Rammun: Using Palestinian villages as a training ground for undercover Israeli troops is not uncommon. In 2007, the practice prompted Israeli NGO Yesh Din to complain to the military’s top legal adviser, warning the exercises could endanger both Israeli and Palestinian lives.

Yehuda Shaul, founder of Breaking the Silence, a group of former Israeli soldiers critical of army practices in the Occupied Territories, says such exercises have increased in recent years.

“As the West Bank becomes more and more secure, security-wise, there is more and more training on ‘live’ Palestinians,” he told AFP.

Back during the violence of the second intifada (2000-2005), the security situation was too dangerous for troops to carry out such undercover work, but since then, the army has been taking advantage of the calm for training purposes.

“Now training on Palestinians is not putting the troops in danger, so as the West Bank becomes more and more calm, we hear more and more of these stories,” he said.

A newly trained unit doesn’t want “their first arrest operation to be carried out on a real sting, on a really wanted person”, he explains.

“So you pick a quiet village in the area where you’re based, you open the map, choose a random house ... You go in the middle of the night, you surround the house, you grab a guy as if it’s a real arrest.”

The argument is that training “has to be as close to the real thing” as possible, he said.

“It is another form of what we call in the army ‘Making our presence felt’ - if Palestinians get the feeling that the army is everywhere all the time, they will be afraid to attack,” Shaul told AFP.

“When you control people under military occupation for so long, you’re starting to play games. Individual soldiers play games at checkpoints with people, and the big army plays games with villages.”