It’s several days since the Israeli army’s large daylight invasion of Nablus and the surrounding refugee camps. While there is much speculation, there has been no official word on the reason for the operation.
What can be said with certainty is that it was clearly not within the terms or the spirit of the ceasefire. Further, the scale of the invasions shows that it could not have been an abuse committed by a single group of soldiers. To mobilize tens of ground vehicles, a drone, apache helicopters and F-16s requires the authority of somebody relatively senior. Someone with rank and responsibility, someone aware of the consequences of invading a town in the heart of the West Bank of Palestine. Someone who knew they were audaciously and conspicuously breaching the peace in front of television cameras. Someone with a mind like that of Ariel Sharon, who once stood at an Islamic holy site willfully provoking Palestinians. Sadly, the lack of response from outside powers shows that the Israeli tacticians and their troops have also, once again, acted with impunity.
While the world ignores the wrongs committed against them, the people of Nablus are continuing to live with the hardships to which they have become accustomed. This town has suffered terribly. While there has been no respite from the nightly incursions, the arrests and assassinations, the harsh socioeconomic sanctions or the indignity of the checkpoints, the full scale military attacks have abated since the Sharm Al Sheikh talks. Although there were no killings and no home demolitions in this invasion, the effects were real and lingered beyond the time the troops withdrew.
A whole generation, in a place where children are more than half of the population, is being raised with one experience dominating the formative years, that of witnessing death and destruction at the hands of an army invading their streets. According to a survey of the relatively privileged Bir Zeit University students, 18% had personally witnessed the killing of classmate by the Israeli army. In a place like Balata refugee camp, all the children will have seen homes turned to dust by missiles, bulldozers or explosives. Many will have seen charred bodies in the rubble, or classmates gunned down in their homes or schoolrooms, or brothers martyred or parents imprisoned. All will have seen the adults in their family humiliated by teenage soldiers. After this latest invasion we heard our neighbors’ children crying all night as those memories were reawakened. The youth of this society, its future, is scarred.
The adults too are deeply affected. When the army came, everyone stopped work and fretted about a resumption of the big invasions. “All this is not for nothing,” we heard people repeatedly comment on the presence of scores of soldiers, “This is a big operation, they will kill lots of people.” or, “They will shell us tonight,” they speculated. We waited, watching jeeps and hummers for five hours, tense and alert, preparing for the attack. When they left, we thought of the apache still above and wondered if it would fire. We waited and worried, only occasionally actually assisting medics and the sick. Mostly we all just waited, thoughts and feelings dominated by the lurking army. The next day, anxious and sleep deprived, residents were dazed or fractious. Violence between youths noticeably increased.
The damage is long lasting. If the people are not now given respite from the military harassment or the resources to rebuild their society, the damage will be irreparable.