The weekly reports of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights tell the frightening story of the Israeli occupation In its latest report of the week from 16 till 22 February 2006 it is mentioned that Balata refugee camp was invaded. “Israeli Occupying Forces (IOF) willfully killed two Palestinian children in Balata refugee camp, east of Nablus. On Monday morning, IOF killed two Palestinian gunmen during an exchange of fire in Nablus.” Most of the over thirty incursions took pace in Nablus and the neighbouring Balata refugee camp, killing three Palestinians, wounding thirty six civilians and arresting at least thirteen people. A number of houses were transformed into military sites. The authors researched the story behind the figures of the weekly report on the ground.
Invasion of Balata
Late at night on Saturday 18 February a huge Israeli military force invaded the refugee camp of Balata. The military occupied immediately many public, social, educational places, and houses in the camp. Before sunrise the UNRWA schools in the camp were occupied, as well as the Balata Youth Sport Club, the Women Activity Centre, the Yafa Cultural Centre and fourteen houses. The occupied public places were used by the military as temporary bases. The houses were used as monitoring points and as a basis for snipers to shoot at Palestinians.
A few hundred soldiers took part in the invasion that was accompanied by about forty shielded Jeeps, some huge bulldozers and tanks. The forces occupied Balata refugee camp, and closed it completely off from the world outside. Despite the overwhelming and terrifying use of force, dozens of children and teenagers - full with anger about the occupation - started to throw stones at the vehicles. On Sunday at noon it was clear that two teenagers were killed and almost seventeen were injured. The Israeli military had behaved as in any military operation, by preventing the ambulances to reach and pick the injured people. With the help of the people in the camp the injured were transferred to the hospitals. The Balata camp residents are served by the UNRWA clinic, whose staff tried their best to help. The third evening of the invasion there were almost 50 injured people counted.
On Tuesday at five o’ clock in the afternoon the Israeli forces withdrew from the camp. Apart from the tragic human losses one house was demolished, and forty-three houses were damaged because of the rude behaviour of the Israeli soldiers that had occupied it.
Before Wednesday midnight the Israeli military returned to invade the camp once again. This time it was even more harsh. In one day more pain was done to the inhabitants of the camp than in the previous days. Another five people were killed and twenty-two injured; one house was demolished.
Two young men were killed in cold blood by snipers. One of them, a twenty-two year old, was at the roof of his house. The sniper was hidden in an occupied house on the mountain just outside Balata camp. The sniper shot him dead with one bullet straight in the heart. The second man was twenty-five years old. He stood at the entrance of his house when a sniper shot him with one bullet, also directly in his heart. The two houses of the killed Palestinians were far away from the aggression area.
Three members of Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades were killed later on Thursday. A huge Israeli force surrounded the house where they were hiding. Two helicopters were giving air support. The Israeli forces burned the house down, and shooting from the ground and the air at the militants. The militants returned the fire, injuring two soldiers. When the Israeli forces were sure that they had killed the militants, they entered the demolished house. Once again they opened fire on the bodies to make sure that they were dead.
The international community knows and should act
The deeply sad stories from Nablus and Balata refugee camp are recorded to inform the international community about the behaviour of the Israeli military. We know what is happening and it is about time that we are going to act upon what we know. Israel must stop its brutal occupation and comply with international humanitarian law. The international community must hold Israel accountable.
Adri Nieuwhof and Walid Abdelhadi are human rights advocates based in the Netherlands and the Occupied Palestinian Territories respectively. Events described in this article are based on eyewitness accounts, reports from Palestinian Human Rights Organisations and are confirmed by the authors.