Reflections on the Balata Invasion: ISM Reports
- Reflections on the Balata Invasion
1.Simply. Not. News. by neta Golan
2.Report of Balata Invasion by IWPS
3.Watching your tax dollars at work by Katie
4.A few days in a war zone by Harrison Healy
1.Simply. Not. News.
March 4th, 2006
By Neta Golan
I work in the ISM media office. On February 19th 2006 the Israeli
milit1ary once again invaded Balata Refugee Camp.
I remember the first invasion that Sharon orchestrated into the camps
during this intifada, in February 2002. I remember that I could not
believe it was happening. Never in my worst nightmares would I
believe, had someone told me, that four years later such horror would
IWPS and ISM volunteers called me in the office as they accompanied
Palestinian medics in their efforts to give medical treatment to the
wounded and sick in the camp. They called me when the Israeli military
shot towards ambulances and denied them access to Balata. They called
me when they witnessed unarmed 22-year-old Mohammad Subkhi Abu Hanade
being shot in the chest by a sniper through his bedroom window. I
wrote a press release, emailed and faxed it and then called the news
agencies and journalists.
No one wrote about it. Not even the Arabic press which is always more
responsive. The next morning I looked everywhere for news of the
invasion and found none. That day Sixteen year old Kamal Khalili was
shot and was clinically dead by the time he made it to the hospital.
The woman that answered the phone at Agency France Press said "call us
back when he dies" and hung up.
The volunteers called me when soldiers refused to let them treat ill
people in families whose homes had been occupied. They called me when
people in the camp ran out of food and baby formula. They called me
when the youth of the camp who defended their homes with stones and
makeshift barricades were shot at wounded and killed. They gave me the
names and the ages of children shot at with live ammunition.
I wrote it all down even though I knew that the mainstream media did
not want to know. I wrote it down knowing that wounded, hungry and
imprisoned Palestinian civilians are simply. Not. News.
2. IWPS report on the Nablus invasion
For pictures see:
March 5th, 2006 |
Sunday 19th of February
At approximately 1:30 a.m. of the 19th of February, the Israeli army
started an operation named "Northern Glory." The IDF invaded Balata
with helicopters and drones as well as about 50 army vehicles,
including four armored personnel carriers (APCs) and two bulldozers,
starting to block of the camp with its 30 000 residents from its
surrounding and from Nablus City. The UNRWA schools of the camp were
turned into a military base and a number of civilian houses were
In the early morning, the army surrounded the house of the Hamami
family in search of Ahmad Abu Ras, 28, and arrested him and another
person. In an act of collective punishment they then destroyed the house.
The army declared a curfew on the refugee camp the following morning
and enforced it for 64 hours, until leaving Balata in the evening of
the 21st of February. An unknown number of houses were occupied and
used as sniper position, while holding the families inside and
restricting them to one room. In some areas of the camp house to house
searches were conducted, causing property damages to varying degrees.
Children and youth inside the camp and in its surrounding started
resisting the invasion by throwing stones, bottles with paint etc. on
the armored army vehicles and building barricades. The army responded
with excessive use of rubber coated steal bullets and live ammunition,
resulting in about 35 injuries, most of them youth, on the first day
of the invasion. IWPS volunteers also witnessed soldiers in a Jeep
with the number 611 338 inciting youth by cursing their parents and
threatening the youth to make them martyrs.
Around 2 p.m. Mohammed Ahmad Natur and Ibrahim Ahmad Sheikh Issa, both
17 years old, were killed by a sniper shooting from an occupied house
while being on the roof of one of their houses, watching the
confrontation. One boy was hit by a live bullet in his neck, the other
in the chest. The brother of one of the boys was shot in the thigh
when he tried to come to their help. The army later clamed they were
planting bombs. However, while the army tried to block the fatally
injured boys from being carried to the ambulance, no attempts were
made to enter the house and no bomb squad were brought to either the
house or the streets around it.
Monday 20th of February
The operation continued throughout Monday and Tuesday, the 20th and
21st of February, with the army using tear gas, sound bombs, rubber
bullets - often shot with a device that spray shoots several bullets
at once - and live ammunition against youth throwing stones, resulting
in more injuries.
Between 2.30 a.m. and 4 a.m. on the 20th of February the army searched
the house of the Kitawi family, looking for their wanted son. The
whole family, including children, were forced on the street, while the
army destroyed much of the family belongings. Food and clothing were
thrown on the floor and furniture damaged, a fridge, TV, electronic
equipment smashed. Sound bombs were exploded inside the house. The
father of the family reports being cursed by soldiers and threatened
that his wanted son would be killed unless he turned himself in. He
also reports that 4500 Shekel and 550 Dinar were stolen from the house.
In the same night the army also entered the old city of Nablus and
killed Islamic Jihad militant Ahmad Mohammad Nayef Abu Sharkh, 29.
Around 17.00 p.m., when the situation had quieted down, international
and medical volunteers sitting outside a field clinic in the Balata
Market Street witnessed two shots being fired from an occupied house
on the house across the street. A 22 year old man, who was standing at
the window of his room, was hit in the chest and seriously injured.
Army jeeps drove up to the house, but did not interfere as the injured
youth and his heavily pregnant sister, who went into labor due to the
shock, were evacuated by ambulances. Shortly afterwards the soldiers
forced the rest of the family, including two small children and two
babies, into the street, while searching the house and shooting live
ammunition inside. They later threatened the ambulances on the scene
and the family with shooting and throwing tear gas to make them leave
the area. An explosion was set in front of the house.
Late Tuesday afternoon the army pulled out of the camp, injuring more
youth in the process. Many people had taken to the streets thinking
the army had left, when some jeeps came back to evacuate an occupied
Wednesday 22nd of February
On Wednesday 22nd, the army conducted an arrest operation in Kufr
Kalil, a village on the outskirts of Balata Refugee Camp, lasting from
the early afternoon till after midnight. The Amer family house, where
four fighters from the al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades were hiding, was
surrounded and the two resident families, about 22 persons including
children, were called to leave the house and kept under the trees in
the area. Four surrounding houses, each home to 2-3 families with many
children and babies, were occupied by the army and the families were
kept inside, forbidden to turn on the light or to use their phones to
contact family members outside the house. The operation ended with the
arrest of the four fighters.
Thursday 23rd of February
Thursday around 3 a.m. the refugee camp was re-invaded and army
bulldozers again blocked most of the entrances.
Thursday morning Ibrahim Saideh, 19, was killed in ad-Dahiyyeh, a
neighborhood overlooking Balata Refugee Camp. The youth was hit by two
live bullets in the abdomen and back, damaging his liver, intestines
and one of the main veins.
At 1.30 p.m. on Thursday, Naim Abu Saris, 29, was killed by a live
bullet in the heart,
shot by a sniper from an occupied house, while being on the roof of
his house. The army claimed he was armed, but eye witnesses deny this.
No confrontations were going on in the area of his house at that time.
During the morning an area close to the Balata Camp cemetery was
sealed off and house to house searches were conducted. The Israeli
Army surrounded the house of Mohammad Amar Abu Hamis, 32, where he and
two other fighters of the al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades, Hammoudeh Ishtawi,
32, and Hassan Hajaj, 21, where hiding. Around 11.45 a.m. the army set
of an explosion in the house, without prior warning to the civilians
in the area, which caused a fire. The smoke also affected the families
in neighboring houses, two of whom had to be evacuated with the help
of medical volunteers. The army forbid the medical team from checking
on the residents of other affected houses and prevented the
Palestinian firemen who arrived to the area shortly afterwards from
approaching the house, attempting instead to put out the fire with
water brought in cooking pots and buckets by women from the
At 12.30 more explosions were set of. Reportedly, there was an
exchange of fire between the army and the surrounded militants,
resulting in the injury of two Israeli soldiers.
At about 2 p.m., after a quiet period, an explosion followed by live
fire hit a group of medical workers, international volunteers and
journalists who where observing the events around the house from the
end of the narrow alleyway next to the cemetery. Palestinian Medical
Relief Committees (PMRC) ambulance driver Jareer Candola was hit by
shrapnel in the hand and the leg, cutting nerves and veins under the
knee. Ihab Mansour, a medical volunteer with the Scientific Medical
Society, was hit by either shrapnel or a live bullet in the head and
lost consciousness. Another PMRC volunteer was lightly injured by
shrapnel in the chest and two IWPS volunteers from Holland and the
United States also suffered light injuries by shrapnel, one in the
shoulder and the thigh, the other in her arm. The army blocked the
rescue efforts, causing a delay of at least 30 minutes. The ambulance
transporting Ihab Mansour was then stopped again on its way to the
hospital and Mansour was arrested from the ambulance. At the time of
writing he is reported to be under arrest in critical condition in
Beilinson Hospital inside Israel.
At around 3.30 p.m. the army evacuated the area and the camp after
dragging the bodies of the three militants out to confirm their death.
As the army left, residents and medical teams rushed to the scene to
recover the bodies, which were all severely mutilated by the explosions.
Throughout the invasion at least 12 persons were arrested, two of them
Number of injuries during the invasion
Dr. Samir Abu Zaroor from Rafidia hospital gives the following data on
the injuries throughout the invasion. These numbers are not complete;
due to the large number of casualties some cases were transferred
directly to other hospitals in Nablus.
About 100 people were injured during the invasion. Their ages range
from 12 to 63, though the majority of casualties were young boys and
men between 15 and 25.
14 cases of severe bruises and fractures caused by jeeps driving into
people 28 cases of injuries by beating
4 cases of injuries caused when people fell while running away from
37 injuries caused by plastic coated steel bullets (so called rubber
21 cases of live bullets
Severe cases included:
a 17 year old boy shot with a live bullet at short range into his left
shoulder, breaking his shoulder and damaging a main artery, which
caused heavy bleeding;
a youth, who suffered multiple fractures in his thigh by a live bullet
and will be permanently disabled;
a man, 26 year old, hit by live bullets in the throat and the head,
who was transferred to Ihloff Hospital in Tel Aviv in critical condition;
a 63 year old taxi driver, who was injured by bullet fragments in his
left shoulder and a live bullet in his head;
a youth who was transferred to Makassed Hospital in East Jerusalem who
was shot in the throat.
Restrictions on medical access
Apart from the injuries directly inflicted by the Israeli army, the
several day long siege and curfew of the camp and its population of
about 30 000 people created a more general humanitarian crisis.
Families were running out of bread and milk for the children and some
patients out of medicine. Women in labor, sick children and
chronically ill people, suffering from Asthma, Diabetes, high
blood pressure or needing dialysis, were all cut of from the normal
medical infrastructure, the army often preventing or delaying their
access to medical treatment. In addition, severe restrictions were
imposed on the movement of ambulances and medical volunteers.
Ambulances, medical teams and the UN clinic in the camp were attacked
several times. The most severe case, resulting in the injury of two
medical workers on Thursday 23rd, is described above. Following are
other cases of preventing or delaying access to medical care and
attacks on medical workers that where witnessed by IWPS volunteers or
reported to them by Palestinian medical workers. More cases may have
Sunday 19th of February
At around 11.30 two injured, Mahmoud Rajeh and Saleh Abu Alfa were
arrested out of Ambulances on their way to the hospital. A PMRC
ambulance was later called to Huwara Military base to pick up Rajeh,
while Abu Alfa was arrested and transferred to Beilinson hospital
At around 12.30 two jeeps cornered an ambulance carrying an injured
person and a women with labor complications. The jeeps pushed the
ambulance from the front and the back, fired a shot in its direction
and forced it to stand between the jeeps for about half an hour, while
youth were throwing stones at them.
At around 1:00 pm two ambulances were held stopped by several jeeps
outside Balata camp. According to the ambulance team they were
detained for about 40 minutes and a young man with a bullet wound in
the shoulder was beaten inside one of the ambulances. The soldiers
forced the ambulance personnel to undress his wound to prove he is
injured, making the wound start bleeding again. The ambulance was held
until the family, with the help of the ambulance team and the IWPS
volunteers, brought his ID card. After his ID was checked, the
ambulance continued its way, only to be stopped again by the next jeep
on the road.
At around 1:30 pm two boys, aged between 11 and 14 years, were injured
in their legs with live ammunition. One had a flesh wound, while the
other had his femur crushed by the bullet. The soldiers did not allow
the ambulance to reach the injured, who had to be carried about two
kilometers out of the camp by medical volunteers using a stretcher and
Around 6 p.m. a boy hit by a plastic coated bullet in the head also
had to be carried out of the camp to reach the ambulance.
Monday 20th of February
At approximately 7:15 am, a military jeep shot in the direction of the
ambulance from a distance of about 200m preventing it from approaching
the area close to the main entrance of the camp.
At approximately 11:15 the army attempted to close the UN medical
clinic by shooting warning shots and percussion grenades. They also
prevented patients from entering the clinic.
At approximately 11.35 a team of medical and international volunteers
was shot at with tear gas.
At approximately 15:40 Israeli soldiers denied entry to a medical team
attempting to deliver food and medicine into the camp. The Israeli
soldiers also threatened to shoot them.
Tuesday 21st of February
Around 1 p.m. soldiers in a Jeep with the number 611 323 shot tear gas
at an ambulance delivering medical supplies and pointed their guns at
a team of medical and international volunteers accompanying patients
including a small child to the UN clinic.
- - - - -
Witness/es: IWPS and Palestinian Medical Relief workers.
Report written by: Clara and Vera
Edited by: Grace
The International Women's Peace Service, Haris, Salfit, Palestine.
Tel:- (09)-2516-644. Mobile:- 067-870-198
Email:- iwps @ palnet.com Website
3. Watching your tax dollars at work.
For pictures see:
February 25th, 2006
Three days of IOF invasion in Balata refugee camp.
On February 19th, I received a call from M.M. saying the IOF had
invaded the Balata refugee camp and killed two teenage boys. They were
using the girls school in the camp as a base of operations. M.M. said
ISMers were needed in Balata to help with the medical evacuations
because often the IOF will not allow ambulances to leave the camp. The
military has arrested injured persons on their way to the hospital
before. Our presence would hopefully pressure the soldiers to regain
their humanity in these situations. In addition, the presence of
internationals has the effect of making the soldiers less likely to
unnecessarily kill Palestinians. Three other ISMers and I soon headed
north to Nablus, the city next to Balata refugee camp.
Once in Nablus, we were picked up but couldn't be driven up to the
camp. We had to get off about 200 meters from the entrance. I called
M.A. to ask for further instructions. He said that two medical
volunteers would come out to meet us and escort us to the clinic
inside the camp. We began walking towards the entrance while residents
of Nablus were waving to us, asking us to stop and that we should not
go in there because it was dangerous. A tank and a jeep were blocking
the main entrance to the camp. We stopped when we saw the two
volunteers coming out. They motioned for us to follow and we began
walking in the direction of the tank. I was not feeling very happy
about this when a voice from the tank shouted on a megaphone "GO
AWAY." I felt a little bit scared but I followed the volunteers
anyways as they changed course and headed down a series of narrow
alleys. We emerged onto a wide street and saw the tank had
moved to intercept us about 200 meters away down the street. They
fired shots in the air. I screamed, grabbed Wendy's hand and we
dashed across the street.
We continued to follow the two volunteers but I was beginning to not
feel confident in them. At one point they lead us straight down a
street towards an army jeep whose driver demanded to see our
passports. I knew if they got a hold of our passports it would be all
over. We would be arrested for being in a closed military zone and/or
blacklisted- which means we could never enter the country again, and
would be removed from Balata. I yelled to my four friends, "we have to
leave NOW, yalla!" I ran down the nearest small alleyway followed by
the others and bumped into a group of surprised and confused young
men. I attempted to ask if their house was a place we could hide while
at the same time calling M.A. on the phone to ask where we should go.
I was really freaked out at this point but fortunately we were quite
near M.A. and he found us immediately.
M.A. took us to the clinic and explained that we would be helping the
medical volunteers evacuate the injured and take food to families in
occupied houses. Let me explain what an occupied house is. When the
IOF wants to use someone's house or roof as a base of operations, they
lock the family in one room and use the house to their heart's
content. Often they will refuse to let the family out to use the
toilet or to eat. This is a very traumatic experience for the
families. The volunteers go to these houses and attempt to reason with
the soldiers, try to see if anyone is sick or injured and needs to go
to the hospital, and bring food and medication.
There is garbage and squalor everywhere in Balata. Other than this,
the two most unique aspects are the density of the population (25,000
people in two square kilometers) and the martyr posters on the walls
of all the buildings. Most of these men (and some women) have been
killed during the military invasions of Balata. A small number died in
attacks against Israelis. The tragedy of Balata is apparent in these
posters. Some of the martyrs are boys and most are posed with guns.
These are photo studio portraits with guns as props (the guns are
photo studio props here just like teddy bears are photo studio props
elsewhere.) All the boys and men have them taken "just in case." Just
in case, like 17-year-old Ibrahim and Naim whose funeral I would later
watch. Nablus and Balata have had approximately 500 martyrs since the
start of the second Intifada in 2001.
During the day, we went out in groups of two or three internationals
and two or three Palestinian medics looking for injured people. I was
surprised that there were not more injuries that day during the
clashes between the IOF and the kids. When the American media reports
these types of clashes, they portray Palestinian kids behaving badly
by throwing rocks at soldiers who have no choice but to shoot back to
defend themselves. This is not exactly how it is. These kids, who
range in age from 5 to about 25, have no school to go to during the
invasions. (Perhaps because theirs is occupied by the soldiers ?) All
they can do is hang out in the streets collecting the only ammunition
available with which to defend their city. If you can condemn them for
this then I would have to ask you the following question: If soldiers
invaded your city, would you do nothing while they occupied your
houses and killed your young men? Or would you fight back using the
method of your choice ? These kids are fighting back with rocks as
weapons, garbage and debris as roadblocks, and I salute them in their
bravery. They have nothing to lose. When the jeeps needed to go down
the street, a bulldozer would go in first and clear the way. The kids
would then gather rocks and pull chunks of cement from the houses and
pelt the bulldozer. Then the jeeps would come through, firing tear
gas, rubber bullets and sometimes live ammunition. We would hide in
alleys until the vehicles had passed and then emerge to see the kids
collecting rocks again and chanting "Allahu Akbar," God is great.
This happened over and over and over. At first it was terrifying, then
it became only slightly alarming, and then it just became normal.
What was the IOF doing in Balata? Apparently their mission was to kill
and/or arrest fighters. The media would probably call the fighters
"terrorists." Other people might use the term freedom fighters. It
probably depends on whether you ask the occupier or the occupied.
At night we had to stay inside the ISM apartment in Balata. We could
hear shooting going on until 1 am, but we had no idea what was
happening outside. Two others stayed awake the whole night in case
something happened we and we needed to help.
That night was the scariest I have ever lived though. I say this with
the guilt that comes from someone who lives with much privilege. For
the people of Balata last night was just another in a lifetime of
traumatizing military actions. The Palestinian medical volunteers
often tried to soothe the internationals for whom all of this was a
On February 20th, I woke up to the sound of kids laughing and playing
in the street and thought, "the invasion must be over." I was wrong.
This is an example of the most disturbing part of the Balata invasion.
It was normal that kids would be out laughing and playing in the
street even if there were military jeeps and humvees one block over.
People were calm because this was nothing new to them. The next thing
I heard as I was waking up was "Nablus itnayn shaheedayn", Nablus has
two martyrs. Two fighters had been killed in the city of Nablus,
adjacent to the Balata refugee camp where I was and which was
currently under siege.
All nine international volunteers and several Palestinian medics were
all sitting in the clinic listening to the sounds of jeeps and rocks
outside when we heard live ammunition fired. It was so close by that
after I was done screaming and leaping three feet into the air, I had
to look around to see if anyone had been hit. Everyone in the clinic
was fine, but, across the street, the target of the fire had been hit.
He was shot through the window he was sitting next to. The bullet
deflected off of the metal grill outside the window. He must have
been shot by an IOF sniper from a nearby roof. We dashed across the
street into the house. Everyone was in a panic; women screaming and
children crying. I tried to comfort a little girl as the medics were
running in and out. A few minutes later the victim was carried out on
a stretcher. He had been shot in the chest and he had lost a lot of
blood. He was put into an ambulance which was waiting outside. A few
minutes later another member of the same family who appeared to be
eight or nine months pregnant was taken out and put into an ambulance.
She hadn't been shot, fortunately, but the stress induced labor. The
military, which had been waiting outside in the jeeps and humvees
watching the chaos ordered the family out of the house and us off of
the street. From inside the clinic, we could hear more gunfire and
explosions coming from right outside. I was so scared I started
crying. After they were done ransacking the house, the soldiers left
and the family was allowed back in. We had received an update from the
hospital and Mohammad, the man who'd been shot, was going to live.
The next day it was more of the same. We put a teenager who'd been
shot in the chest onto a stretcher and sent him off to the hospital.
We attempted to bring food to a family in an occupied house but after
knocking on the door for five minutes and explaining that we were
volunteers trying to bring food and check on the family, we were told
to go away.
As we were walking down an alley, a man pulled Ahmad, one of the
Palestinian medics aside, and they motioned for us to come into a
house where we saw four women sitting on the floor, quietly crying. I
thought they were just scared. They didn't appear any more upset than
any of us had been the night before, just sitting there and quietly
crying - Ahmad tried to comfort one of them. We were called out after
only a few minutes and it was then I learned from Ahmad that this was
the family of one of the boys who had died two days before. Knowing
that slammed me hard in the stomach.
At one point, Ahmad was detained for thirty minutes for an ID check.
The soldiers insisted that these ID checks take a long time, they have
to put them through a database to make sure they are not suspected
terrorists. Hey soldiers, you can't fool me, I'm a pro now at watching
Palestinian ID checks!! I know how long it takes to run someone's ID
through; in Tel Rumeida, if the soldiers are in one of their rare good
moods, it doesn't take more than five minutes! One ISMer argued with
the soldier until Ahmad was released.
That night the soldiers decided to leave a home they had been
occupying near the clinic. We were told to stay inside the clinic as
the soldiers are very nervous and vulnerable when they exit an
occupied house. They often bring the residents out with them as human
shields until they can get in their vehicles and get away. More rocks,
gunfire and explosions, tear gas coming into the clinic. Someone was
shot in the head with a rubber bullet.
To cope with the stress I drew offensive cartoons in my sketchbook, we
made sick jokes, and Wendy and I talked about which martyrs were the
cutest. My kuffiya became my security blanket and I cuddled with it at
We were all a little bit crazy when on February 21, M.A. told us the
invasion was over. Five dead total, forty injured, five of M.A.'s
friends arrested. I have to hand it to M.A., he was in charge in
Balata, everyone looked up to him and he did an awesome job. I'm also
amazed at the international volunteers I worked with, everyone did
what was needed, none of them went crazy and for most of them it was
their first time in an invasion.
That morning we watched the funeral procession of Ibrahim and Naim
from a roof and when I saw those kid's faces it was time for a long
overdue cry. They were so young, so beautiful and I can't get their
faces out of my head. What if they were going to be the ones to lead
their people to freedom? I wish I had gotten an opportunity to learn
about who they were.
In less than 24 hours of returning to Tel Rumeida, the invasion of
Balata has resumed again. A fellow American ISMer has been hit in the
arm by shrapnel from an explosive in Balata. The Israeli secret
service interrogated and beat a Palestinian ISMer for three hours
while accusing him of having terrorist connections. An Israeli
activist was shot in the eye by the rubber bullet in Beit Sira. Four
hundred settlers in Hebron had a huge parade where they spoke about
how they would not rest until all of Hebron controlled by "the Jews."
If you have read this far, I thank you. Your knowledge of this event
means the rest of the world has not abandoned Balata.
Please help in any way you feel you can!
4. A few days in a war zone
by Harrison Healy
March 1st, 2006
Last week was a conference on "International Struggle Against the
Occupation of Palestine" held in Bil'in. Unfortunately, many of the
ISM and IWPS (International Woman's Peace Service) activists in
Palestine including myself, were unable to attend due to an
"incursion" taking place in Balata refugee camp. Balata Refugee camp
is basically a cramped suburb of Nablus although people here always
see the areas as separate. It has a population of about 30,000 crammed
into 2 square kilometers. Many refugees from the 1948 Al Nakba
(catastrophe), and others displaced from 1967 ended up in Balata.
It doesn't fit your standard vision of a refugee camp. Unlike those
temporary ones that you often see on television with tents etc. The
displacement has become permanent for these people and a whole
impoverished town has been set up. According to the Palestine monitor
one fifth of all civilians and fighters who have died at the hands of
the Israeli government, since the second Intifada come from this
place. Unlike Ramallah where the majority of posters around were for
the elections, here they were martyr posters and memorials.
The entire refugee camp was under curfew when I arrived on the second
day of the "incursion". The Army had instructed people not to leave
their homes. All the shops were shut but people roamed the streets in
open defiance of the curfew. Many people didn't feel safe so they
stayed at home, peering out of their windows. Before I had even made
it to the camp 2 boys had been killed on the roof of their house by a
sniper. The Israeli army frequently occupies houses in Balata(even
when not involved in a full on "incursion"). They hold families
hostage to prevent the houses from being attacked. During the invasion
there were 5 occupied houses. Jeeps were driving up and down the
street. This is all despite Nablus and Balata being Area A, meaning
that after Oslo these areas were supposedly meant to be under the
control of the Palestinian Authority.
Still all the Israeli Army need to do is contact the Palestinian
Authority and instruct their police to get out and they have to
comply. Jeeps moved up and down the streets of Balata whilst tanks
surrounded the perimeter. I was working with the Palestinian Medical
Relief Committee (UPMRC), an initiative which sees Palestinians
working as medics, giving them something constructive to do in a
situation that makes you feel really helpless. We were walking around
on patrol with the UPMRC, helping them get medicine to sick people and
carrying people to Ambulances. During a patrol we bumped into someone
who had just been hit in the head with a rubber bullet and was
bleeding. Someone else had just been shot with another rubber bullet
in the leg. It felt like being in back in St. Johns Ambulance when I
was a kid only we weren't dealing with cricket injuries or
some guy who just got a bit too drunk.
The Ambulance's rather then carrying non-smoking signs, had a no
rifles sign. We were waiting for the inevitable casualties. Sometimes
we would be out on patrol and at other times we were waiting in the
Medical bay. We sat and talked about all sorts of things, joking
around and ate a lot of chocolates like I used to do as a first aider
waiting for something to happen. Only this sitting around and doing
nothing was occurring with the background noise of large explosions
and tear gas occasionally filling the room.
We tried to get medicine to one family but the tanks tried to stop us
at every road, instructing us to turn back. We had to Indiana Jones
style run past a tank on a major road and climb over a stone barrier
the army put in place to get back into Balata and deliver the
medicine. We lost one of our team in the process who didn't quite make
it. Thankfully he made it around another way.
That night, we were debriefing we heard gun fire across the road. A
man was shot by a sniper whilst watching television in his home across
the street from the medical centre. The army was hesitant to let the
ambulance pass, they did so after much coercion. The man was shot in a
major artery and was loosing a lot of blood. At that time we weren't
sure they hadn't hit him in the heart. The ambulance passed as family
members screamed, even a few of the ambulance workers became really
angry towards the soldier in the jeep. But it wasn't useful, we
needed to get this person out and so we powerlessly carried the
stretcher past an Israeli armored car. They weren't even after this
person. Shortly after a women in the family went into labour and we
also had to rush her to an ambulance.
But the story doesn't end there. The army then forced the family out
of their home. The ambulance crews, myself and another international
waited with the family outside. After half an hour in the cold, the
army tried to instruct us to leave the family there. We refused and
they pointed rifles at us from the jeep, placing the laser sight on my
fore head. They also constantly gestured that they would throw
grenades of some description out of the car.
Despite these threats we didn't leave, the soldiers threatening to
return in one minute. After this threat didn't eventuate the family
returned to their home. The family were so generous that despite just
having their son shot they tried to offer us tea. We slept that night
in the medical centre and I ended up on the early morning patrol. The
narrow entrances to Belata camp were now all closed off. We managed to
get out by traveling through a friends house but it wasn't easy. The
army prevented all but one of the ambulances from entering Balata so
we would have to carry people to that ambulance or to the edge of the
On the way back from our patrol we bumped into a man who had just had
his house searched. Apparently his son was one of the men the army was
"interested in." This search demonstrated no respect for the family
or their possessions. Electrical equipment was dismantled and left on
the floor, wardrobes were emptied, their clothes and draws scattered
across the room. The man inside wanted to spend ages talking to us, he
was saying things about Jewish conspiracies and stuff that I find
offensive, but how do you criticize a man who has just had his home
raided, had everything he owns smashed and is having his son hunted by
the "Jewish State" for being racist (let alone the incursion
and all the previous problems in Balata).
We responded to distress calls from more people that day some had been
shot, an old women who had trouble breathing because of the tear gas.
We ended up going into an occupied house because we heard that one of
the medical team had been kidnapped. It turned out that he was just
giving medicine to a diabetic person. When we were in the occupied
house my friend talked to one of the soldiers about where he was from
in Israel etc. The soldier was clearly upset and we could tell he
didn't want to be there.
We tried to get into another occupied house where we heard someone was
injured. We couldn't get there because a soldier outside threw a sound
bomb at us and threatened to shoot us if we moved closer. We found out
later that person was ok. Many people were injured and some were
killed, several people were also arrested. According to residents of
the camp despite all the Israeli Army's talk of needing to arrest
fighters none of the people they were after had ever been involved in
attacking past the green line or even attacking Israeli settlements or
checkpoints. They were primarily defensive fighters, who fought back
when the army attacked.
Finally the army withdrew from 4 of the 5 houses and all of the jeeps
left. One of the boarder police jeeps came back to remove their people
from the last house. They came in guns blazing and shot a kid in the
head with live ammunition. They drove off Tuesday afternoon, none of
us were sure when they would return.
I went back to Ramallah before the second invasion started however I
came back later in the week for the funerals. The people of Balata
gathered for the funeral of those that had died in the incursion..
Statements from the various Palestinian factions were passed around
those gathered stating what they thought that the deaths meant in
terms of the "peace process" about the need to resist the occupation
etc. They put these deaths into the broader context of the occupation.
Far from it being taboo to talk politics at the funeral or discussing
the details of death the people of Balata are so used to it that they
will share what ever information they can at such times.
After the funeral we were taken around to a house where some of the
fighters were killed. The army surrounded the house and exploded
everything inside killing the fighters who were hiding in the roof.
Palestinians are aware that the choice to become a fighter is the
reality that they will either die young or face life in prison.
We then proceeded to the hospital where we met many of the people that
were injured during the "incursion." Many of them were just young
kids shot with live rounds.
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