Israeli forces invade Deheisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem, 14 June 2008. (Dr. Marcy Newman)
14 June 2008
It started out as a normal Saturday morning. We were hanging out in Ibdaa Cultural Center in Deheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem. I had plans to leave later to visit friends in Jerusalem and was hanging out with friends here. We were all sitting in the cafe at Ibdaa, which is on the fourth floor and has windows around three sides of the building. We were drinking coffee, chatting, watching television and all of a sudden there was a loud sound like a grenade or a bomb. We rushed to the window and all we could see at first was smoke rising up from the street about a block away. One by one we watched Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) invade the street surrounding Deheisheh and then across the street in the Doha neighborhood where a few of the IOF jeeps parked in front of a house and then went inside, to arrest someone from the Abu Akar family (fortunately, he escaped).
Much of this was obscured from our view. We could only see the soldiers enter and then park their jeeps out front. Then several of these tanks and jeeps came down the main Jerusalem-Bethlehem road and stopped in front of Deheisheh. The youth started throwing stones at the Israeli army jeeps and then the shooting started. For five hours the youth threw stones at the jeeps and the occupation soldiers fired live ammunition, including steel rubber-coated bullets (which can be just as lethal as the regular kind) and tear gas grenades, all of which injured five people from the camp. In the middle if all this a huge Caterpillar bulldozer came down the road and went up towards the house in Doha, which we thought was going to be used to demolish the house (thankfully, it did not). But the soldiers were in there for the entire five-hour period and they took some political prisoners away.
The entire day was filled with intense sounds and no cars drove down this normally very busy street. All the shops closed their doors and only the youth took to the streets and wielded huge stones at the IOF tanks in and around Ibdaa. The soldiers moved into the second floor of the shops across the street from the camp where they installed their snipers directly facing Ibdaa. The only sounds we did hear were the squeak of the Caterpillar bulldozer tearing up the streets, the whistles of the youth signaling to one another, the screech of the grenades flying through the air, the incessant sound of bullets flying at Deheisheh.
In the end 18-year-old Nedal Abed al-Fattah Issa Faraj was shot in his left leg, 22-year-old Ghassan Afif al-A’zzah was shot in the hand, and 12-year-old Abdullah Nayif Jadallah was struck by a tear gas canister. Adham al-E’wewee was shot with a rubber-coated steel bullet, and Yahya al-Afandi was also struck by a tear gas canister, though there is word that now the number of the injured has climbed to 15. A friend was hit by a rubber bullet, though he was not injured. The Ibdaa bus has dozens of bullet holes in it as it was parked downstairs, outside the center, as do the businesses and cars parked around the entrance to the camp. When the IOF left people turned to the streets showering the jeeps with stones and collecting the shrapnel left behind.
Normally when the IOF comes into Deheisheh to kidnap political prisoners or to keep Palestinians terrorized they do this in the wee hours of the morning, at least when I’ve been here. I have never seen such an all-out onslaught on Deheisheh, though it has happened many times before. The entire episode seemed unplanned as if the army was primarily here to kidnap Palestinians but when the youth started throwing stones as their mode of resistance they unleashed a tremendous amount of fire power. The most powerful sound of today was the sound of the IOF leaving the camp with the youth filling the street, hurling stones that hit the jeeps as they pulled out.
What we did not know is that while the battle in Deheisheh was unfolding soldiers had entered the Abu Akar home and destroyed it from the inside out. What I did not realize is that I have a friend in this family. For the family this began when two IOF soldiers came into the Doha area dressed in civilian clothes trying to appear as if they look Palestinian. This is a familiar story for many people here as this is how my friend’s aunt’s husband was assassinated, along with three other Palestinian men, by Israeli security forces who entered Bethlehem in March. At the time her son was in jail and today he is the young man they were looking for. He was not at home; he escaped. But his family was terrorized. After the plain-clothes Israelis entered the IOF soldiers followed by bombing the front door of the house down. Afterwards they shot hundreds of bullets all around the house — through the television set, through the wardrobes, turned over the furniture, and then they destroyed the bathroom. My friend’s aunt was made to take off all her clothes, she and her niece were beaten by the soldiers. There were many pieces of evidence left behind. Multiple kinds of bullets and grenades with Hebrew writing on them had been collected by the younger children in the family. The house still smelled like gas. The family had been making a big Saturday lunch of chicken and rice; the soldiers took the canister of cooking oil and dumped it all over the bathroom area.
This story ends here for now, but for this family this will not end. There have been threats made that will likely mean a repeat of today.
Dr. Marcy Newman is an Associate Professor of English at Boise State University. You may follow her writings at bodyontheline.wordpress.com.