…Beit Hanoun was left with no men between the ages of 16 and 45 in the wake of a massive forced round-up by the Israeli army last Thursday night amid helicopter gunfire, tanks and artillery shelling.
The systematic wholesale internment of entire populations of adult men is by no means unheard of in wartime, but I’ve never heard of the Israelis using this tactic. I became suspicious when, on searching, I could find no news report of this claimed round-up independent of the Guardian’s original piece. I suspect the direct source was this article, also published in the Guardian, by Jameela al-Shanti, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council who led the women’s demonstration.
For days, the town has been encircled by Israeli tanks and troops and shelled. All water and electricity supplies were cut off and, as the death toll continued to mount, no ambulances were allowed in. Israeli soldiers raided houses, shut up the families and positioned their snipers on roofs, shooting at everything that moved. We still do not know what has become of our sons, husbands and brothers since all males over 15 years old were taken away last Thursday. They were ordered to strip to their underwear, handcuffed and led away.
This was published the following day, but the Guardian’s editors certainly would have had it in hand when they published the earlier report.
It’s not clear what “all males over 15” refers to in the above. The editors appear to have understood it to refer to every man in the city, but it could just as well be interpretted to refer to all the men in the raided houses, or even just those men known personally to al-Shanti.
I wanted to get to the bottom of this, so I carried on searching. The most detailed incident-based reports of the invasion of Beit Hanoun that I was able to find are from the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), both of which publish weekly summaries. The PCHR report makes no mention of any kind of mass detention, while the The OCHA (PDF link) reported the following (page 11):
1-6 November: More than 2,000 people including women were detained by the IDF in the Agricultural School. Most were released, but it is not clear how many in captivity.
4 November: IDF ordered all men aged between 16 and 40 years living in the Al Masreen and Al Bora areas in Beit Hanoun to evacuate their homes. They were all detained by the IDF in the Agricultural School
The School appears to have been used by the IDF as a temporary holding area. Presumably those not released would be moved to more secure locations. It’s not clear whether the mass arrests on 4 November were included in, or in addition to the more than 2000 people detained there during the week.
The 4 November action, however, does not appear to be the one that al-Shanti was referring to. Aaccording to her, the detentions happened “last Thursday”, i.e., 2 November, the day of the Mosque seige. I began to search for news reports for that day, and found two syndicated stories by Reuters and Associated Press.
Witnesses said soldiers using loudspeakers had ordered all residents over 16 years of age in the town of Beit Hanoun to present themselves at a school for questioning. The town of 30,000 people is effectively under an army curfew, they said.
Amid the clashes, men between the ages of 16 and 40 were ordered over loudspeakers to gather in one of the main squares of Beit Hanoun, but few complied.
Those who arrived in the square were taken by soldiers in trucks to another area of the town and questioned to find out if they were involved in terrorist activity, said the army, which took over the town Wednesday. Some were released and others were taken for more questioning, it said.
Compare with this report from Al Jazeerah:
Israeli occupation forces, on Thursday afternoon, transferred the males of Beit Hanoun aged between 16-45 in a convoy of large trucks to unknown destinations.
Security sources reported that the Israeli occupation forces called the men through loudspeakers, and gathered them in front of An-Nassr mosque in the north of Beit Hanoun.
No mention there that the call had been largely ignored, or that some of the men had been released. Note also the reference to the Mosque – the same one that had been liberated by the women that day.