The Duvdevan Brigade // An inside look at Israel’s most elite counter-terrorist force

It was during the height of the Intifada, when gangs of Arabs armed with guns, knives and axes roamed the streets and alleyways of Judea and Samaria intent on inflicting harm on Jewish settlers and soldiers, that the whispers began. These tales quickly spread throughout the Palestinian refugee camps and kasbahs, instilling fear in those who heard them.

Incredible stories were told about Arabs—regular Arabic-speaking Palestinians—who could magically transform themselves into Hebrew-speaking Israeli Jews in the blink of an eye. These apparitions would appear out of nowhere, abducting men who were wanted by the hated Israeli government for terrorism and murder, and abruptly disappear with their quarry.

One story rippling through the streets was particularly terrifying. As the tale was told, a group of masked men wearing Palestinian keffiyehs appeared out of the gloom one day and stormed the hiding place of a notorious terrorist in the heart of the kasbah in Nablus (Shechem). The wanted man struggled with his assailants, who quickly subdued him and took his pistol before he had a chance to draw it from his holster.

But unbeknownst to them, the terrorist also had a long, sharp knife—and he was able to plunge it deep into the leg of the first intruder who had entered his lair, the man who seemed to be in charge and who was busy barking orders in Hebrew. In the momentary confusion that ensued, the terrorist was able to escape into the kasbah’s labyrinth of narrow alleyways.

Much to his astonishment, however, this Yahud seemed to be no mere mortal. He continued to run after the fugitive with the knife sticking out of his leg, showing no sign of slowing down! The rest of the masked men followed, and the escapee was quickly captured and thrown into a beat-up old car that pulled up exactly at that moment, and the mysterious “demons” disappeared into the night.

To other terrorists who heard this story, there was no doubt that this unit of Israeli commandos, who emerged from nowhere and disappeared the same way, was headed by a Jewish “devil.” In fact, the “demon” who had run full speed ahead with a knife protruding from his leg was nicknamed “Satan” by the locals.

It is believed that the tale saved numerous Jewish lives since it served as a deterrent to many would-be attackers. But it turns out that it was no mere fable. Ami recently sat down for an exclusive interview with none other than “Satan” himself. And as unlikely as it may seem, the real story is even more astonishing.

The Duvdevan Brigade is the largest and most important undercover unit in the Israel Defense Forces. Its exploits are never publicly revealed, but here and there stories and videos have leaked out, showing its members disguised as Arabs, infiltrating Palestinian demonstrations and riots, dragging individuals out of the crowd and taking them into custody. Other reports describe camouflaged Duvdevan commandos flushing terrorists out of their hiding places deep in the heart of Palestinian refugee camps.

Baruch Hashem, not a single member of the unit had been killed by enemy fire since its founding in 1986—that is, until May 24 of this year, when Staff Sergeant Ronen Lubarsky was critically wounded while participating in an operation in the al-Amari refugee camp in Ramallah. Struck by a large slab of marble that had been deliberately pushed off a three-story building, the 20-year-old soldier died of his injuries two days later.

Lieutenant Colonel (res.) Uri Bar-Lev, the first commander of the Duvdevan undercover unit, knows every pebble and stone in the vipers’ nest that is the al-Amari camp. Not only is he familiar with the rocks that are used to construct buildings and fences, he is familiar with the kind that are used as weapons by the Palestinians, hurled through the air at their hated targets.

“Al-Amari is not a small village,” he tells me. “We’re talking about a large, dense area with multistory buildings and a maze of crooked alleyways leading in all directions. I myself have had stones thrown at me numerous times during our operations. And let me tell you, the Palestinians are very well prepared. They store all kinds of objects that can be used as weapons against the Israelis on the roofs of buildings, everything from refrigerators to heavy car engines and big boulders.

“Our operations have to be extremely coordinated and lightning fast, literally in and out. If we take too much time to complete a mission, it gives the locals an opportunity to assemble a mob, making it very difficult for us to get out safely.

“The Duvdevan unit operates deep inside Judea and Samaria. The idea is to surprise the terrorists in places they think are beyond our reach and bring them in for interrogation. In most cases these terrorists are armed, which is why a lot of them end up getting killed.

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