Terror and Occupation in Nablus

A martyr’s funeral for two unarmed 17-year-old boys shot by a sniper while watching the invasion from a rooftop. Bullets entered one boy in his neck and the other in his mouth, exiting through the back of his head. (Dylan Bergeson)

17 April 2006 — This is just one personal account of a shocking situation I witnessed in in Nablus. In the week I have been here, Nablus and Balata refugee camp have been under regular daily and nightly attack from the IDF. All of the incursions have involved live ammunition, demonstrating little care for the hundreds of civilians in these highly populated areas.

Tanks and soldiers roll into Balata refugee camp during the invasion of April 2006. (Dylan Bergeson)

We recieved a call at 10 AM to say that a house in the center of Nablus has been occupied by the army, with the family held prisoner inside. When the friends of this family’s children called for them to go to school, they discovered that the army were in the family’s home. The local shebab(“youth”) then began to pelt the house with stones. We were needed to approach the house and offer support to the family inside. I was told the army were more likely to resond to internationals and to allow food to be sent in or medical treatment arranged if an international approached them. In Palestine, people buy food on a daily basis; therefore, it can run out very quickly and there is no knowing how long the army will stay.

Palestinians set up a makeshift roadblock in Balata refugee camp during the invasion, to block military vehicles. (Dylan Bergeson)

The stone throwing seemed relentless. I understand, however, that futile though it seems, it’s the only form of resistance avaiable to these disaffected, war-torn youth. Meanwhile, children were coming and going from several nearby schools. Medics and internationals escorted them to safety past the occupied house, as by now the army had begun shooting live ammunition. I have to admit that I was shocked that they were using live ammunition. Live ammo against stone-throwing children? I later heard the IDF claimed that pistols were fired by protestors, but I don’t believe this - we were on or near the front line most of the time.

A Dutch medical volunteer has shrapnel removed from a wound on her shoulder during the invasion of Balata refugee camp.(Dylan Bergeson)

Every time we crossed in front of the house, I thought of the British activist Tom Hurndall, who was killled by an IDF bullet. I think, God, I’m not brave enough for this and I don’t want to die, not even heroically. I was very aware of the fact that the TV crews are about 100 meters further back than us and had bulletproof vests. We moved back a little for safety and a bullet winged the wall next to the film cameraman.

My mouth was very dry and I became aware that I was shaking but then quickly realized I was cold. We’d rushed out without coats and the weather is very changeable here. I was unsure where fear ended and cold began.

A Palestinian boy in an ambulance after being shot by soldiers during the invasion of Balata refugee camp. (Dylan Bergeson)

We moved forward again to evaluate the situation and a bullet missed my friend by centimeters, which she didn’t actually notice. By now, I was feeling very shaken when suddenly I saw a boy standing very close, perhaps a half-meter away, get hit by a bullet. He clasped his neck, groaned and cried but didn’t really scream. He was also running, perhaps seeking safety, because when he reached a wall, his legs buckled. We knelt beside him and our coordinator put his hand over the wound to stem the gushing blood, but the ambulance - which had been on standby - was right there and took him away before we needed to help him.

Now I was really shocked, yet I wanted to stay with my group as a human rights observer. Much more live ammunition was fired - some very close - but we stayed at the scene in order to help the terrified family if and when the army evacuated the house. Tear gas was fired, shebab are everywhere and I was trying to ring the press. There was general chaos and I began to realize that I had lost my focus and was thinking only about injury and my family. I decided to leave and two people, including one of our coordinators, accompanied me.

After hours of dodging bullets, it was only when we were back in the camp that I felt safe again. When the rest of the group returned, I heard that another innocent child bystander had been shot beside them and was taken to the hospital in a taxi by our coordinator.

One of the two unarmed boys killed by a sniper as they watched the invasion from their rooftop, during the boys’ funeral procession.(Dylan Bergeson)

As I selfishly considered my own anxiety, It dawned on me that Nablus civilians have to deal with this constantly. There is no doubt that they must be sufferring stress and anxiety-related illnesses. Yet they continue to work, laugh, get married, and, most importantly, resist as best they can this appalling, legtimized violence from Israel.

Linda Spence is a 46 year old English woman who arrived to Palestine on April 4th to begin work with the International Solidarity Movement. This is her first visit to Palestine, during which she has spent most of her time in Nablus doing human rights observation work.