Photo Essay: Israeli night raids terrorize families of Azza Refugee Camp

Israel/Palestine

It feels as though the whole of the refugee camp has taken an inward breath. Every member of the camp is silent—only murmured voices of Hebrew can be heard through the dark, narrow alleyways. Every light has been turned off, but the quiet is tense instead of peaceful. The only movement is the periodic head peeking through curtains straining to stealthy check out of a window to see which way the soldiers are coming.

This is Azza refugee camp in Bethlehem at 3am. Two blocks down the street, the scene at Aida refugee camp is much the same. Refugee camps across the occupied West Bank have experienced these raids and arrests in the middle of the night regularly over the past two weeks as part of the Israeli army’s crackdown on the Palestinian population in the wake of the disappearance of three Israeli settlers. The three teens went missing by the illegal Israeli settlement of Gush Etzion, near the Hebron governorate, however every governorate in the occupied West Bank has now felt the force of the current military operation.

Hamas martyr poster that can be found sporadically throughout Azza camp. (Photo: Sheren Khalel)

Hamas martyr poster that can be found sporadically throughout Azza camp. (Photo: Sheren Khalel)

In Azza refugee camp, seven buildings were targeted. Each building houses a particular extended family, with four to seven nuclear families in one building. Every house that was targeted in the night raid had an affiliation in some way to the political faction Hamas, the group Israel has claimed is responsible for the abduction of the missing teens, however Hamas have denied the claims. Since the campaign began, over 550 Palestinians have now been arrested, mostly during night raids.

But the night raids, which are being held under the pretext of searching for the missing teens, look nothing like one might expect. Cupboards are raided through and broken, leaving pots and pans cluttered all over kitchens. Washing machines are pulled out of the wall and thrown over, televisions and house phones broken, and items of value have been reported as stolen. The people of the camp who spoke to Mondoweiss said they felt the night raids were a form of collective punishment and not a search for the missing settlers. Mustafa Najar, who’s home was raided, attested to these sentiments.

“They aren’t looking for the settlers, I am sure of it. Why would they come and wreck everything in our homes? I asked what they were looking for and they just told me to be quiet and to not ask any questions,” Najar said. “They kept telling me I wasn’t allowed to speak while they held their guns up to me, I can’t argue with a gun pointed at me, but I know they are not looking for people. There are no people in our kitchen cabinets.”

Mustafa Najar’s kitchen after a night raid. (Photo: Sheren Khalel)

Mustafa Najar’s kitchen after a night raid. (Photo: Sheren Khalel)

Najar’s computer broken and room dismantled after night raid. (Photo: Sheren Khalel)

Najar’s computer broken and room dismantled after night raid. (Photo: Sheren Khalel)

During night raids the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) enters a building and gathers the people in each apartment into one room on the main floor. Khalil Nashash told Mondoweiss that he was unaware the IDF was in his building, but because his house shares a door with his father’s across the hall, the army was allowed in while he was still asleep. According to Nashash, the IDF released a German Shepherd inside the building, and he awoke with the dog on top of him, attacking him before he even realized the army were in the camp.

“Our house must have been one of the first they went to, I was sleeping in my bed when the dog came into the room, jumped on my bed and bit my face and grabbed onto my lip,” Nashash said.

Khalil Nashash after being attacked by IDF dog. (Photo: Sheren Khalel)

Khalil Nashash after being attacked by IDF dog. (Photo: Sheren Khalel)

Ashraf Najar lives in a four story building with his father Mustafa and other members of his family in the camp. Ashraf said 50 soldiers stormed their house during the raid, and 15 members of the family were forced into one of the corners in a living room, while soldiers pointed guns at them. Several children were present, including a newborn.

“Now the soldiers are gone we have put [the children] to bed, but they are crying, they are only small,” Ashraf said. “When we were all in the corner the soldier had their guns pointed at us, we were told to be silent, the children didn’t understand and we had to try and make them be silent”

Ashraf Najar’s daughter’s room after the night raid. The laundry machine, which usually sits in the closet of the room was pulled out of the wall and thrown into the girl’s room. (Photo: Sheren Khalel)

Ashraf Najar’s daughter’s room after the night raid. The laundry machine, which usually sits in the closet of the room was pulled out of the wall and thrown into the girl’s room. (Photo: Sheren Khalel)

During the three-hour raid, snipers were positioned on roofs throughout the camp. The red lasers of the guns could be seen scaling the walls of buildings of the camp for the duration of the army’s operation.

The view from the Najar’s family home, which was used as a viewpoint by the IDF. (Photo: Sheren Khalel)

The view from the Najar’s family home, which was used as a viewpoint by the IDF. (Photo: Sheren Khalel)

The atmosphere in Azza remains tense. Because no arrests were made during the most recent raid, residents are nervous and believe the army will return. Like most of the West Bank, residents are unsure of the foreseeable future, as the three missing settlers are still unaccounted for.

About Sheren Khalel and Matthew Vickery

Sheren Khalel is a freelance multimedia journalist who works out of Israel, Palestine and Jordan. You can follow her on Twitter at @Sherenk. Matthew Vickery is an independent multimedia journalist based in the Middle East with a focus on the Levant and Iraq. Follow Matthew on Twitter: @MMVickery

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16 Responses

  1. a blah chick
    June 25, 2014, 10:43 am

    “Because no arrests were made during the most recent raid, residents are nervous and believe the army will return.”

    Well, yeah, they’ll be back. There’s probably some money stashes they overlooked. Someone’s gotta pay for the beer.

  2. just
    June 25, 2014, 10:45 am

    There is a special place for “people” who do this…

    Thank you Sheren and Matthew; stay safe.

    • Kay24
      June 25, 2014, 10:56 am

      I think that special place is too good for them, considering the brutality and number of “sins” committed. No religion condones this. This is the Devil’s work, no doubt.

      • Kate
        June 25, 2014, 11:28 am

        This business with the dogs is diabolical. There was an incident in 2009 when a 99-year-old man was attacked by an IDF dog while he was sleeping during the night. Less shocking dog attacks still occur, and often.

      • just
        June 25, 2014, 11:36 am

        It is diabolical to train and use these dogs in this way. As the reporter said, the Nazis used them in this way as well.

        They train the dogs to cannibalize, as they themselves cannibalize the State of Palestine and the Palestinians.

      • Kay24
        June 25, 2014, 12:26 pm

        Seems they have learned a lot from their abusers, and have decided to go that way, instead of being more tolerant and less greedy, and make sure they are not responsible for similar brutal crimes.

  3. Kate
    June 25, 2014, 11:09 am

    Make what you will of these two incidents; some of the IDF is not taking the disappearance of the three young men seriously:

    link to ynetnews.com

    Soldier reports own abduction in prank call to authorities

    Roadblocks set up in central Israel, police helicopter begins search; soldier who claimed to be kidnapped found safely on bus.

    As thousands of soldiers continued the search for three abducted Israeli teens Tuesday, sources in the command center at the Kiryah military base in Tel Aviv called the police at 6:00pm to report that yet another teenager, an IDF soldier, had possibly just been kidnapped.
    (…)
    In another incident almost a week ago, a soldier in southern Israel called the police and reported that she had been kidnapped. Police were able to trace the call to a military base and passed on the information to military police who are now investigating the incident.

    • just
      June 25, 2014, 11:16 am

      I think that’s pretty darn “interesting”. There seems to be a insidious illness. Goodness knows, they don’t need any drills since they are kidnapping at will right now.

      Thanks, Kate.

  4. ritzl
    June 25, 2014, 11:17 am

    Mustafa Najar: “There are no people in our kitchen cabinets.”

    If that doesn’t sum up the whole stinking mess – from the studied international governmental indifference, to the sick Israeli mentality.

  5. LuLu
    June 25, 2014, 1:43 pm

    I really DO NOT believe these boys were kidnapped. They are more if not 100% focused on terrorizing human beings than actually looking.. Like a teenager would be hidden in a kitchen cabinet? Who knows, if they were really kidnapped, well, one of them did the same thing, maybe it was revenge from one of the victims.

  6. Justpassingby
    June 25, 2014, 2:15 pm

    I cant find words for this.
    Sadism?

  7. concernedhuman
    June 25, 2014, 5:37 pm

    If this is not terrorizing then what is?

    And lieberman said IDF is “most moral army of the world”.

    The most moral army ransacks Kitchens and girl’s rooms?!

  8. a blah chick
    June 25, 2014, 6:09 pm

    Someone better be on pogrom watch because when they find the bodies the settlers will probably riot.

  9. DICKERSON3870
    June 25, 2014, 7:29 pm

    RE: According to Nashash, the IDF released a German Shepherd inside the building, and he awoke with the dog on top of him, attacking him before he even realized the army were in the camp.
    “Our house must have been one of the first they went to, I was sleeping in my bed when the dog came into the room, jumped on my bed and bit my face and grabbed onto my lip,” Nashash said.
    ~ Sheren Khalel and Matthew Vickery

    MY COMMENT: Perhaps its just me, but it seems quite perversely ironic that Israel uses German Shepherds* (once an “icon of the Third Reich”) to terrorize Palestinians. What’s that about? Is it some type of philo-Teutonism?

    * FROM Dog Law Reporter:

    [EXCERPT] . . . In World War I, German shepherds were mobilized by a number of countries and served in national and colonial armies. Between the wars, the breed so quickly dominated law enforcement that in many places it is still just called the “police dog.” The “Germanness” of the dog obviously appealed to the Nazis, who made it into an icon of the Third Reich. They were picking up on the views of [Max von] Stephanitz himself [who is credited with perfecting the breed around 1900], who as noted above had seen the dog as reflecting the character of the Volk and described it, despite its mixed origins and recent breed status, as having an ancient and intimate relationship with Germans. Hitler named his first German shepherd “Wolf.” Shepherds were used by the Nazis to control prisoners of war and guard concentration camps.”. . .

    SOURCE – link to doglawreporter.blogspot.com

  10. Citizen
    June 25, 2014, 9:54 pm

    Hitler loved dogs.

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