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Reflections on the Balata Invasion: ISM Reports

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  • World View
    Reflections on the Balata Invasion ISM Reports www.palsolidarity.org 1.Simply. Not. News. by neta Golan 2.Report of Balata Invasion by IWPS 3.Watching your tax
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 6, 2006
      Reflections on the Balata Invasion
      ISM Reports

      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
      become "normal."

      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
      neighboring houses.

      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
      from ambulances.

      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.

      Injuries included:
      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
      the army
      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
      inside Israel.

      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
      a mattress.

      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.
      By Katie
      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
      new experience.

      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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