Nima Abu Alia's neighbors told her from bitter experience not to even bother looking for her son, Eyad, for at least a week. The 23-year-old was snatched on Wednesday from the family home in Deheisheh, near Bethlehem, by an Israeli army squad in the dead of night.
At about the same time, 24 other Palestinians were detained in raids across the West Bank after a week of escalating arrests that the government denies has anything to do with next week's general election.
The violence further intensified yesterday when three Israeli soldiers were shot dead south of the West Bank city of Hebron. The military said that Palestinians opened fire on a foot patrol near a Jewish settlement in the Hebron hills.
Islamic Hamas took responsibility, saying the shooting was retaliation for attacks by Israeli settlers and the military against Palestinians and their property in Hebron, known as a Hamas stronghold.
In the past week, the Israeli military has detained close to 200 Palestinian men in night-time raids or using undercover squads posing as Arabs to snatch them off the streets.
"They were banging on the door at 1.30am and demanding Eyad came out," Mrs Abu Alia said. "They stayed for three hours, questioning all of us. They didn't harm us. They use psychological torture. The soldier said to me: 'Tell your son how we are going to destroy your house, how we are going to torture you unless he talks'."
But Mrs Abu Alia said that the soldiers did not reveal why Eyad was detained.
"They asked me, 'Aren't you worried about your son and the things he does?' I said, 'What things? Tell me.' But they didn't," she said. "They asked what is that building next to our house. It is a coop where we keep our chickens and rabbits and pigeons. They threw a hand grenade into it, killing the animals."
Yesterday, a deep indent in the earth of the feather-strewn coop and mud on the ceiling appeared to confirm her story.
The soldiers left with Eyad, a construction worker who is the breadwinner for the family of nine. Mrs Abu Alia said: "This has happened to others. Usually it takes a week to find out where they are but it can take months."
The army says more than a dozen of those detained in the past week were suicide bombers preparing for attacks and many others were on a wanted list for activities with Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other "terrorist organizations". The military says Eyad was one of those on a wanted list, but will not say why.
Israeli officials say that if the detentions have anything to do with the impending general election it is because of a flood of intelligence about plans to disrupt the ballot.
But the upsurge in arrests, and other measures against Palestinians - razing property, tougher curfews and closing universities - will do no harm to Ariel Sharon's image as the leader who knows how to get tough with the Palestinians.
This month, the number of Palestinian prisoners held in administrative detention, a form of internment without trial in which suspects can be held indefinitely on the signature of a senior army officer, exceeded 1,000 for the first time in 12 years. A year ago, the figure stood at 36.
Yael Stein, research director of the B'Tselem human rights group in Israel, says that administrative detention is a Kafkaesque nightmare.
"The prisoners are held on the signature of a major-general. They don't know what the charges are against them. They have the right of appeal but it's before a military court and because they don't know what they are accused of they can't present a defense.
"The detention orders are between four and six months, and when they expire the army just issues another one.
"It's a very cheap and easy alternative to a criminal trial. The army don't have to prove anything. They hold people just because they want to interrogate them. Then they say they don't have enough interrogators so they have to hold them longer."
The longest-held administrative detainee is a Lebanese citizen locked up for more than 10 years as a bargaining chip to obtain the release of Israeli soldiers held by Hizbullah.
At Ofer detention camp, in an Israeli military base near Ramallah, detainees rioted earlier this month because of the harsh conditions. Palestinians blamed "repeated humiliations", specifically an incident in which three prisoners were tied to a pipe "like dogs". An Israeli military spokesman confirmed that the incident occurred but said a military police officer intervened to release the men.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003