Starting shortly before 11am on Monday, January 12, all residents in a section of the Tulkarem refugee camp were rounded up at a centrally located day care center. The men were separated from the woman and children and taken away in military trucks. At the end of the first day, over 230 men had been handcuffed, blindfolded and taken out of the camp to an unknown location.
The woman and children, after being separated from the men, were taken to the UNWRA building in the center of the camp. From the beginning, several women complained that their children were not present. These women maintained that their children were in a youth center in the middle of the military operation, without an adult present.
A volunteer with the ISM approached a soldier with the rank of major and asked that she and a UN worker might go into the youth center to look for the children. The major promised that there were no children in the center. When asked if the ISM and UN could go into the center in order to look for themselves, and comfort the women by their own witnessing, the major denied access stating that the area was too dangerous.
Several hours later, after the mothers’ concerns for their missing children grew, volunteers with the ISM once again approached the major. At this point access was granted to the ISM to enter the building themselves in order to determine that their really were no children inside.
When volunteers arrived at the youth center in the middle of the invasion, they found that over 15 children were indeed inside, hovering in a corner, crying, without an adult present. The children, who had spent over 3 hours alone in the middle of the invasion, were escorted out of the building by the ISM.
In order to reach their mothers, the children had to climb under razor wire and walk down a block of the camp where over 20 soldiers were stationed with their guns aimed at the children.
Many other mothers complained that their infant children were inside the invasion area with other relatives. When approached by these mothers, the major once again denied access for these women to find their babies.
By the end of the first day of the invasion, over 300 women and children were kept in the cold and rainy streets, and watched as their homes were occupied, searched and bombed. One elderly woman was forced to stand by and witness her home and everything she owned consumed by fire.
After over 11 hours of being in the streets, many of the woman and children had to seek refugee in nearby homes already overcrowded and short on food. Several of the homes became host to over 20 woman and twice as many children. Israeli Border Police herded the women who remained on the street into the UNRWA center.
ISM volunteers who attempted to join the women in the center were refused entry by the border police, but remained in the camp for the night at a nearby house.
The heavy gunfire and explosions that had been heard throughout the day continued non-stop throughout the night and following day. Although from the beginning of the invasion the camp was under curfew, Israeli Border Police began at 1am to repeatedly announce the curfew throughout the night.
With the second day, came another 10 hours of gunfire, explosions and the women not being allowed to their homes. Little food was available during the 30 hours of invasion, with the small amounts that were able to be brought in (mostly bread), given to the children.
A day and one half after the invasion began, 12 men had been officially arrested, three homes had sustained significant fire damage, over 30 homes sustained major damage including man sized holes in walls, holes in floors and complete destruction of personal property. Almost all windows in this section of the camp were destroyed by bullets and explosions. In one home, in a room next to the bathroom, a pile of excrement was found that had been rubbed into the rug.
Flo Razowsky works with the International Solidarity Movement in Palestine. For more information, contact Flo via +972-67-361-708.