BEITA, Israeli-Occupied West Bank — The operation began in the dark, at 2:30 Thursday morning. Coming from two sides, dozens of Israeli soldiers moved into this remote Arab village. By the time they left 4 1/2 hours later, nine people were arrested and four, including a 75-year-old religious leader, were in a hospital badly beaten.
There were shots but no killings. There were clashes--illuminated only by an occasional military flare--between stone-throwing villagers and the troops, but no reporters were present.
The raid on Beita suggests another tactic being adopted by the Israeli troops as they struggle to confine and dilute the continuing Palestinian uprising against the 20-year Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Concerned by the shooting deaths of dozens of Palestinians and angered and embarrassed by the negative image of Israel that emerged after Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, in a short-lived policy change, announced that the army would deal with demonstrators by beating them, the military has begun to shy away from the frequent skirmishes and battles--often in front of reporters and television cameras--that have marked the uprising since it began Dec. 9.
Instead, military officials say, they will largely ignore the burning tires, street barricades and rock throwing that has frequently provoked battles, and often fatalities and severe injuries, in the larger cities and refugee camps in the occupied territories.
"That's how it usually started--a burning tire, and then we would come, and they would throw rocks, and we would fire tear gas, and they would gather around us, and then we would shoot, and you (journalists) would all be there," said an army lieutenant in Gaza City.
Army officers also acknowledged that they no longer will try to force striking store owners to open their shops. "It was futile," said another officer based in Jerusalem. "We would break the locks and open the shutters. Three minutes later, they would be closed. We were supposed to look strong, but we only looked stupid."
The use of night raids has been noted in the Gaza Strip in recent days and in areas in the far north of the West Bank around the city of Janin, which has largely been closed to journalists.
The military has not given up the cities and large camps to the demonstrators, but has imposed lengthy and total curfews that keep residents inside and away from their jobs and food supplies.
Confined by Curfews
For periods of a week to 10 days since the first of February, as many as 175,000 people have been confined by curfews at any one time, including all 100,000 residents of Nablus, the largest West Bank city.
This has allowed the military to shift to the countryside and deal with the relatively low-level but constant attacks by rural protesters against Jewish settlers in the occupied territories as well as military patrols and, in particular, buses that carry Arab workers to jobs inside Israel.
But if the military has become more media-conscious in its continuing battle with the protesters, the testimony of a number of villagers from Beita suggests that the harsh measures employed by troops to contain the demonstrations continues--albeit in darkness and away from the television crews that trail the troops on daytime patrol in the territories.
An army spokeswoman said troops entered Beita to search for several people believed responsible for a recent firebombing attack on an Israeli bus. "The soldiers were met with resistance from the villagers and had to use force to make the arrests," she said, adding that the villagers attacked the troops with stones, knives and acid.
Residents of the village, nestled in the rolling hills southeast of Nablus, admitted to throwing stones but said they did so because they at first mistook the soldiers for Jewish settlers, who had raided the village recently in apparent retaliation for earlier stone-throwing incidents.
Since then, the villagers have kept a nightly watch, fearing that the settlers would come back.
All the villagers requested anonymity, saying they feared reprisals if their names were used. But they all gave similar accounts of the raid, which began without warning in the dead of night.
A local village official said the soldiers came to arrest a man identified as Mahmoud Ibrahim Banishamseh. They apparently did not find him, but in the course of a house-to-house search, in which witnesses said the troops overturned furniture, nine other people were arrested and at least four were beaten badly enough to require hospitalization in Nablus' Al Ittihad Hospital.
The injured included a young man now paralyzed from the waist down who doctors said will never be able to walk again; two boys, ages 14 and 15, and Salim Issawi, Beita's 75-year-old muezzin, the man who calls the village to prayer.