Israeli forces busted through the doors of a Ramallah aid organization founded by a leading Palestinian politician in the early morning hours Wednesday, taking away computers, servers and security camera footage, and leaving behind a mess of shattered glass and tossed papers throughout the downtown office.
The staff at the Health Development Information and Policy Institute (HDIPI) worked alongside the disarray in the afternoon hours, shuffling reporters and officials from the Palestinian Authority around the space. In a hallway, the walls bore gaping holes, bashed in by soldiers the night before.
While Israeli military incursions into Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian government, are frequent occurrences, it is uncommon for forces to enter the workspaces of non-governmental organizations. Even less so to cart away computers and servers.
HDIPI was founded in 1989 by Mustafa Barghouti, the head of the Palestine National Initiative, an independent political party.
“We think this is part of an attack on civil society organizations,” Barghouti said. “The Israeli army can invade whenever they want, wherever they want.”
“The alarm system worked,” Walid Azzat, director of the HDIPI, said, explaining he discovered the break into his office when the in-house security system notified the Palestinian police, who then called him to inform someone had entered around 2:30 AM. But it was not until the morning when Azzat checked the local news reports that he learned the breach was caused by the Israeli military.
Another employee said she was phoned by a neighbor who told her soldiers had been in her office. Exactly what Israeli forces would want with electronics from a health advocacy organization is a mystery not worth solving, according to personnel. “Ask them what they were doing here,” scoffed the employee who requested not to be named, before walking off to answer a phone call inquiring about the raid.
Under previous agreements between the Israeli and Palestinians governments, military operations inside of Area A of the West Bank—including Ramallah—are strictly forbidden. However, this line item is routinely ignored, causing much condemnation from Palestinian leaders who decry army actions in Palestinian cities as a violation of their sovereignty.
Earlier this year in another army incursion in downtown Ramallah, soldiers accidentally set fire to a half of a city block after detonating explosives on a safe at a money exchange shop. While the blaze was still burning stalls at an outdoor fruit and vegetable market, Palestinian firemen were prevented from reaching the site by Israeli forces who were still operating in the area. Army officials told the Times of Israel soldiers were working “to confiscate terror funds.”
Palestinians business owners awoke to tens of thousands of dollar worth of damage.
It was the second time the military had entered the HDIPI offices. In 2002 during the second Intifada Israeli forces took control of the workplace, converting it into a de facto base camp during a period when the Israeli military took control of Ramallah for 40 days.
“The office is in a strategic point they can see all around,” Azzat said. He added that the damage was more significant in the last operation: “It looked like an earthquake.”
In the conference room, a series of photographs catalog the 2002 damage.
After the Israeli military left the office a clash ensued in the center of Ramallah between soldiers and Palestinian youths. A statement from HDIPI said two Palestinians were injured by Israeli forces in the encounter, adding soldiers fired tear gas rubber bullets and stun grenades. while Palestinians threw stones and burned tires.