Palestinians in the al-Fawwar refugee camp conclude that the Israeli army’s raid this week was an exercise for soldiers. The gap is enormous, the residents believe, between the number of soldiers – three battalions, according to Israeli newspaper reports – and the raid’s meager results: two pistols found in house searches, a commando knife and military equipment like a canteen, flak jacket and helmet the troops probably forgot in previous raids.
According to Israeli news reports, the raid’s goals included arresting wanted people or suspects. Two of the arrested are a father and son from the house where a pistol was found. The father is a garbage collector for Hebron. His wife says he found the gun years ago, and it’s broken. The third arrestee was found in possession of the helmet, according to camp residents. An initial inquiry was unable to determine if and where the second gun was found.
Are these the wanted men for whom hundreds of soldiers were sent for almost 20 hours? Likewise, it was announced that the raid was intended to issue summonses for investigations. B’Tselem and Haaretz didn’t find the camp residents for whom three battalions were necessary to issue summonses.
The land that UNRWA, the UN refugee agency, leased when it founded the camp in 1949 covers a bit more than a quarter square kilometer. Its houses, that climb up the mountainside, have become crowded over time.
Over time more land was purchased around the camp, and more houses have been built on it. About 10,000 people live in the expanded camp, originating from 18 villages like Faluja, Iraq al-Manshiyya (today’s Kiryat Gat), Dawayima, Ajjur, Tal al-Safi, Beit Jibrin, Summil and Majlis. An army pillbox on Route 60 has a commanding view of the camp’s main entrance and the southern entrance to Dura to the north.
Camp residents don’t remember such a large number of soldiers. Hundreds, maybe a thousand, raided the place Tuesday at around 4 A.M. They didn’t enter in military vehicles but by foot, and not from the main entrance above Route 60 but from the mountain east of the camp, from the direction of the Beit Hagai settlement and from the southeast entrance.
They set up in a few key areas. Afterward, some armored military vehicles and two bulldozers parked on the camp’s southern and western edges, blocking its entrances. The dirt road has been blocked since the area was placed under closure last month.
When they entered the camp, the soldiers began invading the houses. Musa Abu Hashash, a B’Tselem field worker who is originally from the camp, entered it a few hours after the raid began. He has the names of 20 families upon whose homes the army set up observation and sniper posts. He believes there are more. Those soldiers stayed in those makeshift posts on top of people’s homes for many hours.
Abu Hashash’s initial check found that the soldiers also conducted searches in dozens of homes, probably 100. When they went from house to house, they moved quickly, keeping to the walls and fences, and fired to provide cover. The forces left the camp at around 9:30 P.M. – also by foot, creating a shield of intense tear gas.
The stores remained closed, and most of the residents stayed home. The parents were busy dealing with their terrorized children. Youths descended into the streets or climbed roofs and resisted the raid by throwing stones up at the roofs the soldiers had converted into posts.
The army spokesman said firebombs were thrown at the soldiers. Abu Hashash, who risked his life walking around the camp during the raid and filming the confrontations, says he did not see any firebombs thrown. Most of the time, the soldiers were on the roofs, and firebombs could set houses on fire with the people inside.
Soldiers shot mainly live fire at youths in the alleys, (the army spokesman said soldiers used Ruger rifles), but also tear gas and rubber-tipped bullets. The soldiers also shot and pierced water tanks on the roofs.
Four Palestinian ambulances were in al-Fawwar’s main street. Some 50 volunteers of the camp’s local council, the Red Crescent and UNRWA put their own lives in danger when they carried the wounded on stretchers from camp alleyways below to the ambulances. Thirty-two wounded by live fire were brought for treatment to Hebron hospitals. One or two who were in more serious condition were taken to Ramallah. Fifteen lightly wounded (from rubber-tipped bullets and teargas) were treated on the spot.
It was impossible to save Mohammed Abu Hashash, 18. He was killed at around 5 P.M., about 13 hours into the raid. He was shot at the entrance of his family’s home and wounded on the left side below his armpit. He fell, got up and fell again. The bleeding was internal.
One of his sisters said she went outside when she heard the shooting. He said, “My back, my back.” One of his neighbors said Mohammed was on a roof when a relative called him. He went down to the house in the center of the camp and was shot.
Another version is that he was in the street with 10 other youths. Because of the heavy tear gas he ran to close the windows in the apartment below, where his elderly grandmother lives. He was shot at the house’s entrance. When he was shot, he wasn’t throwing stones at the roofs, where the soldiers with their helmets and guns were positioned.
Source of the shooting
Residents believe that Mohammed Abu Hashash was shot from an opening the soldiers had made in a wall of the living room of the Ghanim family (Bahajat, Shadan and their five children).
“They came at 12 noon,” Bahajat Ghanim told Haaretz. “There were about 10 or 20 soldiers. They entered the apartment without knocking. We sat in the living room. I told the soldier: ‘Can I help you with something?’ He told me: ‘No. Hand me your jawwal [cellphone] and your wife’s, and go into the bedroom, all of you.’ We went in. Some soldiers went up to the roof. Others were below next to the entrance.”
Ghanim said their youngest child Ward, 2, was sitting on his lap and fell asleep.
“Two soldiers sat on chairs outside the room and guarded us with rifles aimed at us. They switched every once in a while. One of them, kind of nice, moved the gun when I asked him so as not to scare the girl. I spoke with them in Hebrew because I worked in Israel in construction until 2000. I asked them if I could go out to make coffee, and they let me only if I took the water cooker and the coffee to the room,” Ghanim said.
“When I went out to the kitchen I saw tons of soldiers – I couldn’t count – spread out on the couches and the floor and mattresses in three rooms and the kitchen. They were sleeping, their rifles next to them. ‘We worked all night. We want to sleep,’ a soldier told me. When I went out a soldier in front of me and a soldier behind me guarded me. I told them, ‘Don’t be afraid, I won’t do anything to you.’”
Ghanim recalled that at around 4 P.M. they heard something being broken. “I asked them what it was and the soldier told me, ‘What do you care? It’s not your business.’ I answered, “How is it not my business? It’s my home, not yours.’ Only later did we see the hole in the wall.”
From there you could see exactly the place where Mohammed was killed.
“At some stage, my wife said to the soldier, ‘Yalla, I’m fed up. Enough, I want to bring in some food,’” Ghanim said. “And the soldier told me: ‘Tell her to shut up, not to raise her voice. If she won’t shut up, I will break her hands.’ He put it in those words.”
Ghanim said that after coordinating with the soldiers, they finally let his wife bring over a little food from her brother’s house across the way. “Afterward, my brother came to bring me cigarettes,” he said.
“My wife went down to take them. At around 5:30 P.M., they shot Mohammed. His uncle came to the soldiers at the entrance of the house and said: You’ve killed a young boy. The atmosphere is tough. You’d better get out of here so you won’t kill more youths. The officer said he was sorry. They left after 15 minutes.”
The Ghanim home was still a mess on Wednesday afternoon, almost as the soldiers had left it. A closet was broken, the furniture upside down, a pile of mattresses, the sink full of dishes the soldiers had cleared to make room on the tables.
House of mourning
The men, among them the father of Mohammed Abu Hashash, gathered after Mohammed’s funeral in a public hall west of the main road. Mohammed’s mother received condolences in the lower level of the family home, five meters from where her son was killed – sitting on a mattress, leaning against the wall, her eyes dry and red.
A nonstop flow of women offering their condolences entered the home to comfort the family’s women. Some stayed to sit in the room, either on the floor, the chairs or the sofas. Most wore black djellabas. The older ones wore embroidered village dresses, with big white kerchiefs on their heads.
Everyone one who entered kissed the bereaved mother and turned to the others to shake their hands. Relatives in the room spoke of the double tragedy. The first wife of Mohammed’s father Yusuf did not give birth. With her consent, and at an advanced age, he married his second wife, Zahira. Their first son was born ill.
Mohammed is the second son, the mother’s pride. The first wife was like a second mother to him. She sat now on the mattress, not far from the biological mother. Mohammed had four sisters. One of them, her eyes red, told last Wednesday what the children in the men’s mourning house also said proudly, that Mohammed was a good soccer player. She pulled out her cellphone and showed a picture of her brother holding a gold cup.
The Israel Defense Forces spokesman said in a statement: “The goal of the operation that took place this week in the al-Fawwar refugee camp was to thwart and damage terror infrastructure in the camp’s streets, and included thorough searches for weapons, the handing out of investigation summonses and the arrest of five suspects.
“During the operation live fire was used against the forces, and violent disturbances erupted that included the throwing of stones, cinder blocks and dozens of explosives and firebombs. The forces responded with demonstration-dispersal methods and Ruger fire. During the disturbances, a number of Palestinians were wounded and one was killed. The IDF is investigating the circumstances of his death.”