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Baladia city
2012

Following the umpteenth Palestine suicide attack, the Israeli army moved into the West Bank in March 2002. Operation ‘Defensive Shield’, the largest military move on the West Bank since the Six-Day War of 1967, had begun. For the seizure of the Palestinian city Nablus, Lieutenant colonel Amir Baram, the commander of the 890th battalion, engages a real estate developer. That same day, a number of stone drills are delivered. On a housing complex under construction, that night the battalion does a trial run in drilling entrances, windows and elevator shafts. Next day, the siege begins; Balata, the refugee camp built up against Nablus, is taken first, and after that, the battalion marches into Nablus itself.
In search of Palestinian militants and suicide terrorists, the battalion shoots and drills through complete housing blocks, leaving behind a network of corridors. Seventeen days later, Nablus is taken and 74 militants have been killed, 155 civilians injured and 480 captured on the Palestinian side. On the Israeli side, 2 soldiers have been killed and 19 injured.
Today, the attack on Nablus is considered as a textbook example of successful warfare in urban areas and has become compulsive exercise material in Baladia City, the National Urban Training Center (NUTC) of the Israeli army. From a distance, this purpose-built ?Arabian ? city in the Negev desert looks like a sleeping desert city, fifteen kilometres east of Rafah near the Gaza-Egyptian border. In actual fact, there are no Arabs in this city. Engineers of the Israeli army have designed Baladia City, in cooperation with the Americans, who have provided 45 million dollars to finance this project. It is a model city of 11.9 square kilometres consisting of 1,100 basic modules that can be reconfigured for special missions.
Brigadier general Uzi Moskovich, at the time commander of the NUTC, said: ‘Give me seventy or eighty tractors for a month, and I’ll recreate the hills and topography of a Lebanese village. It’s a valuable centre of information which we share with our American friends who frequently come over to do training.’

The NUTC, which was delivered in 2007, is used for attacks on for instance Gaza, West Bank, Lebanon and Syria. It features 472 structures, 1,200 door- ways, 2.500 windows and multiple elevator shafts. There are 6.5 kilometresof paved streets and semi-paved streets, and, invisible to the unsuspecting visitor, a complete underground tunnel system. There are mosques, there is a hospital, home for the elderly, bank, school, cemetery annex football pitch and a kasbah. There’s even a police station and a fugitive camp. And everywhere you can see man-sized holes in the walls and dividing walls of the houses, which have been constructed in concrete moulds. For added realism, there are charred automobiles and burned tyres everywhere. Dres- sed-up Israelis, studying Arab, play-act as Arabs during the training. Every move is registered; Baladia is crowded with cameras and sensors, there is a wire connection with the troops and everything is evaluated afterwards.
I enter the mosque and go up the stairs in the direction of the minaret. It becomes dark, groping I find my way upwards, at the end of the stairway some diffuse light seeps through the chinks of a metal door, creaking and shrieking the door opens under my hands. I’m standing high above Baladia in the minaret of the Yasser Arafat mosque. Below on the central square, the SUVs are idling now that the military training is finished. In the west, the contours of Gaza become apparent.

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