Invasion in Dheisheh Refugee Camp Leaves Home in Ruins

15 June 2008

A Journal Entry from Nora, Friend of PSP, Yesterday, June 14

On the table next to me as I write this are two steel bullets, one encased in hard black rubber, and the other a naked, dull silver. They were picked up from the street in Dheisheh this afternoon, fired from US-made and financed Israeli weapons.

At about 2pm, over two dozen Israeli armored jeeps and APCs and bulldozers and secret service rolled into the main street right outside of Ibdaa center, cut traffic off, and began firing sound grenades, tear gas, rubber-coated steel bullets and live ammunition. Israeli snipers kicked people out of their homes on the other side of the street and used the top floors as sniper posts.

My friend H. and i were up north in Nablus, catching up with old friends and planning/researching a few stories for later next week, and my friend M. called my phone with the news. We immediately headed back to Bethlehem, and were receiving updates throughout the whole two-hour, three-taxi, five-checkpoint ride. Two people shot. then three. half an hour later, five people shot and injured, one of them a woman. the count is now at 15 people injured. i felt horrible that i wasn’t there as the invasion began.

H. and i got out of the taxi about 500 meters down the street from Ibdaa Center, right in front of a huge APC (armored personnel carrier) parked next to an armored jeep. several Israeli occupation soldiers were inside and outside, reloading their M16s and firing sound grenades into the camp. A rain of stones would come, bouncing off the hoods of the vehicles. The entire street, a normally bustling thoroughfare that connects Hebron with Bethlehem, was eerily quiet except for the stones and the blasting fire of the Israeli weapons. we ran across the street, into a shwarmeh cafe, where people were watching the events unfold from the back room.

We cut into the camp with some of my former students, a group of beautiful, tall girls who were coming back from their high school exams and surprised to see the camp under siege, and headed back toward Ibdaa.

We found ourselves running with the throngs of stone-throwing Dheisheh boys, as we tripped over white stones and green and silver tear gas canisters with Hebrew and English (“made in Philadelphia, USA”) written on them, my camera and digital recorder working overtime trying to document as much as possible. Tear gas stinging noses, eyes, the backs of our mouths. We made our way carefully back to Ibdaa from the back, tear gas permeating the entire front area of the camp. Hours later, you can still smell it and taste it on your lips.

At about 6pm, the soldiers began piling back in their jeeps, followed by dozens of young men, encroaching closer and closer to the remaining occupation soldiers, throwing stones and beating them back in defense of the street, the camp, the community. as the last jeep turned the corner to leave the camp, soldiers still firing sound grenades indiscriminately, dozens of boys turned into hundreds, cheering and holding up the international victory sign.

More than four hours of siege, shooting, and resistance.

My former radio production student Loai lives in the house that the Israelis destroyed during this invasion. they apparently were looking for his 16 year old cousin who was “wanted” by the Israeli military. “wanted,” after his father Ahmed was killed by the same military just four months ago. “wanted,” for throwing stones. an invasion for this boy. a relative told me, his hands in the air, “It’s not like he had an RPG! He’s just a kid!”

Loai took me and M. into his cousin’s house. the Israelis hadn’t needed to use their Caterpillar bulldozer; they did a smashing job with their guns and their bare hands. The walls were smashed in. The sink and the entire bathroom was smashed to pieces. Furniture was smashed to splinters. Cooking gas poured on the rugs and on the couches and beds. Mirrors smashed to glass slivers. The door was bombed. The wardrobes were open, rummaged through, pocked with bullet holes. Another one of Loai’s young cousins came in the front room with a giant plastic bag full of bullet casings, including several tear gas canisters, heavy sound grenades, and some shrapnel-like slivers of metal that no one had seen before. “They’re using new ammunition, we have no idea what it is,” Loai explained.

The entire place was destroyed. the 16 year old “wanted” boy managed to escape. And the boys of Dheisheh had beat the fourth-largest military in the world.

Now, as the sunset casts a purple-orange glow over the streets, littered with stones and normal traffic rumblings, the television is set to the Sweden-Spain soccer match and people are laughing, white dust still on some of the boys’ hands.

There are kites flying over the camp now. One of them has a Palestinian flag fluttering behind it, one hundred feet up in the air.

Another day in occupied Palestine.