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Eyewitness The Attack on Balata

March 2, 2002 The Palestine Monitor

After 12 sleepless days and nights the man in his 20s, Nidal, his wife Najwa, who is a nurse, and their three children were used to living with fear. The three-storied house in which they live with members of their extended family is in the Balata refugee camp, home to 20,000 Palestinian refugees.

For about two weeks now the camp has been subjected to nightly shelling from Israeli tanks that surround the camp. Nidal and Najwa, their twin 5 year olds and their one-year-old baby have grown used to the nightly terror; constantly afraid they and the hundreds of other families have adjusted to the reality of the Israeli aggression against their homes and lives.

However on the evening of the 27th of February things went from bad to worse. "At around midnight" Nidal relates, "the Israeli attack began".

"Laser beams and other lighting was used to provide a good view of the camp so that what sounded like many, many tanks could enter. Then they began to shell. They hit the main electricity generator of the camp first and the camp went into total darkness. All electricity disappeared, and the children went wild. Grandmother who suffers from hypertension got a heavy bout - 180/90, as Najwa is a nurse she could check.

Heavy shelling and fighting continued throughout the night, becoming worse when the Israeli soldiers tried to enter the rest of the camp. The resistance was very strong, so they did not enter until the morning. The children eventually slept while we held them. When they woke up to go to their nursery they were of course terrified as the sounds of the shelling and shooting was deafening and seemed to come from every direction, adding to the fear and panic... and what can you answer your five year old son when he cries why are they shooting? Dad I hear shelling... Dad here is a plane and so on.

No adults slept that night... we all stayed up with the sounds of tanks.... You could hear the screams and cries of children all over the camp, from the moment the electricity went out until first light... how could we sleep?"

During the invasions of Balata and Jenin refugee camps at least 17 Palestinians were killed and more than 150 were wounded.

It was at this point, on the morning of the 28th that helicopters were brought in and shelled various parts of the camp. Nidal continued "it was very bad when the air force moved in full force and began shelling houses indiscriminately, leading to the injury of many, including women and children. In one shelling alone about 50 people were injured with one missile. These people who were injured were doing nothing -- they were just standing or sitting inside their homes. They were shelled with no regard to who is being shelled or for what purpose."

The wounded were carried out to ambulances that the Israeli army forbade from entering the camp; these delays of essential medical care certainly leading to more casualties.

At this point it was discovered that an Israeli Special Units group of soldiers had succeeded in entering the UNRWA preparatory school inside the camp. There were rumours that the 14 soldiers were trapped in the school by Palestinians and were unable to leave.

"A plane came in and shelled every part of the camp, not only in the vicinity of the school. This raised the injury level to more than 100; once again civilians and many women and children, and even some first aid ambulance personnel were injured."

It was some time in the evening that the Israeli army moved from the eastern part of Balata and began to move into the homes.

"They would knock on the door of one house, and after a few seconds there would be an explosion at the door so they could enter. After entering they would either put all members of the family in one room and lock it, or would force everyone, irrespective of age, into the street. They would then search the house -- some people have reported stealing, the destruction of furniture and the breaking of computers, televisions and glass. When they had finished in one house they would tear down the back wall connecting that house to the next -- either using explosives or other equipment they have... and so on. It is unbelievable... they just kept tearing down walls, one after the other, house after house, like a game of dominoes.

My wife Najwa was in the clinic, helping the injured and taking care of the dead -- she has not slept for 48 hours. The children remained with their grandmother; I managed to flee our house with difficulty, great difficulty. So our family is dispersed. I heard through the grapevine that the soldiers are in our house, but I cannot get in touch with my family as the phone lines have been cut. I have no idea about my children or my mother.

I did hear that Najwa tried to get home to breastfeed the baby but she was not allowed; despite the fact she is a nurse she wasn't allowed to approach the house. They are not allowing anyone to leave the house either. I am where I am, and the children where they are and none of us know what is happening to the other members of our family.

I also heard they continue to play dominos with the houses. The total number of homes destroyed so far is not less than 300, and it continues until now. Perhaps my house is next? We just do not know....

For more information, contact The Palestine Monitor -- 02 298 5372, or see www.palestinemonitor.org


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