Israeli forces besiege Jericho refugee camp, kill one Palestinian in Nablus

Mariam Barghouti

Mondoweiss  /  February 4, 2023

The military assault on the refugee camp in Jericho came after a week-long manhunt for armed fighters that had allegedly been responsible for shooting at a restaurant in the illegal settlement of Almog near Jericho on January 29th, while successfully withdrawing from the scene, evading arrest.

On Saturday morning, February 4, Israeli forces invaded Aqbat Jabr refugee camp in Jericho in the occupied West Bank, with at least a dozen armored vehicles and a bulldozer. 

The military assault on the refugee camp in Jericho came after a week-long manhunt for armed fighters that had allegedly been responsible for shooting at a restaurant in the illegal settlement of Almog near Jericho on January 29th, while successfully withdrawing from the scene, evading arrest.

It also comes one day after Israeli forces shot and killed 26-year-old Abdallah Sameeh Ahmad Qalawleh in the northern district of Nablus on Friday, February 3rd.

Invasions of refugee camps: expanding to the south

“We woke up at around 5:30 to the sound of bombings and shooting,” an eye witness told Al-Quds News Network following the raid on the camp located southwest of the Jordan Valley, in Jericho.

“People of the camp,” the sound of mosque minarets appealed across Aqbat Jabr refugee camp in the early hours of dawn on Saturday. “Wake up, and protect the camp” the sounds continued as Israeli soldiers invaded deeper into the camp.

Israeli forces centralized at the center of the camp near the ‘Martyrs Square’ roundabout, and continued to besiege a home in the Muqayta neighborhood of the camp where a Palestinian guerilla fighter found refuge. According to reports, the fighter  refused to turn themselves in to the army, confronting the soldiers with live fire.

Israeli forces used bulldozers to partially demolish the house where the Palestinian fighter was barricaded inside, as a swarm of soldiers imposed a siege. Local youth from the camp used trash bins and other objects to protect themselves from Israeli fire. 

By 7:30 a.m, Israeli soldiers had already injured two Palestinians with live ammunition, including one in the head and the other in the abdomen, according to local journalists on the ground. 

Following the assault on the homes suspected of housing the wanted men, Israeli forces continued to demand the evacuation of Palestinian families from their homes within the camp.

Israeli forces also continued in impeding medical access to injured persons according to the Ministry of Health. At least one ambulance was damaged and other Palestinian structures were partially destroyed. One journalist, Mohammad Samareen, was also detained and impeded from reporting, according to journalists who were on the ground at the time. 

While the MOH confirmed at least six injuries, the director of Jericho hospital reported more than 13 Palestinians were injured. The Israeli raid on the camp persisted until approximately 10:00 a.m. on Saturday. 

One injury was with a live bullet to the head according to the Red Crescent in Jericho. More than 13 of the 36 Palestinians killed this year were as a result of a bullet to the head, the remaining 20 were as a result of bullet shots to the upper body and abdomen areas. 

Last year, Israeli forces killed 173 Palestinians in the West Bank, with more than 27% of those being children. 

Collective punishment and quelling resistance to military invasions

As Israeli forces continued the siege and invasion,  at approximately 6:30 a.m. some residents of the camp had received text messages from Israeli forces which said “we are working selectively against terrorism, refrain from excess confrontation with security forces and protect your children in the home.” 

“It was a fright, all seven of us gathered in a single room,” the eye-witness reported to Al-Quds News Network on Saturday morning. “I had to sneak my children out the window towards my mother’s home next to us out of fear that [soldiers] will demolish our home too,” the young man recalled.

On Friday evening, confrontations between youth and armed soldiers had erupted in the late evening at the entrance of the refugee camp. For a week, youth and residents in Jericho have been facing a military imposed closure on the city where all entry and exit points had checkpoints which would result in hours-long waits.

Israeli forces also arrested Ouni Lafi, and his two sons, Mohammad and Jamil Lafi and at least ten others, including one child. Eleven of the detainees were released later on Saturday afternoon except for two, Mohammad Ouni Lafi and Uday Wajeeh Iseed. 

Since last Saturday, more than 23 Palestinians have been arrested from the camp, including two children, according to the Palestinian Prisoners Society.

The mass arrests were underpinned by Israeli suspicion of having associations with the men suspected in carrying out the shooting near the illegal settlement of Almog last Saturday. However, this routine of collective punishment, whether in the form of home demolitions or mass detainment, is a central policy of Israel’s overall approach to Palestinians. These policies of collective punishment are considered  war crimes under international law.

A burial in the north and an invasion in the south

On Saturday morning, Palestinians carried the body of 26-year-old Abdallah Sameeh Ahmad Qalawleh to put him in his final resting place in the northern West Bank district of Jenin.

“He had been married for two years, and had a son just a month ago,” Qalawleh’s mother said in an interview from their home in Jenin. “Abdallah did not die, his son is here, we will call him Abdallah,” she is heard saying before resorting to repeating Al-Hamdulilah, an Arabic mantra common for the families who have lost their loved ones in tragic circumstances. It means “gratitude is for God.” 

Qalawleh was shot and killed by Israeli forces near Huwwara, south of Nablus city, on Friday evening, February 3rd.

The official Israeli narrative is that Qalawleh was attempting to carry out an attack. However, according to local Palestinian sources, Qalawleh was on his way home from his brother’s house in Ramallah to their village of Al-Jadeeda in Jenin. 

Last December, an Israeli border policeman had executed 22-year-old Ammar Mefleh in Huwwara at point blank range, and attempted to suggest that the young man was also carrying out an attack despite video evidence showcasing the killing in cold blood.

On January 16 of this year, Israeli forces shot and killed Ahmad Kahla as he and his son were on their way to work. Khala was shot at a checkpoint near Ramoun village in the district of Ramallah. Initially the army claimed that Kahla tried to stab soldiers at the checkpoint, despite eyewitness testimony that Kahla was unarmed. The army later admitted that Kahla did not in fact try to stab soldiers, and that his killing was ‘unjustifiable’.

Last year was considered the bloodiest year for Palestinians in the West Bank since the United Nations began documenting in 2005, in the first five weeks of this year, Israeli forces and settlers have killed more Palestinians than the first fourth months of 2022 combined.

With the killing of Qalawleh, the number of Palestinians killed in the first five weeks of 2023 rises to an alarming 36 Palestinians, of whom six were minors. Of the 36 killed, including Qalawleh 21 were from Jenin. Almost half of those deaths took place on January 26 in what became dubbed the Black Thursday massacre by Palestinians.

Mariam Barghouti is the Senior Palestine Correspondent for Mondoweiss