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Repression and resistance in Bethlehem’s Aida refugee camp

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Israeli Soldiers and Border Police stand in front of the Wall in Aida Camp. (Photo: Adam Wolf)

Israeli Soldiers and Border Police stand in front of the Wall in Aida Camp. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

Following the Israeli military’s recent surge of killings in the occupied territories the refugees of Aida camp in Bethlehem have renewed a campaign of resistance against the apartheid wall that encircles much of the camp.

Israel’s apartheid wall has come to dominate life in the Aida refugee camp. Directly on the other side of the wall is the only green space that used to exist in Aida camp.  Prior to the construction of the wall, refugees barbecued and harvested olives in the spot. In addition, a short distance away from the camp is a compound containing Rachel’s Tomb, believed to the burial site of the biblical figure, a yeshiva and an Israeli military base. The compound has sniper towers and multiple gates that provide the military direct access to Aida camp and Bethlehem. When the gate is open, visitors to Rachel’s Tomb often stand beside soldiers and peer into Aida.

Before sunrise on Friday, March 21, the youth of Aida drilled a hole in a previously damaged section of the wall. Over the next several days, the Israeli military used various methods to repair the wall. During these operations, the military used a range of weapons and tactics. Tear gas, flash grenades, rubber coated bullets, plastic coated bullets, and live ammunition were used, and the military occupied Palestinian homes and placed trigger happy snipers on rooftops. Every military assault was met with resistance from the youth of Aida refugee camp, armed only with stones and broken pieces of brick.

While the Israeli military cordoned off the wall Saturday afternoon, contractors first installed a piece of sheet metal, ostensibly as a temporary solution. Within 30 minutes of the military’s exit from Aida, the camp youth battered the sheet metal off, leaving a hole that peered into the fields they used to enjoy. The military soon returned and began another assault that lasted until the evening.

Israeli rorder Policeman examines the damage. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

Israeli Border Policeman examines the damage. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

Sunday saw another full-day operation by the Israeli military. The only injuries inflicted upon the Israeli military occurred that morning, when two Israeli Border Police were injured. A brick dropped from above hit one soldier in the head resulting in a moderate injury. Another soldier was hit with a firecracker and was lightly injured.

In response to the injured Border Policemen, the military arrested nine men from the Abu Akar home and took them to police stations for questioning.  57-year-old Mustafa Abu Akar was accused of dropping the brick on the Border Policeman, though he maintains his innocence. After being interrogated for 5 hours and held for 36 hours, Mustafa was released. All other family members have since been released.

The attention of the camp turned away from the wall Sunday night to the Real Madrid vs. Barcelona soccer match. The ability of the refugees to endure a military assault and celebrate sports at night demonstrates the collective resilience of Aida in the face of everyday state violence.

Border Policeman aims his rifle down an alleyway. (Photo: Mohammed Al-Azza)

Border Policeman aims his rifle down an alleyway. (Photo: Mohammed Al-Azza)

The Israeli military invaded again early Monday morning. Israeli contractors used an excavator to remove the foundational concrete of the wall. They then replaced the entire damaged section of the wall, and refilled the foundation with several feet of concrete.

With soldiers and Border Police strategically placed throughout the camp, the area in near proximity to the damaged wall was relatively calm. Throughout the day, Border Police vehicles delivered fruit and meals. The soldiers could be seen sitting on the ground and rooftops while others fired tear gas and sniper rifles at the refugees.

Israeli soldiers relax atop an occupied home. (Photo: Mohammed Al-Azza)

Israeli soldiers relax atop an occupied home. (Photo: Mohammed Al-Azza)

Injuries and Arrests

On Friday evening, an Italian journalist was shot in the face with a rubber coated bullet as she attempted to flee. The bullet narrowly missed her eyeball. She had surgery the following day and is in recovery.

At least four young refugees were shot between Sunday, March 23rd and Monday the 24th. 15-year-old Ahmed Daajneh claims to have been standing near the camp mosque, only looking at the action when he was shot with a rubber coated bullet in the left temple, narrowly missing his eyeball. His father described the mindset of the youth: “In 2000, the airplanes shot two missiles at my house. This is nothing. The kids think it’s a game.”

A wound from a sniper rifle. (Photo: Mohammed Al-Azza)

A wound from a sniper rifle. (Photo: Mohammed Al-Azza)

Monday afternoon, two young Palestinian refugees claim to have been shot by Israeli snipers. 17-year-old Mohamed says tear gas canisters landed on both sides of him. He tried to run but was unable to see, and he was then shot with live ammunition in the left thigh. Several people helped Mohamed into a car and driven to the hospital. The doctor removed a bullet from his leg which he now carries in his pocket. He was unable to show me his wound because of the swelling of his leg made it difficult to remove his pants. Doctors have not given him any timetable for recovery.

22-year-old Ibrahim claims to have been sitting on the ground in the camp when he was shot with a rubber coated bullet in the cheek by a sniper. “I didn’t feel it at first, then my face felt like a balloon.” Several youth helped him into a car where he was taken to the hospital.

One man was shot in the leg. He declined to give testimony.

On Monday night, the military appeared to have exited around 8 pm. Around 9 pm, plain clothed special forces assaulted a 20-year-old Palestinian man named Mutassim Alsurefee. Witnesses claim the special forces beat and kicked him against a wall until he fell unconscious. Mutassim’s brother claims soldiers beat him with the butt of a rifle. Alsurefee was then arrested and taken into custody. The military re-entered the camp simultaneously, taking positions to prevent access to the drying concrete. The mother of Mutassim demanded to know why they took her son. After initially refusing to speak to her, the commander informed her that he was suspected of tampering with the drying concrete, and if his hands and clothing were found to be clean, he would be released. The commander also claimed that a doctor had examined Alsurefee and that he was uninjured. Numerous witnesses described the beating as extremely violent, making the commander’s claim about the doctors evaluation doubtful. Mutassim’s brother reported that he is in Ofer prison and will speak with a lawyer.

Mohammed Al-Azraq, a prominent activist in the camp, was arrested by Israeli soldiers early Wednesday morning. They forced entry into his home and destroyed his personal belongings. No one knows where he was taken, on what charges or when he might be released.

Tear Gas

Israeli soldiers fire tear gas throughout the camp. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

Israeli soldiers fire tear gas throughout the camp. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

With hundred of tear gas canisters fired throughout the camp every day, virtually every home was hit. Several windows were broken, and the burning hot canisters ignited fires.

A local activist and Aida resident, Mohammed Lutfi, broke his foot while rescuing three children from tear gas an Israeli soldier fired into their home.

The children rescued from tear gas by Mohammed Lutfi. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

The children rescued from tear gas by Mohammed Lutfi. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

The Al-Azza family reported that a tear gas canister broke the window to a bedroom. Ayad Al-Azza and his three daughters, ages 9, 4 and 2, huddled in the kitchen. He closed the bedroom door and put wet towels along the bottom to prevent tear gas from entering.

The Malash house is directly across the street from the damaged portion of the wall and the adjacent Israeli military sniper tower. The youngest family member is Bissan, a baby girl born on March 12, just nine days before the latest assault on Aida began. The family attempted to completely seal the home to prevent tear gas from seeping in, though they found a leak in the kitchen foiled their attempt. The family sprayed perfume in a vain effort to counter the tear gas.

Aida refugees suffer the effects of tear gas inhalation. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

Aida refugees suffer the effects of tear gas inhalation. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

Bissan’s aunt Sana said “There was perfurme and tear gas, but no oxygen. I became nervous and started screaming.” Bissan was in her crib in a bedroom room and suffered the effects of tear gas. Sana said Bissan’s skin turned pale and she was vomiting. Medics were called in and administered oxygen to Bissan.

Again on Saturday tear gas seeped through the kitchen into the Malash house. The grandmother came outside frantic and screaming for medics to come. Ten-day-old Bissan suffered from tear gas inhalation again. Medics gave her medicine and administered oxygen. The following day, a doctor examined Bissan and told the family she must be admitted to Caritas baby hospital. Sana Malash said Bissan has developed acute bronchitis, and she is sometimes unable to to sleep. The family hopes she will be released from the hospital soon.

With nowhere else to go, the Malash family worries about the future. “If she comes here and they throw gas again, we don’t know what will happen. I think she will go stay with another family,” Sana Malash told me.

Aida resident and activist Munther Amira claims he told a soldier that small children were suffering from tear gas shot into their homes, to which the soldier replied “It’s not my problem.”

Border Policewoman fires tear gas into Aida camp. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

Border Policewoman fires tear gas into Aida camp. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

The Resistance Escalates

After the relative quiet of Tuesday, the refugees sent a clear message to anyone who could see on Wednesday evening. Dozens of tires were set ablaze, heavily damaging the sniper tower and the replaced section of the wall. Thick black smoke billowed into the cool air for hours. As the fire died down, Israeli soldiers once again entered Aida and fired teargas to clear the vicinity of the fire. After approximately 30 minutes, they returned home.

Tires set ablaze on the sniper tower (Photo: Dan Cohen)

Tires set ablaze on the sniper tower (Photo: Dan Cohen)

A boy throws a rock at the burning tower. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

A boy throws a rock at the burning tower. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

A boy throws another tire onto the pile. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

A boy throws another tire onto the pile. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

The damage was visible Thursday morning. The fire had destroyed chunks of concrete from the tower and the rebar skeleton was visible.

Using Journalists as Human Shields

During Saturday’s initial assault, the Israeli military attempted to use myself and two other journalists as human shields. Under threat of arrest, the commander instructed us to march down a narrow street between the youth who were throwing rocks and where soldiers were firing teargas and rubber coated bullets. We refused to do so, and without explanation, the commander confiscated our press cards for approximately 90 minutes before returning them.

That evening, as the soldiers were withdrawing from the camp, I was held at gunpoint. As they raised their weapons at me, I identified myself as a journalist, raised my hands and put my face and body against a wall. They shouted at me in Hebrew, Arabic, and eventually English, saying “go!” I went where they pointed, and as they walked away a soldier threw a flash grenade a meter in front of me and another American journalist. The flash grenade created a blinding bright light and deafening bang, leaving my ears ringing for several hours. The soldiers are heard laughing as they walked away in footage filmed by the other American journalist.

Israeli Media Coverage

Smoke billows from the fire. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

Smoke billows from the fire. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

With the exception of a visit to Aida by two Ha’aretz journalists, the Israeli media turned a blind eye until the two Border Police were injured. Three widely read Israeli media outlets falsely reported that the incident took place in Rachel’s Tomb, which is inside the heavily fortified military compound that Palestinians have no access to, rather than inside Aida refugee camp during an Israeli military assault. These echoed the claims of an IDF tweet.


Ynetnews published a piece entitled “Two Border Guard officers wounded in Rachel’s Tomb.” 

Arutz Sheva reported that “Palestinian Arab terrorists rioted at Rachel’s Tomb” which resulted in the injury of the two Israeli military injuries. The article asserted that “Arabs from the village of Al Aida” attacked Border Policemen at Rachel’s Tomb. Of course, there is no village called Al Aida.

More notable is that the article claimed that a military source said the 9 meter tall walls surrounding the compound have proved insufficient to provide security and a roof may be built over Rachel’s Tomb.

Israel Hayom appears to have twice reported the same incident, one being the incorrect location and the other being inside Aida camp. The article claims that “dozens of Palestinians began throwing stones and hurling Molotov cocktails at security forces stationed near Rachel’s Tomb, on the outskirts of Bethlehem. A similar riot was noted in the nearby al-Aida refugee camp.”

Though media outlets may turn a blind eye, the thick black smoke that filled the sky sent a clear message. In the words of an Aida refugee and activist who wished to remain anonymous, “we want to return to all of Palestine and don’t want to live under occupation and inside camps. We want to send a message that we will never accept living under occupation. In the end they can take our lives but they can never take our freedoms!”

Additional photography for this article was provided by Mohammed Al-Azza. Al-Azza is the Media Director of the Lajee Center in Aida Refugee Camp. Please visit for more information.

Dan Cohen

Dan Cohen is an independent journalist and filmmaker based in Palestine. He tweets at @dancohen3000.

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32 Responses

  1. annie on March 27, 2014, 4:27 pm

    thank you for the excellent report Adam Wolf and i love your photos. i’ve been following these events on twitter with all my heart. and i love the brave sumud of the resistance at Aida refugee camp!

    and it’s such a relief to hear that Mohammed Al-Azza is well after he was shot in the face last year. and please tell him, if you see him. i love his movie ‘the everyday nakba’ and have linked to if several times including just recently in an article about water. and ali wall too, and i hope he makes more movies!!

    • Adam Wolf on March 27, 2014, 6:38 pm

      Hi Annie,

      I passed your message on to Mohammed. He says thank you.

      I don’t know if he is currently working on any movies. However, he and Ryan Rodrick Beiler are presenting photos this Saturday at the Bethlehem Peace Center.

      • annie on March 27, 2014, 8:03 pm

        hey! just sent you a DM, so glad you were able to get thru the login. wow, i wish i could be there this saturday. maybe we could publish some of those photos! ;)

        checking out

        oh wow, he gets around

      • Bumblebye on March 27, 2014, 8:50 pm

        I’ve been taking a look, just letting the pics browse thru.
        My favorite so far – the middle aged couple up close to each other, both wagging their forefingers at the other…except he’s in Israeli riot gear and she’s in hijab. Oohh, if only that was as bad as it ever got!

    • on March 27, 2014, 8:57 pm

      god bless you adam for your courageous reporting.
      tell mohammed and his fellow palestinian brothers that he has a lot of christian brothers here in america rooting for all you guys, so never ever give up, NEVER! you don’t want to let us down, do you?
      a good friend of mine ignorantly joined the US army in 1999 and is now disgusted at it. he served in afganistan and then gaza. he was stationed at a checkpoint and firsthand saw a jewish idf officer harass a palestinian, telling him to leave him alone.
      the idf said something in hebrew then walked away. a bystander asked my friend if he knew what the soldier said. after my friend said no the bystander said he called you a christian pig.
      my friend chased him down and, well, the idf guy soon found out my friend was a former pro boxer.

      • K Renner on April 1, 2014, 2:46 am

        There’s no shame in serving in Afghanistan unless he was explicitly involved in incidents that are documented or undocumented and aren’t excusable by any measure.

        But “he served in Afghanistan” on its face doesn’t warrant shame and isn’t indicative of anything bad or negative. The Taliban (committed ideologues and those who commit crimes by default of applying Taliban-style rule) are scum, and no one would tell you as much then the people who fought them for years before the ISAF operation.

  2. ritzl on March 27, 2014, 5:10 pm

    Thanks, Adam Wolf. Great report.

    The style of writing in a timeline is pretty effective, imo.

    Do you do this on your own or is this in association with MW or another group?

    This would also be great drill-down enhancement to Kate’s litanies. Kind of an “Anatomy of a Line Item.” I know that might be logistically impossible – there are so many “line items” – but (not being critical at all) most of the stories we get about, say, settler attacks are more 2D-ish (They came down the hill, we resisted until the IDF came, some people were hurt…). I think your style here is more 3D, and invites the reader in a bit more.

    Keep bringing them, please.

  3. puppies on March 27, 2014, 5:23 pm

    To the Cannings and others who routinely give away Palestinian rights that no one assigned to them; to the “Arab” governments; to the Azrael Puppets in Ramallah, a clear quote from a Palestinian:

    “In the words of an Aida refugee and activist who wished to remain anonymous, “we want to return to all of Palestine”

    • Wesley on March 27, 2014, 6:14 pm

      Hi, puppies. Just curious, does that sound like a realistic/achievable goal to you?

      • puppies on March 27, 2014, 9:23 pm

        1. There is a basic difference between compromises, which one often has to make especially with a gun to one’s head, and one’s rights, especially collective rights that individuals or third parties have absolutely no right to throw away forever.
        2. Yes, these times are seeing the Palestinians at the lowest point ever of their history, with the enemy the elephant-driver of the world’s single superpower, their own resistance leadership now part of the enemy forces and the only hope a non-existent court. We can, however, remember even worse moments elsewhere, like during the German occupation. Look at all the situation and it is very probable that the worldwide constellation of forces will rearrange themselves in ways we cannot predict. It may even force us to go back home with our tail between the legs; the Zionist leaders may well continue their suicide course and get taken out by superior forces. As with resistance movements during WW2, it is essential that the Palestinian people jealously guard all their rights and keep armed resistance. Without it, everyone will screw them again. You never know; who knew in 1943 that puny Albania would single-handedly manage to kick out the Reich in the next year, without outside help?

      • Walid on March 28, 2014, 4:51 am

        Nice pics of Palestine, Annie.

        Here’s a more up-to-date one of Qalqilya; the white line all around the city is the 26-foot high wall taken from space that Israel calls a “fence”:

      • seafoid on March 28, 2014, 5:44 am

        When you look at Zionism from a normal country it is clear that the ideology is insane. That picture of Qalqilya says so much about the Zionist mind.

        “The border is furtive as well: like the rocket launchers, it crushes and
        disintegrates space, transforming it into a frontier, into bits of
        territory. This frontier paralyses the ebb and flow of transit instead of
        regulating it. It no longer serves to protect, instead transforming all
        points into danger zones, all persons into living targets or suicide
        bombers. It has ceased to be a peaceful boundary designed to separate two
        autonomous lands, to assign a rightful place to each, to endow a given space
        with its distinctive shape, form and colour. The border here is meant to
        repress, displace and disorganise. In Israel and Palestine alike the very
        concept of territory has become hostile, devoid of content or contours,
        making insecurity the norm. In the words of the French poet, René Char, “To
        stifle distance is to kill”.
        There are windows with narrow openings to accommodate guns, wall after wall
        of high façades, row upon row of buildings: this is the city-as-barracks.
        The Israeli settlements present a series of closed-off architectural forms
        that embody the feeling of self-confinement. No doubt this is due to
        security constraints but it also reveals an obsession with space, a
        conception of space based on fear and repression. “The truth of an era”,
        said the Austrian writer, Hermann Broch, about late 19th century Vienna,
        “may generally be read in its architectural façades”. If Broch’s conclusion
        is correct, the building façades in the Israeli settlements are slogans that
        betray a sense of environmental panic, a fear of the outside world, the
        antithesis of hospitality-of-place.
        This is exophobia, a fear of the outside world, the converse of the process
        of occupation: the further you advance into enemy territory, the more you
        retreat into yourself. This holds for Israeli society in general. It is not
        exo-colonialism, to borrow the term used by the French architect and writer,
        Paul Virilio, as illustrated by the outward-looking style of Spanish
        colonial architecture in Latin America. This is endo-colonialism, an
        inward-looking variety that seeks more than the appropriation of enemy
        territory: it breeds dispossession, a withdrawal into itself. Its sign is
        the military bunker.”

        And this is Jewish identity for Hillel Basiji.

      • Walid on March 28, 2014, 8:10 am

        Wow; that mondediplo article was one hell of a good description of the Zionist mind. Makes you almost want to feel sorry for their diseased mentality. Almost but not quite.

    • talknic on March 27, 2014, 6:24 pm

      puppies // “In the words of an Aida refugee and activist who wished to remain anonymous, “we want to return to all of Palestine”//

      “all of Palestine” hasn’t included any of Israel since the moment Israeli independence came into effect

      • puppies on March 27, 2014, 8:08 pm

        For Zionists, Palestine doesn’t include the pre-1947 occupation, duh. Of course.
        Palestine is one country whose partition proposal was rejected by its owner population, and invalidated at the same time by its invaders, too. The right of the owner population is not any so-called Arab leader’s, colonial overlord’s, or Zionist-installed puppet dogcatcher’s to give away, and least of anyone any Zionist’s. If you carry a pre-1947 Palestinian ID you may have a say, when totally independent and duress-free consultations of the population will be held. Until now the popular will has never manifested itself, except by individual acts of resistance (which are not a plebiscite) and there is no indication that any acceptance of Zionist presence anywhere is to be accepted, no matter all these years of the most brutal occupation and rape. No one but the Palestinian people is habilitated in any way or wise to give away its collective rights –without a gun to its head.
        What you write there is just blackmail by lawyers; those of colonial, racist powers and others sold to the Zionists.

      • talknic on March 28, 2014, 12:40 am

        puppies “For Zionists, Palestine doesn’t include the pre-1947 occupation, duh. Of course”

        That’s not what I wrote.

        Israel now exists as a sovereign state, whether one likes it or not. What remained of Palestine after 00:01 may 15th 1948 (ME time ) , is quite simply not Israeli.

        When Abbas talks of accepting only 22% of the Palestinians rightful territories, he’s talking about Palestine post May 15th 1948

      • puppies on March 28, 2014, 1:27 am

        @talknic – I know that. Whatever the official names, all of Palestine is under a racist military occupation by alien invaders.

    • K Renner on April 1, 2014, 2:52 am

      There are no puppets in Ramallah. There are a host of different factions, but to act as though there are “puppets” and stoolies and “traitors” is to act in an extremely divisive and unrealistic fashion.

  4. Wesley on March 27, 2014, 5:58 pm

    “A brick dropped from above hit one soldier in the head resulting in a moderate injury.”

    That sounds, well, painful. And potentially permanently damaging. Could you please tell us the source for your reportage that it caused only moderate injury?

    • talknic on March 27, 2014, 6:15 pm

      @ Wesley “That sounds, well, painful. And potentially permanently damaging. Could you please tell us the source for your reportage that it caused only moderate injury?”

      Soldiers helmets tell me its very likely to only cause moderate injury if any at all

    • tree on March 27, 2014, 6:23 pm

      Wesley, if you click on the link to the Ynet article in Wolf’s report, it states:

      The two soldiers sustained light to moderate injuries and were evacuated to the Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem.

      Their source appears to be the Israeli border police spokesperson.

      And the Arutz Sheva article, linked by Wolf below the Ynet link, says this:

      One suffered moderate injuries and the second suffered light injuries, according to the Border Police spokesman.

    • Wesley on March 27, 2014, 6:27 pm

      Thank you.

    • K Renner on April 1, 2014, 3:03 am

      Have to say the IDF guy is of least concern considering the way they operate on principle in the West Bank.

      They can’t really complain about people reacting to how they conduct themselves, or even their presence in the West Bank, either.

  5. Sumud on March 27, 2014, 10:39 pm

    (The third photo in the article) – You can’t kill an idea with a gun.

  6. Kay24 on March 28, 2014, 2:10 am

    Thank you for giving us a glimpse of what these poor Palestinians have to endure on a daily basis. No one can fault them for resisting these Israeli brutes. We have to conclude that these Israelis lie and cover their violent crimes, and their media is complicit in hiding these crimes, when reading this article. This should not surprise anyone, from Bibi to his brutal forces, they kill, maim, and injure unarmed civilians, and lying is second nature to them. It is later on we hear the apologies, and justifications, contradicting their own lies. These pictures are horrible, and it shows children being in the middle of the conflict, in harms way, the dangers faced by journalists, who are also attacked by a violent army, that does not care who they shoot, as long as it is not one of their own. No wonder Israel is one of the most disliked nations in the world.

  7. seafoid on March 28, 2014, 5:32 am

    “The attention of the camp turned away from the wall Sunday night to the Real Madrid vs. Barcelona soccer match”

    I bet the camp residents support Barca.
    Real Madrid was Franco’s team. The IDF is very Franco.

    • Walid on March 28, 2014, 9:49 am

      Fascists in general, tend to have the same tastes. Zionists strive to emulate Europeans but in actuality it’s only the Germans’ WW II vices that attract their attention. Arrests in the middle of the night, terrorizing civilians, torture, concentration camps, medicine, food and water deprivation, and the rest of the motions that turn the zios into evil machines. They have them all. Franco didn’t build 26-foot high walls around people though.

      • seafoid on March 28, 2014, 10:03 am

        Franco’s ideology didn’t last either.
        Judaism gave Zionism some extra years but the magic seems to be wearing off now.

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