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The Guardian: “Getting to know the neighbours”

by Conal Urquhart, November 14th

Isra Damouni is transported from the operating theatre pale and still, the latest casualty from the latest Israeli raid on Nablus.

The 16-year-old was lying in bed when a bullet pierced her window and hit her thigh at around 3.30am. She screamed and the soldiers threw a percussion grenade at the window. It detonated, shattering glass over her sister, Sabrine, 18, who had gone to her aid.

The pair are two of the 10 injured during a raid on al-Ein refugee camp in Nablus that began at 2am on Tuesday and ended at 10.30am. One man, a gunman from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Baha Khateri, was shot dead. A crowd of men with red flags took his body away for burial while the doctors finished extracting the bullet from Isra’s leg.

The streets of Nablus are deserted by 10.30pm every night in anticipation of the arrival of the army. Sometimes, the troops go to the Balata and Askar refugee camps on the outskirts of Nablus; at others, to al-Ein and the Nablus kasbah in the centre. Sometimes they go to all of them. While the streets of Nablus may be Palestinian during the day, at night they belong to the Israeli army.

The purpose of each visit is different. Sometimes the soldiers make arrests or kill wanted men, but most of the time the raids are designed to provoke gunmen into taking on the Israelis. Last week in the kasbah, soldiers spent hours wandering around its alleyways, shouting, “Allahu Akhbar” and setting off percussion grenades. On Tuesday, the soldiers challenged the “mujahideen” to come out and fight them.

The Israeli army says Nablus has always been a centre of opposition to Israel and a major source of suicide bombers. While no Israelis have been hurt by bombers in six months, the army maintains a vice-like grip on the city by day and still attacks by night.

Residents of al-Ein said on Tuesday that in the 14 days of November, there have only been two nights when Israeli forces did not enter the small and crowded camp. On Tuesday, the army arrived at 2.30am. The soldiers fanned out and entered houses all over camp, ordering families into small rooms. The soldiers then either set up a sniper’s nest, by smashing holes in the wall or windows, or smashed through walls in order to enter neighbouring houses.

Tuesday’s damage begins at the main road of Nablus, which borders the camp. Pavements have been dug and a car has been dumped on its side on top of a memorial to members of the PFLP. Further up the road, cars have been barged by armoured bulldozers and some have been pushed into roadside ditches. Dozens of residents say the Israelis entered and damaged their homes.

Mufid Abu Rahman, an officer in the Palestinian police, says he and his extended family of 17 were forced to stay in a room for eight hours while soldiers used their house as a position. In his son’s room, gun slits were knocked through the walls, and the floor is littered with bullet cases from an M-16 and the larger cases from a sniper’s rifle.

“When the sun goes down, we hide. We try and make sure that no one sleeps near exterior walls or windows because of the danger of stray bullets,” he said.

The home of Hassan Khatib, 52, was also taken and his family were held for eight hours. The soldiers smashed a hole in the bedroom wall of his daughter to gain access to a neighbour’s home, a process known in the army as “getting to know the neighbours”. Mr Khatib said the main purpose of the raids was to initiate confrontations with gunmen who would not pick up a weapon if the Israeli army was not raiding their streets every night.

“We are living in peace, in our homes. Why should they come here? This creates a need for people to resist,” he said.

Isra and Sabrina were lying in their beds when they came under fire. The walls are plain, apart from three family photographs and certificate of proficiency in English presented to Isra by the US consul general. The doctors say that Isra should make a full recovery, in spite of waiting eight hours to get to hospital, while Sabrina has light cuts on her face and has been temporarily deafened by the blast.

The clear-up operation begins the moment the Israelis leave. Cranes and engineers arrive to assess the damage and begin repairs to buildings, roads, phone lines and electricity lines. The ambulances are finally able to get to the wounded and the one fatality, who is immediately prepared for his funeral. Assessors from the ministry of social affairs come with their clipboards.

The Nablus Civil Society offers a small sum of compensation for injuries and house damage, which is funded by Palestinian and international benefactors.

Nasseer Arafat, a director of the society, said: “We receive details of damages and injuries from the PA and we give $150 (£79) to anyone that is injured. It is a small amount, but its main purpose is to let people know they are not alone. In the last five years, we have spent $13m in Nablus alone.”

See also this ISM Nablus eyewitness account of the same events.