Raids and restrictions – Deheisha residents reveal daily hardships in refugee camps

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Raids and restrictions – Deheisha residents reveal daily hardships in refugee camps

It’s 2:00 am in Deheisha refugee camp outside Bethlehem and I hear a large, loud bang. Camp residents – most of whom are either refugees from the 1948 war or their descendents – say the Israeli army enters Deheisha between three and seven days a week, and that raids have increased over the past few months. My friend Shadi Al-Assi – the Music, Dance and Media instructor at the Ibdaa community center in Deheisha – and I rush to Ibdaa’s top floor window, where we look around for Israeli military activity.

The window gives us a clear view of the central camp entrance, which the army reportedly enters through, as well as an ability to overlook the rest of the camp. However, we can’t see any military jeeps or soldiers. Al-Assi starts calling people on his cell phone to find out what’s going on. After a short conversation in Arabic he turns to me and, in an instance of tragic irony, expresses relief. “It wasn’t the soldiers entering the camp this time,” he says. “The Israeli military was blowing up rock in the mountains behind the camp to build the wall.” Bethlehem is almost entirely encircled by the Israel’s towering concrete Wall and once it is completed then the city, and Deheisha camp, will be completely encompassed within it.

Although the camp is officially under Palestinian Authority (PA) administration, Deheisha residents say the Israeli military regularly enters between midnight and 1:00 am to arrest Palestinians involved in resisting the occupation. The military demolishes the homes of resistance fighters and suspected resistance fighters families, or simply make loud noise to wake up and harass the community. According to residents these raids began in 2002 during the second Intifada when Israeli forces besieged Deheisha and took military control of areas under PA jurisdiction.

entering without warning

Yussaf Al- Moghpe, a father of four and a Deheisha resident who returned to the camp in the mid nineties during the Oslo process after being in exile since 1968, says that in mid August the Israeli army entered his house without warning in the middle of the night. The family woke up to soldiers towering over them. “We woke up at two in the morning, and the solders were on top of our heads. They took one of my brothers to an Israeli jail for five days, didn’t ask him any questions, and just released him without charge. They often don’t have any reasons to do these things,” he says.

Al-Moghpe is no stranger to attacks and collective punishment from the Israeli military. His first son was shot and killed by the military while throwing stones during the second Intifada, and his three other sons are all in Israeli jails for taking up armed resistance after their brother’s death.

“One night at three in the morning my family got a call. We were told the Israelis had caught my son Mahmoud and assassinated him. They shot him,” says Al-Mogphe. The Al-Moghpe family has also had their home in Deheisha destroyed three times by the army as collective punishment for the resistance of their three sons, who are serving sentences in solitary confinement ranging from four and a half to 1,800 years.

Al-Mogphe’s son, Ahmed, who is serving the 1,800 year sentence, has never seen his own son, who was born three years ago just as Ahmed was sent to prison. The Israeli authorities barred Ahmed’s son from visitation rights because of Ahmed’s refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli court that was trying him, instead asserting his right to resist foreign occupation and demanding to be treated as a prisoner of war. Al-Mogphe says the Israeli military responded by labeling Ahmed’s son a terrorist, and barring any contact between the two.

Al-Mogphe describes how his home was first demolished in 2004 after his sons were already in jail. He says that every time the army destroyed their home it was in the middle of the night, and the family was only given half an hour to collect their belongings and leave. The third time their house was destroyed the Al-Mogphe family didn’t even own it: they were simply renting an apartment down the street from their twice demolished home. On that occasion he says the Israeli military didn’t even place explosive inside the house like before, but simply fired rockets into it.

“I asked them what the reason was, and they said it was because of my sons. At that time my three sons were already inside Israeli jails, and my other son had been assassinated…. They said they were going to bomb the house even though my sons were in Israeli jails,” he says.

As I look around the neighborhood I notice the buildings surrounding the Al-Mogphe family home also have holes, shell marks and damage from explosions. Deheisha has 12, 800 people living in 500 meters square. People literally live on top of each other, connected by tight winding roads and towering buildings. Al-Assi explains that when the military destroys a house they take a good part of the neighborhood with it because of the cramped conditions, which are common amongst the 486,400 refugees living in nineteen refugee camps across the West Bank. The Nablus refugee camps of Ein Beit El Ma and Balata face nightly Israeli military invasions.

Al-Mogphe’s bombed out house

Al-Mogphe and I talk through a translator whilst sitting below his bombed out house, which he hasn’t rebuilt out of fear that the military will only destroy it again. Al-Mogphe now lives next door to his destroyed home with his wife and family. Born in Deheisha to parents who were part of the more than 700, 000 Palestinians made refugees by the newly created Israeli state in what Palestinians call the 1948 Nakba, or Catastrophe, Al-Mogphe left the camp in 1968, not wanting to live under Israeli occupation. He and his family have lived in Libyia, Jordon, Sudan, Lebanon and Syria, and were unable to return to Deheisha until the mid 1990’s, because of Al-Mogphe involvement in the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).

Speaking calmly in a raspy voice he describes how he’s barred from visiting his jailed sons, and has had no contact since they were arrested between 2002 and 2004. Al-Mogphe is in his mid fifties, just a few years older than my father; but the worn-out aged lines on his face and his exhausted expression make him appear more like my grandfather. He describes how, at the beginning of the second Intifada, his children were brought into political consciousness by the daily realities of occupation.

“When the second Intifada started my kids started to see kids killed in front of them, and all the pressures of the settlements and check points around them. As a result they started to fight against the occupation with stones. They had stones and the Israeli army had bullets, rockets, and all these sort of things just to punish them,” says Al-Mogphe.

increase in Israeli raids

The story of the Al-Mogphe family is not uncommon inside Deheisha. “A lot of houses in the refugee camp have been destroyed by the Israelis” says Mohammad Ibrahim Al-Azza, who now in his eighties, was one of the first people to move into the camp in 1948. He adds that the increase in Israeli raids on the camp has shocked residents, also leaving them angry at the PA for not defending the camp. Al-Azza refers to the PA as another branch of the Israeli government.

Having coffee in Al-Azza’s small basement apartment he contends that residents are becoming de- politicized, saying they now feel depressed and isolated as a result of the raids and the Fatah-Hamas fighting in Gaza. He blames the Hamas-Fatah conflict on being part of an Israeli divide and conquer strategy, citing Israel’s history of supporting Hamas’s development in the 1970’s in order to counter the PLO, and now Israel’s political support and recent provision of arms to the PA.

The description of de-politicization is surprising, considering the camp’s long history of resisting the occupation. Deheisha was one of the first camps engaged in the first Intifada, beginning their uprising in the 1973 – 14 years before the Intifada was launched across the Occupied Territories. It has remained a strong hold for the Marxist Palestinian liberation movement, The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and put up a fierce resistance to Israel’s reinvasion of the camp in 2002.

However, the PFLP camp spokesperson, speaking under the alias of Abu Said, contends that while there is disillusionment with the conflict in Gaza, there is still unity and strong working relations with the different political factions inside the camp. “In the Deheisha refugee camp we by name have something called PFLP, the Fatah movement and something called Hamas, but at the same time we all work together as one family inside the camp,” says Abu Said.

He highlights that, during raids into the camp, these political factions provide the social infrastructure. “By giving bread to poor families during invasions we can resist the occupation and do something for the community. On the political side, this is the best thing we can do, to support the people and help them in daily life,” says Said, adding that the Israeli military is sometimes resisted by armed struggle.

None-the-less, according to Al-Assi, armed resistance in the camp has been all but destroyed as the Israeli military have either killed or jailed all the camps resistance fighters. He says that both the camp residents and the military knows this, and its why he cannot understand how the army can justify making arrests in the camp even to themselves.

Before leaving Deheisha Al-Assi takes me to the sight of a house that was blown up by the army just a month and a half ago. The neighborhood looks newly built, except for an empty lot filled with rubble. Al-Assi explains that when the Israeli military destroyed the house it took most of the neighborhood with it, and the family decided not to rebuild their home as it had already been destroyed once before by the military. According to Al-Assi the soldiers said the home was destroyed because the family’s son was wanted, but the son was already in jail. Al-Assi says that after the demolition the family lived in tents on the site of their home but had now left the camp. “[The Israeli military] do this to send a message to others that if you resist the occupation, they will destroy your entire life,” he contends.

Along with the military raids, camp living conditions are harsh and residents face rampant unemployment. According to residents they get running water once a month, and the large water tanks that dot the roofs of the camp seem to confirm this. They also say that electricity is sporadic, and that the only free health clinic, which is run by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA) receives 280 patients daily. However, residents have a sense of a grim determination to assert their national identity and not let the occupier win. As I get into the taxi at the front gate of the camp I think back on Al-Azza’s closing remarks from our interview.

“Still until now people have patience. People have been in the refugee camp since 1948 and are still asking for their rights, the right of return. The main thing we are looking for right now is to be united, and then we will go back and ask for our rights again. Even in this situation we are still asking for our rights.”

Jesse Rosenfeld is a Freelance Journalism based in Ramallah


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