Attack on Balata Refugee Camp

What happened last night at Balata will probably never be fully known, as witness the many decades of such attacks previously whose details are never discovered.

Last night at around 8.00 o’clock Palestine Time we heard two loud explosions — the UPMRC (Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees) guys agreed that these were 2 bombs in Balata — the people of Nablus have had so much explosive directed at, and dropped on, the city that they can instantly pin-point where and what. This time it is upon the wretched civilians of Balata Refugee Camp that the Israeli Occupiers have unleashed their murderous fury. We heard much shooting - many dozens of rounds in short bursts.

Before the telephone communication was cut we learned that Israeli soldiers, dressed as Palestinians and opened fire upon its largely defenceless civilians. At that time, 8.30pm, there were a number of casualties. The ambulances from here set out on their mercy missions, but they were not permitted to enter Balata — it was declared ‘closed’.

As we walked through the Old City of Nablus to the hotel — an unforgettable experience — we heard five more explosions and more gunshots. In the morning we heard that tanks had entered Balata camp to demolish houses. And that two young men had been arrested. Also, that the Israelis have forbidden any movement by men under the age of 35. But still it is unclear what happened.

The Israelis know nothing of “the quality of mercy…which droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven” ’ (Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice). It is usual here for ambulances to be deliberately prevented from attending attacks where there are known to be injured.

The most disorienting thing is that the Israelis prevent any news getting out so people are left in fear. And fear is something that I, even during the 10 days I have been here, have become familiar with.

For the three nights following the successful operation by the “Tel Aviv Martyrs” we waited, in a completely silent city — I mean completely silent — not a sound from 186,000 people from 6 o’clock in the evening. Nothing moved. Pets were indoors. No lights showed from shuttered houses as the great city of Nablus held its breath in anticipation of the attack which they knew would come. It is Israeli strategy to unleash these attacks when people’s nerves are stretched to breaking. It is hard to describe the eerie feeling of walking in a huge city in which there is no sound of life. Fear lies like a suffocating blanket over everything. And, of course, an attack on a refugee camp does not mean that we will suffer no attack in the main city tonight, or some night to come.

On Friday morning there is no daytime curfew, but the city is very subdued — everyone fears that many people died last night, or will die as a result of the attack and are suffering from their wounds and denied help — all illegal — the incursion into the camp, the shooting of civilians and the denial of medical aid. People are sitting quietly over their tea or reading their newspapers — and all ask “why is no journalist is interested to come here to report what is happening?” No smiles today and no laughter. The feeling of suffering is unimaginable. It will be an uncertain day (what’s new in Nablus) so, as every day all of us here with the UPMRC everyone has their backpack with overnight essentials in case we will be prevented from getting back to our beds.

Anne Gwynne is a Welsh national, currently working with the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees in Nablus.