Al-Jazeera / July 5, 2021
It is an Israeli policy to systematically deny Palestinian adults and children alike any semblance of normality.
For the past three years, the Brighton Trust, the charity of which I am a trustee, together with activists from the National Education Union in Britain, have been raising funds for Al-Tafawk Children’s Centre in Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank.
The centre, which is run by local volunteers, is the only one of its kind in the camp, which hosts around 14,000 Palestinian refugees made homeless by the establishment of Israel in 1948. It provides around 120 children aged three to 16 with play, education and food, as well as a warm welcome.
It is the only source of amusement they have to turn to in the bleak surroundings of the camp, which in 2002 during the Second Intifada lost dozens of residents in an Israeli army massacre and more than 400 homes in a brutal bulldozing campaign in yet another act of Israeli collective punishment of Palestinian civilians. The camp has been subjected to regular military incursions ever since.
Created in 2010, Al-Tafawk Children’s Centre largely managed to escape the attention of the Israeli military – that is, until recently. The first signs that the Israeli army had its eye on the centre came in January, when its manager was detained for 24 hours and severely traumatised.
Then in the wake of the protests in occupied Jerusalem over the Israeli attacks on worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque and the murderous bombardment of Gaza, the Israeli forces stepped up their reign of terror across historic Palestine. It extended to the occupied West Bank as well, where more than 25 Palestinians were killed by the end of May. In Jenin, like in other Palestinian cities, demonstrations were held against the Israeli violence.
On the night of May 15, the Israeli military raided Jenin Al-Tafawk Children’s Centre and completely wrecked it. Their pretext was that they were looking for arms but of course, they found none.
One witness said:
“Last night they raided the centre. First, they started to shoot from outside the centre. Then they blew up the front door and entered the centre. They threw everything around. Damaging everything of value.”
Apart from damaging furniture and equipment, the soldiers deliberately destroyed the centre’s infrastructure, making the building unsafe and unusable. They destroyed the water pipes and taps, cutting off its water supply, wrecked the electricity safety box, cutting off electricity, damaged the stairs and the doors, forcing off the handles. In all, the damage amounts to thousands of dollars.
They did not even spare children’s books. According to another witness, a soldier who was doing this said out aloud that Palestinian children did not need to read books since they would grow up to be murderers and be killed.
This attitude of total racist contempt for Palestinian children – the conviction that they do not need education since they are going to die soon, anyway – reminds me, as someone who is Jewish, of the attitude of the Nazis towards Jewish children.
It is clear that to the Israeli occupation regime, Al-Tafawk Children’s Centre – or any Palestinian civil society organization for that matter – represents a threat. This is because the centre and similar initiatives like it, attempt to provide Palestinians with just a glimpse of normality in their lives.
But a displaced and traumatized population that is marked for complete ethnic cleansing cannot be allowed to put down roots and experience normality. It must be kept on edge at all times, regularly dispossessed and oppressed, so that it ceases to lay claim to its own land.
This is why Israel regularly demolishes Palestinian homes, by bulldozers or bombs; destroys Palestinian infrastructure, whether water treatment plants in Gaza or solar panels in the occupied West Bank; and harasses and attacks Palestinian Muslim and Christian worshippers in Jerusalem.
The destruction of Al-Tafawk Children’s Centre – as well as of many other civilian buildings – gives the lie to Israel’s assertion that it is engaged in self-defence. It is a lie that fewer and fewer people in the West are prepared to buy when the evidence of Israel’s genocidal intent is so clear.
As we started to fundraise to repair the centre and open it up for refugee children again, I decided to write to Tzipi Hotovely, the far-right Israeli ambassador to London, demanding that Israel pays for the damage and for compensation for the children who have been traumatized by what has taken place. I did not get an answer.
If you, dear reader, would you to contribute, you can do it here. You can also help by spreading the word and putting pressure on politicians in your country to stop turning a blind eye to Israeli crimes against the Palestinians and take action. It is high time that Israel is held responsible for its myriad violations of international law, including the murder, detention and dispossession of Palestinian children, and the attacks on civilian homes and infrastructure.
Tony Greenstein is a Jewish anti-Zionist and a founding member of Palestine Solidarity Campaign.