At around midnight on Wednesday, April 2, 40 Israeli military vehicles entered the Tulkaram refugee camp, imposed a curfew and demanded that all males between the ages of 15-40 immediately leave their homes and present themselves to the invading forces.
Samer Omar, a 17 year old from the camp explained what happened next. “When the soldiers came they threatened to arrest, beat or shoot us if we did not come outside immediately. So, as we were ordered to, thousands of male residents went to the grounds of the UN school. Tulkaram camp is home to about 18,000 people, so as you can imagine there were a lot of us who left our homes. This was at around 6 AM. Once we got there, the soldiers split us into groups, forcing the guys who were between 15 – 20 years into one corner, separated from the rest. Some of the younger ones were too young to have ID, but the soldiers did not care. They then moved us into one of the school rooms. We were in the room together and the commander started to ask us if we wanted to work for the Israelis, saying he would give us money if we did. When the commander left one of the soldiers made us rip up pictures of martyrs and spit on them – for no reason except that he had the gun. Then he took a Quran and threw it on the floor and demanded that one of the guys stood on it, but he refused so the soldier then tried to force him by pointing his gun at his head. But the commander came back then so the soldier stopped it.
At this point we were blindfolded and our hands were tied and we were put into one of the big military trucks and were driven to Nur Shams refugee camp 8 kilometers away. It was 10 AM at this time I think. The soldiers took off our blindfolds, untied our hands and let us go, saying we could go anywhere as long as it was not back to our homes in the Tulkaram camp. As far as I was concerned this was the most terrifying part of the whole ordeal. I knew I would find somewhere to stay in Nur Shams as I had friends there and everyone would try to help us. But what sacred me most was that I might never be able to go back home again, nor see my family or my brother who is ten years old. Everyone believes the Israelis want to use the opportunity of war in Iraq to force all Palestinians from the land – and I thought I was one of the first in their latest attempt; first in 1948, then in 1967 and now me in 2003.
I spent the night at my friend’s place, until Friday when we were told that the curfew had been lifted and we were allowed to go home. I can’t tell you how relieved I felt when I went home, despite the fact that a lot of the camp had been attacked, including my home. I thought I would never see the place again so it was great.”
The governor of Tulkaram city, Izz Ad-Din Ash-Sharief commented on these latest events saying, “The Israeli government and military carried out this operation in order to gauge public and international reaction to the transfer of Palestinians – it’s really that simple. This time they transferred people for three days, and then allowed them to go home. Next time it might be more people, transferred further away, and for a longer period of time, and maybe the time after that they will transfer them and not let them return. They also did it to increase people’s tolerance. The first time the Israeli troops entered Gaza there was international outcry, and pressure was put on them to leave immediately. Less than a year after that the entire West Bank had been invaded and re-occupied, without a murmur of protest. People had become more tolerant, more “immune” to these events; and this is precisely what they hope to achieve now also – they want to make the world immune to the threat of Palestinian transfer….. and then move whoever they want.”