Jenin, West Bank
Muhammad Abu al-Hijah was sleeping with his wife and two young daughters last month when they were woken up by loud gunshots. Minutes later, Israeli soldiers stormed his door and burst into his apartment.
“They spread through the house in seconds,” Al-Hijah, 29, said. “Two soldiers came to me, asked me to get up, one said to me, ‘Leave your daughter to her mother,’ and then he took me and tied my hands behind my back.”
Al-Hijah’s painful run-in with Israeli security forces came after they carried out an anti-terrorist operation in the center of the Jenin refugee camp on January 26.
“Security forces conducted an operation to capture a terrorist squad belonging to the Islamic Jihad terrorist organization,” the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), Israel Security Agency and Israel Border Police said in a joint statement hours after the raid.
According to Palestinian officials, ten Palestinians, including an elderly woman, were killed in Jenin. Another Palestinian was killed in what Israeli police described as “violent rioting” near Jerusalem hours later, making it the deadliest day for Palestinians in the West Bank in more than a year, according to records. As violence spread across the region, at least seven people were killed and three wounded in a shooting near a synagogue in Jerusalem a day later, according to Israeli police.
In Jenin, al-Hijah vividly recalled the events of January 26, saying that an Israeli soldier took her to the bathroom after handcuffing her and kneeling her before wrapping a towel around her head.
Restrained, blindfolded and trapped in her bathroom, Al-Hijah then began hearing gunshots from inside her apartment. “I could hear it, and if I concentrated I could hear a soldier talking to his wife,” he says.
Al-Hijah says he was able to convince the soldiers to let him go to his wife. Still blindfolded, he crawled into his room, as bullets flew past him.
Israeli soldiers had removed one of his sofas and set up a firing position by the window to provide cover for their units, which included Palestinian gunmen nearby. An Israeli army spokesman said it was “standard operating procedure” to use apartments like Al-Hijjah to provide cover fire.
Representatives of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNRWA) visited Jenin in the days following the incident and spoke with al-Hijah and her family. “Their children were visibly traumatized,” said Adam Bolokos, UNRWA’s director of affairs in the West Bank. “This type of attack violates not only international law but also common decency.” ”
As Israeli soldiers opened fire, Palestinian gunmen returned fire, leaving holes in the doors and walls of the family’s home. Al-Hijah showed a bag full of bullets that Israeli soldiers said had been left behind. “They fired innumerable shots,” he added.
As they did so, Al-Hijah and his wife lay on the floor holding their young daughters for more than three hours. Their eldest daughter is two and a half years old, the youngest is 18 months old. “Honestly, I thought I probably had a 1% chance of making it out alive,” he said.
Not long after, an explosion rocked the apartment. He later discovered that Israeli soldiers had set up a second firing position in his bedroom.
They sawed through window bars and fired rockets at the building where the gunmen were, leaving scorch marks on al-Hijah’s roof.
“I said to myself, we’re going to die,” he said.
From atop Al-Hijah’s building, the sprawling Jenin refugee camp stretches out toward the horizon and into the hills. What were once temporary tents are now a permanent-looking slum of sandstone houses piled on top of each other.
Below is the building that was targeted by Israeli soldiers. After the raid, the structure was so damaged that local officials decided it was safer to bulldoze it. On the rubble, people have placed banners with the faces of some of those killed — “martyrs,” they read — and a lone Palestinian flag.
Although the operation was the deadliest in years, for residents here, such Israeli incursions are frequent. Posters commemorating other people killed in clashes with Israeli security forces over the years line the walls of the neighborhood.
The IDF says these raids target terrorists, and that they fire when they are looking to shoot at them.
But the people of Jenin see it differently. “The Israelis raid the camp and shoot at anyone who moves,” said paramedic Abdul Rahman Macharqa.
The 31-year-old has seen numerous gun battles in Jenin and says the situation is becoming increasingly dangerous, even for people who save lives like him.
“They [Israeli soldiers] I have been shot at five times,” said Mosquito. “We don’t feel safe even in uniform.”
He added that when we say goodbye to our wives and children to come to work, we know that we can become martyrs.
Macharaqa saw part of the raid in Jenin when it unfolded on January 26. The paramedic tried to help one of the three civilians who Israeli officials say were killed there along with the seven gunmen.
“They opened fire on him and he was hit three times,” he recalled. Musharka said he pulled the man and tried to revive him, but he died.
“We deserve to live,” Machharqa said. He feels frustrated, not only by Israeli actions, but by what he sees as the international community’s passive attitude and double standards.
“The Israelis claim he is a terrorist, but the Ukrainians, when they defend themselves against a Russian attack, is that terrorism?”
On the day of the raid, Ziyad Murei rushed out of his door after hearing gunshots. He saw an Israeli soldier drive through his car to kill a young man in his neighborhood.
“Our neighbors who were there tried to pull him out (from the road),” he said. “The child died.”
Murray, 63, says he was one of Jenencamp’s oldest residents, but he also believes things are getting worse.
He said that when they raided the camp in 2002 and bulldozed the houses, it was much easier than the three-and-a-half-hour raid last week. At that time, during the Second Intifada, Israeli forces occupied the camp, destroying approximately 400 homes.
“2002 was child’s play compared to what happened here last week. We couldn’t even go a meter outside the house because bullets were coming in.
Murree believes the situation is only going to get worse, as disillusionment with the occupation grows, the lack of a future on the horizon is driving more and more young people to join the ranks of militant organizations like Islamic Jihad. .
“Yes, there is more. [fighters] From this generation,” he says. “This generation was born in war.”
Upstairs, al-Hijah is still reeling from the traumatic experience. There is no room for chivalry within her household, only concern for the safety of her daughters.
“I don’t interfere or get involved in these things, I just go home from my work and it all came to my head,” he said. You are in your city and you are not safe, you are in your home and you are not safe.
He added that you are not safe from the squatter who is occupying your land. “You are not safe at all.”
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