrorists and seizure of weapons, ammunition and explosives. Within Qalandia a great deal of weapons are produced, both for terrorist and criminal purposes.
The second objective was to catch thieves and their stolen property…
The third objective, according to the commander of the operation, was to restore the operational freedom for security forces that had been eroded in recent months, since Operation Protective Edge in Gaza.
‘Mowing the grass‘ or lawn refers, in IDF parlance, to a particular approach to ‘protracted intractable conflict with extremely hostile non-state entities’: ‘a patient military strategy of attrition’ combined with ‘occasional large-scale operations’ to perpetually re-establish an always-‘temporary deterrence’. (p. 68)
Ben-Yishai’s excursion gives some insight into what enforcing a despised occupation looks like on a day-to-day basis:
‘We enter the camp all the time on “surgical” operations, but recently it has become necessary to conduct a large-scale operation in the camp, so as to prevent a loss of control’, he [i.e. Col. Israel Shomer, commander of the Binyamin Brigade] says.
The brigade’s operation was named ‘urban plowing’, and probably not by chance. But the operation was more limited in scope than originally planned. It is possible [to] assume that this was due to the fact that the IDF did not want to inflame the area or damage the rule of the Palestinian Authority in the eyes of the Palestinian street.
The camp residents’ hostility is visceral, and courage near unbelievable:
The Duvdevan fighters move quickly and quietly on a street filled with cafes. We begin to hear shouts and whistles and soon enough the stones start coming. Fist-sized stones at first, and then blocks and even rocks, TVs and solar water heaters. It is clear that this will not be a picnic.
We cling to the walls on both sides of the street and keep moving, passing images of martyrs from the camp. One group of soldiers is taken by surprise by two young Palestinians, perhaps even teenagers, who attack the soldiers with their fists. It is a futile act. They tell a Shin Bet official that they did it out of anger and rage. After a short time, their handcuffs are removed and they are released.
‘You have to admit that they are finding growing courage’, says one of the commanders in a tone in which you can hear a certain esteem. ‘But we, we cannot give in, or Qalandiya will explode in our faces. If we do not “mow the lawn” in large numbers, we will very soon be heading to an intifada. Not because of Hamas, but because of Fatah’s Tanzim’.
When the soldiers leave at 4.30am,
Palestinian youths, who were only waiting on the rooftops for this moment, are tracking the jeeps and armoured vehicles moving down the main street. They are all too familiar with the IDF’s strict rules of engagement [all too familiar indeed – JSW], and some go down to the street and throw rocks and heavy objects at point blank range, which shatter the reinforced glass and turn the steel mesh into scrap metal.