Middle East Eye / February 7, 2023
After a 10-day siege, Israeli forces kill five Palestinians during night raid on Aqbat Jabr refugee camp.
Hours before sunrise on Monday 6 February, families in Jericho’s Aqbat Jabr refugee camp were awoken by scores of heavily armed Israeli soldiers invading their homes.
Across the camp, adults and children were confined to a single room in their homes as Israeli snipers rested their muzzles on the edges of roofs and window sills.
Meanwhile, other soldiers were blocking entrances to the camp, which sits by the occupied West Bank city of Jericho, and stationing more snipers in the surrounding mountains.
Shortly after the soldiers took their positions, at around 3am, the buzz of Israeli military surveillance drones was accompanied by the swish of bullets pelting through the air.
Locals say the soldiers seemed to know precisely where their targets were: two Palestinian men whom Israel accused of involvement in a recent shooting. Three other Palestinian fighters were killed during the raid.
The Palestinian health ministry identified the slain Palestinians as Raafat Wael Aweidat, 21, his brother Ibrahim Wael Aweidat, 27, Adham Majdi Aweidat, 22, Thaer Aweidat, 28, and Malik Awni Lafi, 22.
“The raid lasted no longer than 15 minutes. It was a quick and lethal operation by the Israeli army,” Basel Juneidi, a camp resident, told Middle East Eye. “The guys they were after didn’t have enough weapons to defend themselves, so it was easy for the soldiers to take them down.”
Juneidi says the Israeli forces withheld the bodies of the five young men – a policy human rights organizations have condemned – after leaving them to bleed out in the street.
Hours later, Jamal Aweidat, Thaer’s 54-year-old uncle, arrived at the spot of the shooting.
“When we got there, we saw so much blood on the ground. The number of rounds the soldiers shot could have killed not just five people, but hundreds.”
The incursion followed nearly two weeks of Israeli closures and checkpoints on Jericho’s entrances and exits.
The Israeli army ramped up operations and raids in the 20,000-person city after a report of a shooting at a restaurant frequented by settlers in the city on 28 January. No casualties were reported at the time.
“The past 10 days in Jericho have been challenging. I’ve had to close my businesses. I have 28 employees who have had to take time off because they can’t get to work,” Juneidi, the owner of a car shop, told MEE. “The siege affected everyone. We are all being punished.”
“In the beginning, anyone with a Jericho ID was not allowed to leave the city unless they were completely searched – their body, their car, anything and everything they had,” he said.
“Then they started destroying roads and houses. They destroyed a poultry farm worth more than 600,000 shekels ($170,000). They destroyed it in seconds just because they could.”
Door to the world
Without an airport in the West Bank, many Palestinians depend on the King Hussein Bridge border crossing to get into Jordan to fly. To get there, they must pass through Jericho.
“Jericho is the only place for all Palestinians to leave Palestine… It is the door to the world. When they close the city, the farmers can’t export their fruit and vegetables to sell. Tourism shuts down,” said Jamal Aweidat, who, as well as being Thaer’s uncle, is the head of the popular committee in the Aqbat Jabr camp, which runs local social activities and services.
On Saturday, an Israeli raid on Aqbat Jabr camp was met with heavy gunfire by Palestinian fighters who appeared to be members of Hamas’ armed wing, the Qassam Brigades.
The families of Palestinian fighters were targeted after that, said Aweidat. Israeli soldiers “took all the men, women and children out of their houses after the army’s failed arrest mission on Saturday. They forced them to stand in the rain for hours.”
The army said two Palestinians suspected of being behind the restaurant shooting were among those killed two days later during the Monday raid.
The Israeli army “encountered a lot of resistance from the people [on Saturday],” said Juneidi. “So on Monday, they did not come to arrest – they came to kill.”
That afternoon, Palestinian men gathered in the centre of the Aqbat Jabr refugee camp to pay their respects to the families of the “martyrs”. With no bodies to bury, the room was still.
“The Israeli army took their bodies. I don’t think they will give them back,” said Aweidat. “All parents want after their children die is to see them, to say goodbye. But Israel will not even give us this peace, they continue to punish us.”
Aweidat held himself together describing the days leading up to Monday’s killings. But when asked about his nephew, his voice faltered and he began to cry.
“They made us refugees. They took everything from us, all we have left is our kids. We watch them grow and we invest in them and teach and give them everything we can, then in one second Israel kills them.”
Forty-two Palestinians killed in 2023
On Friday, Israeli forces shot Abdullah Sami Qalalweh, a 26-year-old unarmed Palestinian, near the town of Huwara, south of Nablus.
A total of 42 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem this year, 35 of whom were killed in January – the deadliest month in the West Bank since 2015.
Violence has spiked in recent days following an Israeli military raid on the Jenin refugee camp on 26 January in which 10 Palestinians were killed.
A day after the Jenin raid, a Palestinian gunman killed seven Israeli settlers in a shooting in an occupied East Jerusalem settlement.
According to data compiled by Middle East Eye, Israeli forces killed more Palestinians in the occupied West Bank in 2022 than in any single calendar year since the Second Intifada. Palestinians killed 30 Israelis in various attacks in the same period.
“The world needs to stop thinking of [Palestinians] and [Israelis] as two equal sides,” said Juneidi. “One is the oppressor and the other is the oppressed. We are asking for two separate countries, we do not want to live under occupation. We want our children to be safe and have futures,” said Juneidi.
“Everything violent happening in the West Bank starts with Israel’s occupation.”
Leila Warah is a Palestinian freelance journalist based in the Bethlehem