Grieving Palestinians recount deadly Israeli attacks | News about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Aqabet Jaber, occupied West Bank – Sadness and shock fill the narrow roads of this refugee camp in the Palestinian city of Jericho.

Crowds of black-clad men and women made their way from funeral to funeral on foot, while other residents spent the morning worrying about the destruction of homes, farms and vehicles.

Early Monday, Israeli forces launched a major assault on the Aqabet Jaber refugee camp that lasted six hours. When it was over, five Palestinians were dead and two were seriously wounded – all of them remained in Israeli custody.

Four of the five men were from the Owaidat family, including two brothers: Rafaat Wael Owaidat, 21, and Ibrahim Wael Owaidat, 27, and their cousins ​​Adham Majdi Owaidat, 22, and Thaer Owaidat, 28. The fifth man killed was Malek Lafi. 22.

The Israeli army said in a statement that all seven men were armed fighters, and that the two killed were responsible for the attempted shooting at the Israeli gas station Almog, in occupied Jericho, on January 28.

Although it is certain that armed clashes took place in the camp during Monday’s raid, it remains uncertain whether gunmen were involved in the five dead and two wounded.

‘I did not expect this barbarism’

Monday’s attack came at the end of a 10-day blockade by the Israeli army on the city of Jericho, and just a day after Israeli forces launched another major attack on the camp – on February 4 – in which more than a dozen Palestinians were wounded and many properties destroyed.

Residents told Al Jazeera that the Israeli army used excessive force and caused widespread destruction in several areas of the camp during both attacks, including the use of bulldozers, live ammunition, snipers, anti-tank grenades and tear gas.

“We didn’t expect to face this kind of barbarism and mistreatment two days in a row,” said Jihad Owaidat, 40, the uncle of the two youths killed on Monday.

“They broke into several houses in the neighborhood, made all the residents stand outside for hours until the operation was over, including women and children. “The men were searched in a barbaric way – they were forced to undress in the cold,” he said.

“Half the kids in the neighborhood now have mental health problems.”

‘They beat me all the time’

The attack on the Jericho refugee camp came as part of increasingly frequent Israeli military attacks and killings in Palestinian towns, villages and refugee camps in the occupied West Bank.

As of September 2021, a number of relatively small, inter-factional Palestinian armed groups – aimed at deterring Israeli forces and protecting their territories – have formed mainly in the cities of Jenin and Nablus. Israel set out to crush them for over a year.

On Saturday, the first images emerged of fighters in the Aqabet Jaber refugee camp during clashes with Israeli forces. This was followed by a public statement in which the newest armed group was announced – the Aqabet Jaber Brigade.

While Israel claims that attacks and killings target fighters, many civilians are often targeted and killed, arrested and/or harassed, and their property destroyed.

Last year was the deadliest for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank since the end of the second Intifada, or mass uprising, in 2005.

Israeli forces killed 171 Palestinians, including more than 30 children, in the West Bank, while 53 other Palestinians, including 17 children, were killed during a three-day assault on the besieged Gaza Strip in August.

During Monday’s attack in Jericho, Israeli forces destroyed the small, two-story home of 61-year-old Adel Hassan Owaidat using Energa anti-tank grenades while he and seven family members were inside.

“My two sons and my nephew were on the stairs going down to the bottom floor when our entire top floor was suddenly shelled with two shells,” Adel told Al Jazeera.

“A few minutes later, the tractor literally crashed into the lower floor and started destroying it. Soldiers shouted from loudspeakers: ‘Bring out the saboteurs!’ We told them, ‘There are no fighters in the house,'” he continued.

“They told us, ‘Get out or we will bring the house down on top of your head.’ They made us come out, one by one, with our hands up. They shook us naked in the cold and made us stand on the sidelines [of the road] for hours and asked questions.”

Shortly thereafter, Israeli forces entered the house and fired countless volleys through the walls.

Adel asked the soldiers, “You went in and searched and didn’t find anything, so why did you keep shooting at the house and destroying it?”

He said repairs would cost about 200,000 Israeli shekels ($57,400).

Adel, together with two of his sons and a nephew, was arrested and taken to an additional interrogation that lasted eight hours. All were released without charge.

“They continued to beat me,” Adela’s 17-year-old son Mohammad interjected. “They would throw us on the ground on rocks with our hands handcuffed behind our backs. They would ask: ‘Where is Malek, where is Raafat?’ And when I said I didn’t know, they would kick me and kick me with guns.”

The Israeli military said it was searching the camp for “members of a terrorist cell who attempted to carry out a shooting” in Jericho in January.

Adel Hassan Owaidat's house that was hit by anti-tank missiles while he and seven members of his family were at home
Adel Hassan Owaidat’s house, hit by anti-tank shells while he and seven members of his family were at home [Zena Al Tahhan/Al Jazeera]

In another corner of the camp, the mothers of the three Palestinians killed on Monday sat side by side among a crowd of family and friends comforting them as verses from the Koran played in the background.

The mothers said that while they knew their sons had chosen the path of resistance and respected them for it, nothing could ease the pain of losing a child.

Umm Ibrahim, the 47-year-old mother of Ibrahim and Raafat Owaidat, said Israel is “responsible for everything that is happening.”

“What do you think pushed my sons in this direction? They were filled with rage and pain because of the daily killings, the prisoners – everything. They were loyal to this country,” she told Al Jazeera, noting that Raafat would take part in clashes every time the Israeli army raided the camp.

“When Raafat’s friend was arrested, he started working more so he could cover the family’s expenses, including the lawyer,” she added.

‘Born under occupation’

Hanadi Mahmoud, the mother of murdered Adham Owaidat, described her son as “someone who loved life”.

“These are our lands – Israel came to us. Arrests, destroys homes, steals land. And now they kill my son and keep his body?” she told Al Jazeera. “This is the situation of the Palestinian people – and the Palestinian mother.”

Meanwhile, the mother of father-of-four Thaer Owaidata said her son was “15 years old when he was first imprisoned”.

Young people in the camp said they expect the situation there to move towards another serious escalation.

“We were born under occupation. What happened is a response to everything that is happening in Al-Aqsa [Mosque]massacre in Jenin, Nablus, daily martyrs,” said Adnan al-Mgaiti, a resident in his mid-20s.

“For every Palestinian who is brave and has honor and pride, the entry of a military four-wheeler into the camp will never be normal. It never goes easy. We always have conflicts during the raids, but there is no media attention for Jericho.”

Adnan said that although he “doesn’t know what will happen, it seems that there are young men working” for the camp’s armed resistance – like many others throughout the occupied West Bank.

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