At other times, we would be told to search for wanted Palestinians. We were never told what they were accused of, and I suspect most of them knew even less. We were just given maps of the city and told to arrest individuals in specific addresses, usually about twenty a day. We blindfolded them, put them in handcuffs, and pushed them into a waiting van, where we would kick them in the stomach.
We were told this was nothing compared to the good old days, before the world media started covering the Intifada. In the good old days soldiers used to make Palestinians sing “My Golani,” the army brigade’s anthem. Soldiers used to paint Palestinians’ donkeys in green and yellow, the brigade’s colors. The good old days were a free-for-all of torture, theft, and humiliation.
We used to open doors to random houses and do a search. This meant putting everyone in one room with one soldier guarding the family with a gun aimed at their heads, with young children crying, grandparents pleading, mothers holding them tightly, and fathers sitting defiant to maintain what was left of their pride. The rest of us walked room by room, opening drawers and throwing their contents on the floor, emptying closets, throwing antique lamps on the walls and breaking them, stepping on beddings with muddy shoes and complaining about the smell. In one drawer I found a letter an eighteen year-old Palestinian wrote to a pen pal in Denmark. He wrote about his wish that one day the violence would end and a Palestinian State would rise alongside Israel. I thought he was trying to fool her into coming to visit him so he could use her to transfer explosives into Israeli cities.
One time we were walking in the middle of the road when a car turned a corner and immediately stopped. When we reached the car and moved to the side, one of us remained in the center of the road and simply climbed the hood of the car with his gun aimed at the driver’s face. He continued walking up to the roof, then back down, when the driver rolled the window down and asked in Hebrew, “What the hell are you doing?” Apparently this was a secret elite unit of soldiers who were dressed like Palestinians, infiltrating the city to find out information about attacks. “Oh,” said my friend, “I thought you were Arabs.” Everyone laughed.
Sometimes in Nablus I used to shoot pigeons out of boredom. Others shot mosque speakers.
The only Arabic phrases I know after three years of service in Nablus and in Gaza are “Open the door,” “Turn the car off,” “Give me your papers,” and “Stop or I’ll shoot.”