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Reflections on the Balata Invasion

Reflections on the Balata Invasion:

1.Simply. Not. News. by neta Golan
2.Report of Balata Invasion by IWPS
3.Watching your tax dollars at work by Katie
4.A few days in a war zone by Harrison Healy

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Julian Borger
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Reflections on the Balata Invasion:

1.Simply. Not. News.
March 4th, 2006
By Neta Golan

I work in the ISM media office. On February 19th 2006 the Israeli milit1ary once again invaded Balata Refugee Camp. I remember the first invasion that Sharon orchestrated into the camps during this intifada, in February 2002. I remember that I could not believe it was happening. Never in my worst nightmares would I believe, had someone told me, that four years later such horror would become

IWPS and ISM volunteers called me in the office as they accompanied Palestinian medics in their efforts to give medical treatment to the wounded and sick in the camp. They called me when the Israeli military shot towards ambulances and denied them access to Balata. They called me when they witnessed unarmed 22-year-old Mohammad Subkhi Abu Hanade being shot in the chest by a sniper through his bedroom window. I wrote a press release, emailed and faxed it and then called the news agencies and journalists.

No one wrote about it. Not even the Arabic press which is always more responsive. The next morning I looked everywhere for news of the invasion and found none.

That day Sixteen year old Kamal Khalili was shot and was clinically dead by the time he made it to the hospital. The woman that answered the phone at Agency France Press said ‘call us back when he dies’ and hung up.

The volunteers called me when soldiers refused to let them treat ill people in families whose homes had been occupied. They called me when people in the camp ran out of food and baby formula. They called me when the youth of the camp who defended their homes with stones and makeshift barricades were shot at wounded and killed. They gave me the names and the ages of children shot at with live ammunition.
I wrote it all down even though I knew that the mainstream media did not want to know.

I wrote it down knowing that wounded, hungry and imprisoned Palestinian civilians are simply. Not. News.


2. IWPS report on the Nablus invasion

For pictures see:

March 5th, 2006 |
Sunday 19th of February

At approximately 1:30 a.m. of the 19th of February, the Israeli army started an operation named ‘Northern Glory.’ The IDF invaded Balata with helicopters and drones as well as about 50 army vehicles, including four armored personnel carriers (APCs) and two bulldozers, starting to block of the camp with its 30 000 residents from its surrounding and from Nablus City. The UNRWA schools of the camp were turned into a military base and a number of civilian houses were occupied.

In the early morning, the army surrounded the house of the Hamami family in search of Ahmad Abu Ras, 28, and arrested him and another person. In an act of collective punishment they then destroyed the house.

The army declared a curfew on the refugee camp the following morning and enforced it for 64 hours, until leaving Balata in the evening of the 21st of February. An unknown number of houses were occupied and used as sniper position, while holding the families inside and restricting them to one room. In some areas of the camp house to house searches were conducted, causing property damages to varying degrees.

Children and youth inside the camp and in its surrounding started resisting the invasion by throwing stones, bottles with paint etc. on the armored army vehicles and building barricades. The army responded with excessive use of rubber coated steal bullets and live ammunition, resulting in about 35 injuries, most of them youth, on the first day of the invasion. IWPS volunteers also witnessed soldiers in a Jeep with the number 611 338 inciting youth by cursing their parents and threatening the youth to make them martyrs.

Around 2 p.m. Mohammed Ahmad Natur and Ibrahim Ahmad Sheikh Issa, both 17 years old, were killed by a sniper shooting from an occupied house while being on the roof of one of their houses, watching the confrontation. One boy was hit by a live bullet in his neck, the other in the chest. The brother of one of the boys was shot in the thigh when he tried to come to their help. The army later clamed they were planting bombs.

However, while the army tried to block the fatally injured boys from being carried to the ambulance, no attempts were made to enter the house and no bomb squad were brought to either the house or the streets around it.

Monday 20th of February

The operation continued throughout Monday and Tuesday, the 20th and
21st of February, with the army using tear gas, sound bombs, rubber bullets - often shot with a device that spray shoots several bullets at once - and live ammunition against youth throwing stones, resulting in more injuries.

Between 2.30 a.m. and 4 a.m. on the 20th of February the army searched the house of the Kitawi family, looking for their wanted son. The whole family, including children, were forced on the street, while the army destroyed much of the family belongings. Food and clothing were thrown on the floor and furniture damaged, a fridge, TV, electronic equipment smashed. Sound bombs were exploded inside the house. The father of the family reports being cursed by soldiers and threatened that his wanted son would be killed unless he turned himself in. He also reports that 4500 Shekel and 550 Dinar were stolen from the house.

In the same night the army also entered the old city of Nablus and killed Islamic Jihad militant Ahmad Mohammad Nayef Abu Sharkh, 29.

Around 17.00 p.m., when the situation had quieted down, international and medical volunteers sitting outside a field clinic in the Balata
Market Street witnessed two shots being fired from an occupied house on the house across the street. A 22 year old man, who was standing at the window of his room, was hit in the chest and seriously injured. Army jeeps drove up to the house, but did not interfere as the injured youth and his heavily pregnant sister, who went into labor due to the shock, were evacuated by ambulances. Shortly afterwards the soldiers forced the rest of the family, including two small children and two babies, into the street, while searching the house and shooting live ammunition inside.

They later threatened the ambulances on the scene and the family with shooting and throwing tear gas to make them leave the area. An explosion was set in front of the house.

Late Tuesday afternoon the army pulled out of the camp, injuring more youth in the process. Many people had taken to the streets thinking the army had left, when some jeeps came back to evacuate an occupied house.

Wednesday 22nd of February

On Wednesday 22nd, the army conducted an arrest operation in Kufr
Kalil, a village on the outskirts of Balata Refugee Camp, lasting from the early afternoon till after midnight. The Amer family house, where four fighters from the al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades were hiding, was surrounded and the two resident families, about 22 persons including children, were called to leave the house and kept under the trees in the area.

Four surrounding houses, each home to 2-3 families with many children and babies, were occupied by the army and the families were kept inside, forbidden to turn on the light or to use their phones to contact family members outside the house. The operation ended with the arrest of the four fighters.

Thursday 23rd of February

Thursday around 3 a.m. the refugee camp was re-invaded and army bulldozers again blocked most of the entrances.

Thursday morning Ibrahim Saideh, 19, was killed in ad-Dahiyyeh, a
neighborhood overlooking Balata Refugee Camp. The youth was hit by two live bullets in the abdomen and back, damaging his liver, intestines and one of the main veins.

At 1.30 p.m. on Thursday, Naim Abu Saris, 29, was killed by a live bullet in the heart, shot by a sniper from an occupied house, while being on the roof of his house. The army claimed he was armed, but eye witnesses deny this. No confrontations were going on in the area of his house at that time.

During the morning an area close to the Balata Camp cemetery was sealed off and house to house searches were conducted. The Israeli Army surrounded the house of Mohammad Amar Abu Hamis, 32, where he and two other fighters of the al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades, Hammoudeh Ishtawi, 32, and Hassan Hajaj, 21, where hiding. Around 11.45 a.m. the army set of an explosion in the house, without prior warning to the civilians in the area, which caused a fire. The smoke also affected the families in neighboring houses, two of whom had to be evacuated with the help of medical volunteers. The army forbid the medical team from checking on the residents of other affected houses and prevented the Palestinian firemen who arrived to the area shortly afterwards from approaching the house, attempting instead to put out the fire with water brought in cooking pots and buckets by women from the neighboring houses.

At 12.30 more explosions were set of. Reportedly, there was an exchange of fire between the army and the surrounded militants, resulting in the injury of two Israeli soldiers.

At about 2 p.m., after a quiet period, an explosion followed by live fire hit a group of medical workers, international volunteers and journalists who where observing the events around the house from the end of the narrow alleyway next to the cemetery. Palestinian Medical Relief Committees (PMRC) ambulance driver Jareer Candola was hit by shrapnel in the hand and the leg, cutting nerves and veins under the knee. Ihab Mansour, a medical volunteer with the Scientific Medical Society, was hit by either shrapnel or a live bullet in the head and lost consciousness.

Another PMRC volunteer was lightly injured by shrapnel in the chest and two IWPS volunteers from Holland and the United States also suffered light injuries by shrapnel, one in the shoulder and the thigh, the other in her arm. The army blocked the rescue efforts, causing a delay of at least 30 minutes. The ambulance transporting Ihab Mansour was then stopped again on its way to the hospital and Mansour was arrested from the ambulance. At the time of writing he is reported to be under arrest in critical condition in Beilinson Hospital inside Israel.

At around 3.30 p.m. the army evacuated the area and the camp after dragging the bodies of the three militants out to confirm their death. As the army left, residents and medical teams rushed to the scene to recover the bodies, which were all severely mutilated by the explosions.

Throughout the invasion at least 12 persons were arrested, two of them from ambulances.

Number of injuries during the invasion

Dr. Samir Abu Zaroor from Rafidia hospital gives the following data on the injuries throughout the invasion. These numbers are not complete; due to the large number of casualties some cases were transferred directly to other hospitals in Nablus.

About 100 people were injured during the invasion. Their ages range from 12 to 63, though the majority of casualties were young boys and men between 15 and 25.

Injuries included:
14 cases of severe bruises and fractures caused by jeeps driving into people 28 cases of injuries by beating

4 cases of injuries caused when people fell while running away from the army

37 injuries caused by plastic coated steel bullets (so called rubber bullets)

21 cases of live bullets

Severe cases included:

a 17 year old boy shot with a live bullet at short range into his left shoulder, breaking his shoulder and damaging a main artery, which caused heavy bleeding;

a youth, who suffered multiple fractures in his thigh by a live bullet and will be permanently disabled;

a man, 26 year old, hit by live bullets in the throat and the head, who
was transferred to Ihloff Hospital in Tel Aviv in critical condition;
a 63 year old taxi driver, who was injured by bullet fragments in his
left shoulder and a live bullet in his head;
a youth who was transferred to Makassed Hospital in East Jerusalem who
was shot in the throat.

Restrictions on medical access

Apart from the injuries directly inflicted by the Israeli army, the
several day long siege and curfew of the camp and its population of about
30 000 people created a more general humanitarian crisis. Families were
running out of bread and milk for the children and some patients out of
medicine. Women in labor, sick children and chronically ill people,
suffering from Asthma, Diabetes, high blood pressure or needing dialysis,
were all cut of from the normal medical infrastructure, the army often
preventing or delaying their access to medical treatment. In addition,
severe restrictions were imposed on the movement of ambulances and
medical volunteers. Ambulances, medical teams and the UN clinic in the camp
were attacked several times. The most severe case, resulting in the
injury of two medical workers on Thursday 23rd, is described above.
Following are other cases of preventing or delaying access to medical care and attacks on medical workers that where witnessed by IWPS volunteers or reported to them by Palestinian medical workers. More cases may have occurred.

Sunday 19th of February

At around 11.30 two injured, Mahmoud Rajeh and Saleh Abu Alfa were arrested out of Ambulances on their way to the hospital. A PMRC ambulance was later called to Huwara Military base to pick up Rajeh, while Abu Alfa was arrested and transferred to Beilinson hospital inside Israel.

At around 12.30 two jeeps cornered an ambulance carrying an injured person and a women with labor complications. The jeeps pushed the ambulance from the front and the back, fired a shot in its direction and forced it to stand between the jeeps for about half an hour, while youth were throwing stones at them.

At around 1:00 pm two ambulances were held stopped by several jeeps outside Balata camp. According to the ambulance team they were detained for about 40 minutes and a young man with a bullet wound in the shoulder was beaten inside one of the ambulances. The soldiers forced the ambulance personnel to undress his wound to prove he is injured, making the wound start bleeding again. The ambulance was held until the family, with the help of the ambulance team and the IWPS volunteers, brought his ID card. After his ID was checked, the ambulance continued its way, only to be stopped again by the next jeep on the road.

At around 1:30 pm two boys, aged between 11 and 14 years, were injured in their legs with live ammunition. One had a flesh wound, while the other had his femur crushed by the bullet. The soldiers did not allow the ambulance to reach the injured, who had to be carried about two kilometers out of the camp by medical volunteers using a stretcher and a mattress.

Around 6 p.m. a boy hit by a plastic coated bullet in the head also had to be carried out of the camp to reach the ambulance.

Monday 20th of February

At approximately 7:15 am, a military jeep shot in the direction of the ambulance from a distance of about 200m preventing it from approaching the area close to the main entrance of the camp.

At approximately 11:15 the army attempted to close the UN medical clinic by shooting warning shots and percussion grenades. They also prevented patients from entering the clinic.

At approximately 11.35 a team of medical and international volunteers was shot at with tear gas.

At approximately 15:40 Israeli soldiers denied entry to a medical team attempting to deliver food and medicine into the camp. The Israeli soldiers also threatened to shoot them.

Tuesday 21st of February

Around 1 p.m. soldiers in a Jeep with the number 611 323 shot tear gas at an ambulance delivering medical supplies and pointed their guns at a team of medical and international volunteers accompanying patients including a small child to the UN clinic.
- - - - -

Witness/es: IWPS and Palestinian Medical Relief workers.
Report written by: Clara and Vera
Edited by: Grace
Contact details: IWPS withholds this information as a courtesy to those involved - we will do our best to furnish you with all the relevant information you might need to begin action.
The International Women’s Peace Service, Haris, Salfit, Palestine.


3. Watching your tax dollars at work….
By Katie
For pictures see:
February 25th, 2006
Three days of IOF invasion in Balata refugee camp.
On February 19th, I received a call from M.M. saying the IOF had invaded the Balata refugee camp and killed two teenage boys. They were using the girls school in the camp as a base of operations. M.M. said ISMers were needed in Balata to help with the medical evacuations because often the IOF will not allow ambulances to leave the camp. The military has arrested injured persons on their way to the hospital before. Our presence would hopefully pressure the soldiers to regain their humanity in these situations. In addition, the presence of internationals has the effect of making the soldiers less likely to unnecessarily kill Palestinians. Three other ISMers and I soon headed north to Nablus, the city next to Balata refugee camp.

Once in Nablus, we were picked up but couldn’t be driven up to the camp. We had to get off about 200 meters from the entrance. I called M.A. to ask for further instructions. He said that two medical volunteers would come out to meet us and escort us to the clinic inside the camp. We began walking towards the entrance while residents of Nablus were waving to us, asking us to stop and that we should not go in there because it was dangerous. A tank and a jeep were blocking the main entrance to the camp.

We stopped when we saw the two volunteers coming out. They motioned for us to follow and we began walking in the direction of the tank. I was not feeling very happy about this when a voice from the tank shouted on a megaphone ‘GO AWAY.’ I felt a little bit scared but I followed the volunteers anyways as they changed course and headed down a series of narrow alleys. We emerged onto a wide street and saw the tank had moved to intercept us about 200 meters away down the street. They fired shots in the air. I screamed, grabbed Wendy’s hand and we dashed across the street.

We continued to follow the two volunteers but I was beginning to not feel confident in them. At one point they lead us straight down a street towards an army jeep whose driver demanded to see our passports. I knew if they got a hold of our passports it would be all over. We would be arrested for being in a closed military zone and/or blacklisted- which means we could never enter the country again, and would be removed from Balata. I yelled to my four friends, ‘we have to leave NOW, yalla!’
I ran down the nearest small alleyway followed by the others and bumped into a group of surprised and confused young men. I attempted to ask if their house was a place we could hide while at the same time calling M.A. on the phone to ask where we should go. I was really freaked out at this point but fortunately we were quite near M.A. and he found us immediately.

M.A. took us to the clinic and explained that we would be helping the medical volunteers evacuate the injured and take food to families in occupied houses. Let me explain what an occupied house is. When the IOF wants to use someone’s house or roof as a base of operations, they lock the family in one room and use the house to their heart’s content.

Often they will refuse to let the family out to use the toilet or to eat. This is a very traumatic experience for the families. The volunteers go to these houses and attempt to reason with the soldiers, try to see if anyone is sick or injured and needs to go to the hospital, and bring food and medication.

There is garbage and squalor everywhere in Balata. Other than this, the two most unique aspects are the density of the population (25,000 people in two square kilometers) and the martyr posters on the walls of all the buildings. Most of these men (and some women) have been killed during the military invasions of Balata. A small number died in attacks against Israelis. The tragedy of Balata is apparent in these posters. Some of the martyrs are boys and most are posed with guns. These are photo studio portraits with guns as props (the guns are photo studio props here just like teddy bears are photo studio props elsewhere.) All the boys and men have them taken ‘just in case.’ Just in case, like 17-year-old Ibrahim and Naim whose funeral I would later watch. Nablus and Balata have had approximately 500 martyrs since the start of the second Intifada in 2001.

During the day, we went out in groups of two or three internationals and two or three Palestinian medics looking for injured people. I was surprised that there were not more injuries that day during the clashes between the IOF and the kids. When the American media reports these types of clashes, they portray Palestinian kids behaving badly by throwing rocks at soldiers who have no choice but to shoot back to defend themselves. This is not exactly how it is. These kids, who range in age from 5 to about 25, have no school to go to during the invasions. (Perhaps because theirs is occupied by the soldiers ?) All they can do is hang out in the streets collecting the only ammunition available with which to defend their city. If you can condemn them for this then I would have to ask you the following question: If soldiers invaded your city, would you do nothing while they occupied your houses and killed your young men?

Or would you fight back using the method of your choice ? These kids are fighting back with rocks as weapons, garbage and debris as roadblocks, and I salute them in their bravery. They have nothing to lose. When the jeeps needed to go down the street, a bulldozer would go in first and clear the way. The kids would then gather rocks and pull chunks of cement from the houses and pelt the bulldozer. Then the jeeps would come through, firing tear gas, rubber bullets and sometimes live ammunition.

We would hide in alleys until the vehicles had passed and then emerge to see the kids collecting rocks again and chanting ‘Allahu Akbar,’ God is great. This happened over and over and over. At first it was terrifying, then it became only slightly alarming, and then it just became normal.

What was the IOF doing in Balata? Apparently their mission was to kill and/or arrest fighters. The media would probably call the fighters ‘terrorists.’ Other people might use the term freedom fighters. It probably depends on whether you ask the occupier or the occupied.

At night we had to stay inside the ISM apartment in Balata. We could hear shooting going on until 1 am, but we had no idea what was happening outside. Two others stayed awake the whole night in case something happened we and we needed to help.

That night was the scariest I have ever lived though. I say this with the guilt that comes from someone who lives with much privilege. For the people of Balata last night was just another in a lifetime of traumatizing military actions. The Palestinian medical volunteers often tried to soothe the internationals for whom all of this was a new experience.

On February 20th, I woke up to the sound of kids laughing and playing in the street and thought, ‘the invasion must be over.’ I was wrong.
This is an example of the most disturbing part of the Balata invasion. It was normal that kids would be out laughing and playing in the street even if there were military jeeps and humvees one block over. People were calm because this was nothing new to them. The next thing I heard as I was waking up was ‘Nablus….itnayn shaheedayn’, Nablus has two martyrs. Two fighters had been killed in the city of Nablus, adjacent to the Balata refugee camp where I was and which was currently under siege.

All nine international volunteers and several Palestinian medics were all sitting in the clinic listening to the sounds of jeeps and rocks outside when we heard live ammunition fired. It was so close by that after I was done screaming and leaping three feet into the air, I had to look around to see if anyone had been hit. Everyone in the clinic was fine, but, across the street, the target of the fire had been hit. He was shot through the window he was sitting next to. The bullet deflected off of the metal grill outside the window. He must have been shot by an IOF sniper from a nearby roof. We dashed across the street into the house.

Everyone was in a panic; women screaming and children crying. I tried to comfort a little girl as the medics were running in and out. A few minutes later the victim was carried out on a stretcher. He had been shot in the chest and he had lost a lot of blood. He was put into an ambulance which was waiting outside. A few minutes later another member of the same family who appeared to be eight or nine months pregnant was taken out and put into an ambulance. She hadn’t been shot, fortunately, but the stress induced labor. The military, which had been waiting outside in the jeeps and humvees watching the chaos ordered the family out of the house and us off of the street. From inside the clinic, we could hear more gunfire and explosions coming from right outside.

I was so scared I started crying. After they were done ransacking the house, the soldiers left and the family was allowed back in. We had received an update from the hospital and Mohammad, the man who’d been shot, was going to live.

The next day it was more of the same. We put a teenager who’d been shot in the chest onto a stretcher and sent him off to the hospital. We attempted to bring food to a family in an occupied house but after knocking on the door for five minutes and explaining that we were volunteers trying to bring food and check on the family, we were told to go away.

As we were walking down an alley, a man pulled Ahmad, one of the
Palestinian medics aside, and they motioned for us to come into a house where we saw four women sitting on the floor, quietly crying. I thought they were just scared. They didn’t appear any more upset than any of us had been the night before, just sitting there and quietly crying¦ Ahmad tried to comfort one of them. We were called out after only a few minutes and it was then I learned from Ahmad that this was the family of one of the boys who had died two days before. Knowing that slammed me hard in the stomach.

At one point, Ahmad was detained for thirty minutes for an ID check.
The soldiers insisted that these ID checks take a long time, they have to put them through a database to make sure they are not suspected terrorists. Hey soldiers, you can’t fool me, I’m a pro now at watching Palestinian ID checks!! I know how long it takes to run someone’s ID through; in Tel Rumeida, if the soldiers are in one of their rare good moods, it doesn’t take more than five minutes! One ISMer argued with the soldier until Ahmad was released.

That night the soldiers decided to leave a home they had been occupying near the clinic. We were told to stay inside the clinic as the soldiers are very nervous and vulnerable when they exit an occupied house. They often bring the residents out with them as human shields until they can get in their vehicles and get away. More rocks, gunfire and explosions, tear gas coming into the clinic. Someone was shot in the head with a rubber bullet.

To cope with the stress I drew offensive cartoons in my sketchbook, we made sick jokes, and Wendy and I talked about which martyrs were the cutest. My kuffiya became my security blanket and I cuddled with it at night.

We were all a little bit crazy when on February 21, M.A. told us the invasion was over. Five dead total, forty injured, five of M.A.’s friends arrested. I have to hand it to M.A., he was in charge in Balata, everyone looked up to him and he did an awesome job. I’m also amazed at the international volunteers I worked with, everyone did what was needed, none of them went crazy and for most of them it was their first time in an invasion.

That morning we watched the funeral procession of Ibrahim and Naim from a roof and when I saw those kid’s faces it was time for a long overdue cry. They were so young, so beautiful and I can’t get their faces out of my head. What if they were going to be the ones to lead their people to freedom? I wish I had gotten an opportunity to learn about who they were.

In less than 24 hours of returning to Tel Rumeida, the invasion of
Balata has resumed again. A fellow American ISMer has been hit in the arm by shrapnel from an explosive in Balata. The Israeli secret service interrogated and beat a Palestinian ISMer for three hours while accusing him of having terrorist connections. An Israeli activist was shot in the eye by the rubber bullet in Beit Sira. Four hundred settlers in Hebron had a huge parade where they spoke about how they would not rest until all of Hebron controlled by ‘the Jews.’

If you have read this far, I thank you. Your knowledge of this event means the rest of the world has not abandoned Balata.

Please help in any way you feel you can!

© Scoop Media

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