Jenin's Mean Streets

Three residents of this refugee camp have lost their lives in confrontations with the IDF in recent weeks, but there's no room left for burial in the local cemetery.

Once again, the alleyways are plastered with death announcements. And once again, the funeral processions leave for the cemetery of those who fell in the intifada, which is completely full already. There is nowhere to bury anyone there, hardly any room to post yet another announcement. Three young men were killed in the Jenin refugee camp in the past few weeks − far, far from the public eye in Israel.

The most recent killing, of Islam Tubasi, on Tuesday of last week, received barely a mention in the newspapers. Likewise, the deaths of Karim Abu Sbeih and Majd Lahlouh, on August 20, were hardly noticed in Israel. The West Bank is calm, but not this refugee camp: Three of the 12 Palestinians killed since this year began lived there. And the Israel Defense Forces continues to enter the Jenin camp almost nightly. Last week as well, when we visited, there were sounds of gunfire, by whom it was unclear, but they were nearby and scary.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority have arrested dozens of young men here in recent months. Zakaria Zubeidi, commander of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, who previously won a pardon of sorts from Israel, has been in detention for the last seven months in the PA prison in Ramallah, following a shooting incident at the Jalame checkpoint. His three brothers are locked up in Israel; the last of them, Daoud, was arrested less than two months ago. Another four of his cousins, too, are in custody, either in Israel or with the PA.

And also, early on the morning of September 17, a few hours after we left the camp, IDF troops and undercover agents from the Border Police’s antiterrorism unit entered Jenin. They killed Tubasi at 7 A.M., on the rooftop of his home. According to witnesses, Tubasi was unarmed. The soldiers and undercover agents blew open the front door of his house, went up on the roof and shot him twice. Then they dragged him downstairs, wounded, and asked his brother to identify him before − according to members of the household − they fired yet another bullet into his abdomen. Tubasi died; his funeral was held at noon. He was 22.

Here is how the IDF Spokesman’s Office described those events, in response to our inquiry: “In the course of operational activity, the forces encountered violent resistance that included shooting and improvised grenades and Molotov cocktails thrown at them. During the activity, the force identified a wanted militant, a main target for arrest, who was attempting to flee; it apprehended the man
after firing at him. The wanted militant was badly wounded, evacuated to receive medical treatment by a military force and subsequently died of his injuries at a hospital in Israel. The wanted militant in question was an operative of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, who had been involved in directing terror attacks against the security forces.”

Not far from Tubasi’s home, the mourning period of 40 days has not yet come to an end at the homes of two other bereaved families in the camp. Majd Lahlouh, 21, was in his third year of management studies at the Open University in Jenin. At night he tended bar at the city’s Cafe Tropicana, to help his family. His father Mohammed has been sick for the past four years with a serious blood disorder. His face is jaundiced and his speech is weak. Periodically, the whole camp organizes to donate blood for him. Mohammed has already received hundreds of blood transfusions.

On the night of Tuesday, August 20, Lahlouh was coming home from work, at the usual hour of 3 A.M. Along the way he spotted a large number of IDF troops and undercover Border Policemen, who had entered the camp. According to residents, they had come to arrest the Islamic Jihad operative Sheikh Bassam. On seeing the forces, Lahlouh decided to take an alternate route home. In an alley near his house, teenage boys threw stones at the soldiers, his father and friends say, and the soldiers began shooting with live fire at the stone-throwers. One bullet hit Majd Lahlouh in the hip, killing him on the spot.

According to his family, there is no way he could have been involved in the stone throwing. He merely wanted to return home from work in one piece, they say.

Hearing cries, his father came out of the house and saw his son in a pool of blood. The teenagers carried him to an ambulance, but it was too late. Now his father wants to sue the IDF. He is looking for a lawyer to represent him pro bono. His dream is also to secure medical treatment in Israel for himself, but so far he has been turned down.

In the same incident, 18-year-old Ali Abu Khalifa sustained a spinal injury and has been lying paralyzed in the hospital ever since.

Another casualty was Karim Abu Sbeih, who died of his injuries 10 days later.

Abu Sbeih’s home is near the camp’s Al-Ansar Mosque, across from the small center in memory of Ahmed Khatib, a 13-year-old boy from the camp who was shot by IDF soldiers in November 2005 in Qabatiyah. At the time, his father decided to donate Ahmed’s organs, which were transplanted in six Israeli patients.

Now a new and double memorial poster hangs on the center’s wall: It depicts a father and his son. The father, Subhi Abu Sbeih, was killed in a traffic accident exactly a year ago; his son Karim, 17, was wounded by Israeli forces on the night of August 20 and later died. The Sbeih family’s living room has also been turned into a memorial, with pictures everywhere of the father and son. One of the photographs is of Karim in a white shirt with a red bow tie. This is the last picture of the teenager: It was taken at his cousin’s wedding, a few hours before IDF soldiers killed him.

The widow and bereaved mother, Khaula, says she had always feared something would happen to her son because of his roller skates. Karim, who dropped out of school in ninth grade to work in a garage after the death of his father, loved to skate through the camp. On her cellphone she shows us a short video clip of Karim, decked out in knee and elbow protectors and a helmet, showing off his skating moves.

On that day, August 20, Karim returned from his cousin’s wedding, changed clothes and went back out to the street. His mother was already asleep. An hour after he left home, the soldiers and undercover Border Policemen arrived and shot and badly wounded him. Karim was rushed to the hospital in Nablus. He managed at some point to wake up from his coma and even spoke to his mother, but after 10 days he succumbed to his injuries. He is not buried next to his father because there is no more room in the cemetery.

Here is how the IDF Spokesman’s Office described the events: “The second incident in question occurred in the course of operational activity by the IDF and Border Police forces to apprehend a wanted militant involved in terrorism. In the course of this activity, the forces were attacked by live fire, explosive devices, rocks and improvised grenades, as a result of which two IDF soldiers were lightly wounded. The troops returned fire at the sources of the shooting and as a result, one of those involved was killed, another was injured and died in the hospital of his injuries, and several others involved were lightly hurt. Both incidents [of August 20 and last week] are under review by the IDF military advocate general.”