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Report of IDF strip-searching Palestinian women causes uproar, draws UN criticism

A recent Israel Defense Forces raid into a Palestinian home in Hebron, during which five female members of a family were reportedly forced to strip naked during a search, is causing an uproar in the Palestinian territories.

The incident took place in the early morning of July 10, and the testimonies of three of the women were first collected by Israeli human rights group B’Tselem the following day, though an extensive report was only published on Tuesday by both B’Tselem and Haaretz.

According to the report, 25-30 soldiers, some of them wearing masks, entered three adjoining apartments, home to the extended Ajlouni family in south Hebron, to search for weapons. During the search, two female soldiers with rifles and an attack dog reportedly forced five women of the family, aged between 24 and 53, to undress, threatening to unleash the dog if they did not comply, while male soldiers searched their male relatives without making such a requirement.

The soldiers reportedly left the house after four hours, taking with them 150 grams (5.3 ounces) worth of gold jewelry, the family told B’Tselem. The jewels were contained in a black bag wrapped in duct tape, and were mistaken by the soldiers for bullets, an IDF spokesperson said, adding that they were returned to the family the next day.

The wife of the family’s oldest son, who was arrested in the raid, claimed that NIS 2,000 ($522) in cash was also stolen, a claim that according to an army spokesperson had not been reported nor investigated, pending the filing of an official complaint.

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The IDF spokesperson quoted by Haaretz also said that the raid took place based on intelligence received by the army, and led to the seizure of an M16 rifle and ammunition that were found inside the house.

Women participate in a protest organized by the women’s section of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza following revelations by Haaretz and B’Tselem that the IDF forced five Hebron women to strip naked during a house search, Gaza strip, September 5, 2023 (Maan News)

The strip search of the women was motivated by the need to rule out the presence of additional weapons on members of the family, the spokesperson added, and pointed out that the dog was not present in the room during the individual inspections, and that the process was not filmed.

Despite the clarifications, Palestinians official and unofficial sources reacted with outrage to the report.

The Human Rights Committee of the Palestinian Legislative Council said in a statement that the event demonstrated “the extent of the ugliness and fascism of the occupation before the world,” and demanded the formation of an international investigation committee.

The Hamas terror vowed revenge, saying in a statement that the event represented a “dangerous escalation that the Palestinian people and their resistance will not ignore,” and that the “violations committed by the fascist occupation […] will fall in the face of our steadfastness […] until the last soldier and settler are uprooted from our occupied land.”

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) spokesperson, Tarik Salami, called on Palestinians in Hebron and other West Bank cities to “escalate their confrontations with the occupation” and “avenge the free women against whom this grave violation occurred,” according to the Middle East Monitor.

An M16 seized by the IDF during the house search of the Ajlani family in Hebron on July 10, 2023 (Army spokesperson)

On Tuesday, dozens of women participated in a rally organized by the women’s section of the PIJ in Gaza. In an interview to the Maan news outlet, Sa’ida Hallas, head of the women’s section, said that “this shameful act by the [Israeli] occupation must not be tolerated by the Palestinian people nor by any Muslim.”

The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territories, Francesca Albanese, also weighed in on the incident, and wrote on Twitter: “The reports of masked soldiers storming Palestinian homes at night, waking up families, forcing women to strip naked at rifle point under threat of releasing attack dogs, while children scream in terror, are absolutely appalling. This relentless assault on people and rights must end.”

Albanese has a history of antisemitic statements, as exposed by the Times of Israel in an investigation last year. In February of this year, a bipartisan group of US Congress members urged the United Nations leadership to remove her from her position, due to her past statements and anti-Israel bias.