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The Israeli army invaded the Dheisheh refugee camp near the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem early Friday [26 August 2016] morning last week. Soldiers shot the legs of two youths among those confronting the raiding army.
Israeli forces also raided the home of a political prisoner from the camp, locking his mother and sister inside the house to pressure the prisoner’s younger brother to turn himself in, the Ma’an News Agency reported. Soldiers blew off the door to the Ibdaa Cultural Center, adjacent to one of the entrances to the camp, “and occupied the rooftop of the building, from where Israeli snipers fired live ammunition and tear gas canisters at local youth”, according to Ma’an.
Such raids are nothing new, nor is the camp’s resistance against them. The army has shot approximately 30 residents of Dheisheh, which has a population of approximately 15000 Palestinians, with live ammunition since January. Most have been shot in the legs and knees.
In several testimonies gathered by The Electronic Intifada, youth in the camp say that an Arabic-speaking officer with Israel’s domestic intelligence agency known as the Shin Bet has been provoking youths during clashes and threatening them with physical harm. The officer goes by the alias Captain Nidal. “They choose [to shoot at] the leg to disable and torture you”, 20-year-old Muhammad, not his real name, told The Electronic Intifada. During raids, snipers shoot protesters under Captain Nidal’s directives, youth say. Youth told the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz that they believe the Shin Bet officer is exacting revenge after someone took his photograph during a raid and posted it on Facebook. According to Badil, a human rights group based in Bethlehem, Captain Nidal has threatened youth “before, during and after the raids, and during interrogations and arrests”.
The Israeli army raided Dheisheh three times between the end of July and mid-August, the group says. During the recent incursions, at least 18 youths –between 14 and 27 years old– were shot in their legs. Eight were shot directly in the knee and several more in both legs, Badil reports. Badil’s study was published just days before the Israeli army raided the camp on Friday last week and shot two more youths.
Youth have testified to Badil that Captain Nidal has made statements such as “I will make all the youth of the camp disabled”, “I will have all of you walking with crutches and in wheelchairs”, “I will make half of you disabled, and let the other half push the wheelchairs” and “I will make all of you stand in line at the ATM waiting for your disability subsidies and assistance”. “The explicit threats by the Israeli army leadership show the willingness to commit criminal acts”, Badil states.
In the last two years in Dheisheh, “at least 81 youths have been injured by bullets in the limbs, about 60 of whom have suffered permanent disabilities”, Al-Quds newspaper reported on 13 August. All of those injured over the last two months have been previously imprisoned by Israel, according to Al-Quds. Some youth were recently released from Israeli detention but were re-arrested during these violent raids.
“In the camp, when the soldiers come, you will find 200, 300 kids and also older people throwing stones or even just standing in the streets, trying to show the enemy, the Israeli occupation, that they are not welcome in our camp”, explained an activist and resident of Dheisheh. The activist told The Electronic Intifada that during these raids, Israeli soldiers swarm the camp in the middle of the night, and hidden snipers shoot at youth from the rooftops of residents’ homes. During a recent invasion, the activist said that the Israeli soldiers were shooting “continuously for two hours –at whom, we don’t know”. At least 10 residents, including teenagers, have been arrested during these overnight raids over the past month, he said.
When youth are shot in the legs and knees, the impact on them and their families can be devastating. The recovery period, along with long-term physical therapy and medication, puts the young people, their families and the larger community under economic and psychological pressure in an area where poverty and unemployment are already high. “This is what Captain Nidal and the Israeli army want”, the activist said. “They want the families to stop the youth from going out [and resisting], creating a fragmentation within the community”.
Khaled, not his real name, another 20-year-old resident of Dheisheh, says he was shot defending the camp during a pre-dawn army raid on 1 August. “A soldier made me come out from behind a tree where I was hiding and told me to come out man to man”, Khaled told The Electronic Intifada. As the soldier approached him, Khaled said a hidden sniper shot him in the leg, five centimeters below the knee. He has received two operations and will need physical therapy, he added. “It was definitely intentional that the shooting was in the leg because it can disable you and give a lesson to the youth not to go out and throw stones”, Khaled said.
Muhammad told The Electronic Intifada that he was injured in the same raid. The youth says he was coming home from working a night shift when he heard that the army was inside the camp. He joined other youth to find and repel the invading soldiers. “I was injured in the knee area, [which produced] a hole in the bone –nothing was broken, just a hole. And in my other leg I was hit in the flesh. A bullet in one leg and two bullets in the other”, Muhammad said. “During the confrontations one young man was injured, so I went to carry him and as I was carrying him I was shot in my right leg”, he added. “I kept walking and he shot me in my other leg, but I still kept going. Then he shot me again and I fell down. The youths came and carried us both away. We were very close to the army and if I had not pulled the other guy away they would have taken him. They [the army] would have taken both of us if the guys hadn’t come and taken us”, Muhammad explained.
Badil says the pattern of “intentional wounding” of demonstrators “amount[s] to a systematic policy and an implementation of Captain Nidal’s threats”.
Inside a camp with such a strong history of political organizing and resistance, Israel has long implemented policies of “collective punishment … to create a new generation of disabled people”, the activist in Dheisheh said. “We’ve grown up with this”, he added.
Since the first intifada of the late 1980s, Israel has employed various tactics to repress popular uprisings and community defense of Palestinian cities, towns, villages and refugee camps. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin imposed what became known as the “breaking bones” doctrine of brutal force during the first intifada. In the first few days of second intifada, in the fall of 2000, as the Israeli army’s then-chief of staff Shaul Mofaz sought to “vanquish” the resistance, soldiers fired more than 1.3 million bullets on Palestinians. As Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration unleashed 51 days of attacks against the Gaza Strip in July and August 2014, killing more than 2250 Palestinians, including over 550 children, Israeli forces inside the West Bank used live ammunition against demonstrators, causing permanent injuries –perhaps by design.
And just two weeks ago, Israeli soldiers fatally wounded an unarmed Palestinian teenager with live ammunition during a massive raid on al-Fawwar refugee camp in the West Bank city of Hebron. Twenty-three people were wounded during the raid. The Israeli military told Haaretz that during the raid on al-Fawwar camp, Palestinians were shot “in their lower extremities by rounds from the Ruger rifle, considered to have less force than live fire”. An army spokesperson told Haaretz that soldiers use the Ruger –a US-made weapon– in the kinds of raids seen in Dheisheh.
The “culture of impunity which now characterizes Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory has proven fertile ground for severe human rights abuses and international crimes”, explained Simon Reynolds, a researcher with Badil. “It is a culture which has come to be institutionalized through the introduction of live-fire directives which fail to comply with international law, and the abject failure of Israeli military authorities to adequately investigate and prosecute accusations of criminal acts committed by members of its own forces”, he said.
More than 70 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces so far this year in the West Bank, according to United Nations data. Israeli forces have carried out a weekly average of 71 “search and arrest” operations across the West Bank in 2016. The military carried out 86 raids during the first week of August alone, the UN monitoring group OCHA reports.
“West Bank refugee camps and the decades-long structural hardships and deprivations suffered by residents have long engendered Palestinian popular resistance, political engagement and protest”, said Reynolds. “It is difficult to view the ramping up of Israeli raids and the shoot-to-disable policy as anything other than brutal attempts to suppress the Palestinian voice ; to demonstrate the "cost" of challenging the status quo”, he told The Electronic Intifada.
In Dheisheh, Muhammad explained that even though they face routine threats of physical and psychological harm from the Israeli army, the youth of the camp won’t be deterred from resisting the Israeli army’s routine acts of violence. “They do this to stop the youths [from] going out and resisting”, he said, “but despite this we’re waiting for them, even if we’re disabled”.
According to Khaled, “The determination of the youths is increasing and the struggle is continuing. They are not going to destroy the determination of the youth with these injuries”.