Israel + 1 more

OPT: Intent on destruction - The Israeli nightly invasions of Ein Beit el Ma camp

"We are having visits all the time from the Israeli military, especially in these last months and especially at night. They enter the camp at about 1am, and occupy the rooftops. I know more and more residents are sleeping during the day now, because they can't rest at night."

Yosef Zubdah is the UN Administrator of Ein Beit el Ma refugee camp in Nablus. He's a large, quietly spoken man, who oversees one of the smallest, most ravaged camps in the Palestinian West Bank.

Ein Beit el Ma has around seven thousand residents from some 1,400 refugee families. Like other West Bank refugee camps, the residents here live in apartments literally stacked on top of each other. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which administers the camp, carries out basic maintenance during the day, but is powerless to stop nightly invasions by the Israeli military.

"The soldiers blow holes in walls when they want to enter buildings" says Yosef. "They regularly destroy people's front doors, and their windows, which leaves them terrified even after the soldiers have left. After a bad visit night my office is completely deserted, because the residents are putting their houses back together. From the destruction I have seen I believe they sometimes come here to intentionally damage and destroy homes."

We ask to see the camp itself, and Nassar, a camp resident who works for UNRWA, offers to guide us around. Ein Beit el Ma is cramped and claustrophobic. After just a few metres the streets narrow into alleyways and we walk in single file. Dirty water leaks across the broken concrete paths, and all sunlight is blocked by the two and three storey apartment buildings pressing in on both sides. The walls are spattered with bullet holes, and plastered with posters of shahids or 'martyrs:' young men from across Nablus who have been killed fighting the Israeli military.

We squeeze past a young woman carrying several books. She says hello, and Nassar tells us both her brothers are in jail in Israel. Then he offers to introduce us to the Mabrook family.

We climb a flight of stairs up to the Mabrook home. Aiman Mabrook meets us at the door, and invites us in to meet his father, Ali. The living room where Ali Mabrook is sitting is a shrine. The dozen or so framed family photographs are dwarfed by a floor-to-ceiling length poster of the face of a bearded young man. Ali Mabrook tells us this is his eldest son, Nassir, who was a fighter for the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, the armed wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The Brigades are named after the PFLP leader who was assassinated by Israel in August 2001.

On the 16th of July this year, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas asked all Palestinian armed resistance groups to relinquish their weapons to the Palestinian National Authority. Some members of Fatah's armed wing, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, complied, but the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades stated they would not cease their armed resistance until the Israeli military unoccupied the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel, the United States and the European Union have condemned all PFLP members as terrorists. But to many of the residents of this besieged camp, they are heroes willing to die for a free Palestine.

Two weeks ago Nassir, was shot and killed in Ein Beit el Ma by the Israeli military. He was forty years old and married with seven children. His younger brother, Imad, was killed by the Israeli military in 2004, and another brother, Jihad, was arrested two weeks ago and is now in jail in Israel.

"I am very proud of both my sons who died" says Ali Mabrook. "They are martyrs, the roots of the Palestinian people. Our resistance in this camp is to show the Israelis that we are here to stay. Compared to them we are very small, but our resistance fighters are defying the soldiers."

Nassir and Imad Mabrook both died in battle against the Israeli military. But other, unarmed, residents of this camp have been killed inside their own homes. Bullets frequently shatter windows, and people are injured and sometimes maimed. The residents say they cannot walk around their own rooms at night, for fear of being seen as moving targets. They claim the Israeli military shoot indiscriminately.

Amongst the martyr posters plastered across the camp is a gruesome image of a bloody fetus. On the night of May 10th this year Maha el Tahtouni was at home with her family. Her young son was sleeping on the floor. She climbed out of her bed to pick him up and put him into his bed, and felt a sudden sharp pain in her back. Maha was seven months pregnant at the time, and the bullet that pierced her back killed her baby instantly. She is struggling with chronic pain and the grief of losing her unborn child.

Israeli military invasions do not stop at Ein Beit el Ma. The military invades the entire city of Nablus every night - and as the jeeps enter the gunfire starts. There are nightly battles between the Israeli military and Palestinian fighters in the labyrinthine old city, and the four refugee camps around Nablus - Balata, Askar, Al Ein and Ein Beit el Ma.

According to Dr Ghassan Hamdan, Director of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees (UPMRC) in Nablus, more than seven hundred men were arrested by the Israeli military in Nablus in August. Israel claims it is targeting 'wanted men' from the Al Aqsa Brigades, Al Qassam Brigades (the armed wing of Hamas) and the PFLP. But Dr Ghassan, who has directed the UPMRC emergency services in Nablus for seventeen years, disputes this claim. He does not voice support for any of the fighters, but says the Israeli military are intent on breaking all resistance to the occupation of Palestine, and that unarmed civilians, including children, are frequently caught in the crossfire.

For Ali Mabrook the situation is clear. "It is them or us" he says of the Israeli military. "They do not come here to arrest people. They come to kill them."

His son, Aiman, has been sitting quietly at his father's side. When Aiman does finally speak, his voice is low. "I have just come out of an Israeli prison" he says. "It is not safe anywhere here in the camp. Last night they came in with these big bright lights and just shot everywhere. I hate the night."