Balata refugee camp

Is Spain inside or outside the Nablus checkpoint?

The group of internationals I had traveled with to the northern West Bank city of Nablus had decided to park our car just behind the Huwwara checkpoint, where Israeli soldiers control Palestinian movement to and from the city. From the outset, I began taking pictures of an Israeli military outpost littered with heavy tanks and armored vehicles. Eddie Vassallo writes from the Balata refugee camp. 

Tomatoes, Gas, Coffee and their Stories

Every single object carries significance that goes far beyond those things we would normally associate with them. Here, in occupied Palestine, life is hard. Objects tell stories just like the people do: constant, beating stories. Like fierce monsoons, they pelt at you, daring you to challenge their significance. And yet like individual raindrops in a monsoon, each story is but one of millions. Like raindrops, each story takes a slightly different shape, but they all carry the same “Made in Israel” pollutants. Life here in occupied Palestine is hard. Objects carry significance here that a visitor simply cannot imagine. 

Death waits for no one in Balata refugee camp

Skipper, the son of an electrician, grew up with his three brothers on the outskirts of the camp. Though his given name was Osama, most people in the camp called him “Skipper” and his close friends called him “Disco Skipper.” “Skipper” was a nickname given to him in school, and “Disco” came from his love for dancing. Skipper would be the first one dancing at all the wedding parties in the camp. Like many of his peers, in tenth grade Skipper left school to work for his father. However, he couldn’t stand working while the situation around him was worsening and his friends were being killed or arrested. His friend Ramzy says that Skipper would hang out with young men who were “wanted” by the Israeli army. Skipper was considered guilty by association and he too became “wanted.” 

This is every night in Balata

The neighbor’s baby is sick. How do I know? There are only two thin walls and about 15 feet of separation between them and us. These thin walls also create for a magnificent arena to echo the shots of M-16 fire which ring throughout the night. It’s impossible to sleep, at least for me — I’m not used to this. My friend says that he sleeps through it just fine most nights. Although, when the larger Israeli vehicles come with their big artillery I don’t think that sleeping is possible. 

Daily disruption in Balata: A four day overview

The time of relative quiet that the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) initiated during the Palestinian Authority elections, in order to please international observers and media, is now definitely over. While before the army kept coming at night, the IOF now also causes trouble during the day. The main target of these daily IOF attacks on Nablus is, once more, the Balata Refugee Camp. With almost 30,000 inhabitants — the largest camp in the occupied West Bank — it is situated on the outskirts of the city. 

Back to 'normal' in Balata

Nablus, 15 January 2005 — Lately the Israeli army has been showing up regularly at night, but after some quiet days following the elections, military activity is becoming “normal” again. This morning two jeeps destroyed a few market stands at the main entrance of Balata camp and provoked the kids in the street, who responded with stones. The jeeps kept driving into the camp for about two hours, but they finally left after the bigger jeep’s front window was hit by white and blue paint, leaving the driver unable to see anything through it. 

With the ISM in Balata refugee camp

The Huwwara checkpoint is closed to internationals. The entire Nablus region is completely off-limits. Our destination is the Balata refugee camp on the outskirts of the city, where Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation is said to be the strongest in the West Bank. One British journalist told me that Israeli military strategy is to keep foreigners from entering, flood the area with troops, then “turn the lights out”. We are met by a van and driver who takes us around the checkpoint then leaves us at the side of a nearby mountain road. He tells us to hurry up the trail, then drives off quickly in order to avoid being seen by Israeli forces. 

Digging in the sand

Digging in the sand, late Wednesday night, outside Balata Camp. Four of us, crouched down near the mosque, next to the taxi rank. But there are no taxis - the streets are empty and silent. Everybody is inside, with the door locked - more soldiers are expected tonight. Two small piles of light brown sand lie at the entrance to the camp. We kneel around one of them, as Mustapha slowly sifts through the sand, turning over clumps and examining the underside of stones. ‘Move the light here. Now here. What’s this?’ asks Mustapha.