This is a type of anxiety that no Israeli civilian is familiar with: nights when sleep is marred by the noise of soldiers moving about, gunshots, armored vehicles outside the window, stun grenades and explosives in an adjacent alley. Night after night. Soldiers who storm the house rowdily, after blowing up the front door. Children who wake up in a fright to the sight of masked, heavily armed figures during dead-of-night kidnappings euphemistically called “arrests.”
- Jenin, once the most militant of Palestinian refugee camps, waves a white flag
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On one occasion during the second intifada, I slept over in the Jenin refugee camp. I’ll never forget the fear that seized me when soldiers raided it. It’s a particularly chilling experience in a densely crowded, yet determined and militant camp like that in Jenin. Last week, raids were carried out there almost every night. After a soldier sustained light to moderate wounds during one, the Israel Defense Forces ratcheted up even more the rate and intensity of its infiltration.
Residents are convinced that on the night between Jan. 28 and 29, soldiers had come to avenge the wounding of their buddy and teach the camp a lesson it wouldn’t forget. “They came to kill,” people in the battered camp said this week, as they buried another of its sons, Mohammed Abu Khalifa, after he was killed by soldiers’ bullets on Sunday. He was buried in the cemetery of intifada victims at the edge of the camp, which, like Jenin itself, suffers from severe overcrowding.
The young adults in the camp spend their days sleeping and their nights in wakefulness. They have no reason to get up during the day. They hang out in the meager café on the main street; some of them man observation posts at the camp’s entrances and instantly report every suspicious movement on Facebook. They also post real-time videos when the IDF enters. Facebook is the most widely used means of communication when it comes to warning about everything, including the arrival of Israeli troops. Of the Facebook groups in the camp, the best known is “State of Jenin Camp.”
The soldiers usually show up at about 2 A.M. in armored vehicles, some of which look like civilian cars. They descend on foot from the hilltop where the houses are, and information about their whereabouts spreads like wildfire. By the time they reach the alleys below, half the camp is awake and young people are waiting for them with stones, pipe bombs and makeshift weapons. In contrast to the second intifada, when we met armed people at almost every street corner, there is hardly any standard-issue weaponry in evidence these days. The army uses tear gas, stun grenades and, of course, live ammunition.
It’s not only the IDF that executes nocturnal raids. Similar operations are carried out by the forces of the Palestinian Authority, in coordination with the army. When the Israelis arrive, the PA personnel leave. The young people oppose them, too, but less intensely, and the mutual firing of weapons is mainly into the air. No one has been killed in the Palestinian forces’ raids of the past few months.
In recent weeks, PA troops – who at one time were afraid to enter the camp – arrested 15 to 20 young people, taking them to Jericho for interrogation. The IDF arrested only four people in that period. No one from either group has been released yet.
The same pattern played itself out last week: Almost every night, Israeli or Palestinian forces were in the camp. Never a dull moment. Last Thursday, an Israeli soldier was wounded. On the two nights that followed, the IDF entered in large numbers. On Saturday night, they didn’t arrest anyone – residents of the camp are convinced that they came not to detain people but to kill: They killed one young person and wounded four others.
After a year in which no one was killed in the camp, they’re in mourning again here.
Twenty-year-old Mathin Dabiyeh was in the café at the foot of the hill on that night. Now he hobbles about on crutches at the entrance to his house. At 3:15 A.M., after it was known that soldiers had entered the camp, he began to make his way home. The soldiers appeared opposite him in an alley, he recalls now. There’s no point asking him if he was carrying a pipe bomb or an improvised firearm, as I won’t get a straight answer. The soldiers shot him in the leg and he started to run up the alley, limping. The troops gave chase but he managed to elude them. A neighbor with a moped took him to the hospital just outside the camp’s entrance. The hospital’s ambulances don’t dare enter the camp when the IDF is present, so in most cases the wounded are taken out by local residents.
The bullet lodged in Dabiyeh’s knee. His friend Aslam, who was wounded together with him, is still hospitalized; he was hit in the stomach. What will Dabiyeh do the next time soldiers enter? “I can’t run now,” he tells us, evasively. He wears a black knitted skullcap. His brother works as a security guard at the Jenin branch of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
It all took place in the early hours of Sunday morning in the area between the buildings, next to the Queens’ Salon beauty parlor, which is now closed. According to eyewitnesses, IDF snipers positioned themselves on the roof of a house across from the beauty parlor, hiding behind a black plastic water container. The crying of an infant can now be heard from that house, which, like others nearby, is plastered with militant graffiti. The wounded men escaped through an alley at the end of which is an old poster with a photograph of Saddam Hussein. The home of Mohammed Abu Khalifa, who was killed in the incident, is located next to a mosque named for Abdullah Azzam, from the neighboring village of Silat al-Harithiya, who is said to have been a friend of Osama bin Laden.
Narrow steps lead to a small, stark house, which is almost bursting with people. The last day of Mohammed’s life was his 19th birthday. In the evening he celebrated here with friends. There was a power outage, an almost-daily occurrence, so his friends played music from their cellphones. They drank juice. This is what a birthday party here looks like.
The dead boy’s uncle, Jumaa Abu Jebal, who lost a leg in the IDF’s invasion of the camp in 2002, and his mother, Fatma, greeted us on our visit this past Monday. Mohammed dropped out of school in the 11th grade and began working with his father at his garage. After his friends left that night, we are told, he went to fix a car that had broken down in the camp. That was at about 10 P.M.
An hour later or so, he returned home and went to sleep, his mother relates. At 2 A.M., friends knocked on the door. They came to summon him, after learning that soldiers were in the camp. Mohammed’s father forbade him to go out, but around 3, after his father went back to sleep, the teen snuck out of the house. That act cost him his life.
His mother heard shots at about 3:30 – the shots that killed her son, a few dozen meters from his home. She learned from a Facebook post that Mohammed had been wounded – that’s how parents find out about their children’s fate here. She tried to get to the hospital, but was forced back home by the shooting. It wasn’t until 5:45 A.M., after the last of the troops had left the camp, that she could leave. Mohammed died before she and her husband reached the hospital; he had been struck by three bullets in the chest and one in the stomach.
A week earlier, Israeli troops had entered this house in search of Mohammed’s uncle, Jumaa, who lives on the upper floor. A Shin Bet security service agent ordered the amputee to get dressed, but he wasn’t arrested. Jumaa is a Hamas activist.
“This is the last time I’m coming here. The next time I’ll send a drone to liquidate you,” the Shin Bet man told Jumaa, who replied, “If you have anything [on me], take me.” To which “Captain Haroun,” as the agent styles himself, retorted, “You know what people around you are doing.”
Jumaa, an affable, smiling man who’s married to an Israeli Arab woman from Haifa and speaks broken Hebrew from his years in an Israeli prison, is certain the Shin Bet man was referring to his nephew Mohammed.
The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit stated this week, in response to a query from Haaretz: “On Jan. 29, explosive devices were thrown at IDF soldiers during activity in the Jenin refugee camp. The force responded with gunfire at those who were throwing the devices, as a result of which one of them was killed. The IDF enters the refugee camp in accordance with operational needs and with the aim of preventing terrorist activity in the area.”
Not far from the house of mourning, on a wall in another home, is a photograph of Majd Lahlouh, who was shot to death after going out to confront soldiers in the camp in August 2013, at the age of 22. Beneath the photo lies his cousin of 23, Izak Lahlouh. He, too, was wounded that night last month, by a bullet that hit an artery his leg. He was told in the hospital that if his evacuation had been delayed by another few minutes, he would have died from loss of blood. Now he’s bedridden, keeping warm with blankets and watching television, with crutches by his side.