Inside a Balata Invasion

Jane’s Journal: Inside a Balata Invasion
April 12, 2006

I was awoken at 3.15am by the sound of gunfire in the streets nearby and then two explosions, one that made our apartment vibrate. I and three other activists lay in the darkness of the ISM apartment in Balata refugee camp listening intently. We are not from communities under constant military attack. We were not bought up in Balata where lives are lived to the sound track of live gun fire, rubber bullets, explosions, sound bombs, jeeps and armoured vehicles. I couldn't tell what was happening. Was it a clash between fighters and Israeli soldiers? Were they on the street outside the apartment? What was that explosion? It sounded so loud. If we opened a window to look out would we be able to see anything? Would a sniper fire at us? What vehicle's engine was running in the street below?

Then bang, bang, bang, thumping on metal. Israeli soldiers voices shouting. Were they at the metal door at the bottom of the steps to our building? The metal door crashed open. Was this a military invasion that would last for days or just a night operation? Were the soldiers going from house to house? Heavy footsteps up the stairs and then across the roof. They must be using the roof of our apartment building as a vantage point for snipers. The building was silent except for the voices of soldiers and the sound of their movements.

How does it feel to lie in the dark, uncertain of what is happening? Feeling surrounded by the power of a military force. Not knowing if the door will crash open and soldiers pile in. What if one of our neighbours shouts or cries out in distress? Will we act, shout in English, say we are opening the door and are coming outside? We waited, concentrating on the sounds. We knew we had the protection of our international status. How much harder it is to imagine waiting in your own home, not knowing if the soldiers will explode your front door or a wall into your front room. Then what will happen? Do they want your son, your brother, your Dad? Will they abuse you and beat you and your family?

Again the silence of the families in the building. Coughing, a few short crying sounds from a baby. Was a helicopter circling the camp or was it just the fridge humming? Occasional bursts of gunfire.

After 40 minutes we heard the footsteps back across the roof, some clanking and steps down the stairs, their voices, the vehicles slowly leaving. Had all the soldiers gone? Would there be more explosions? Was that it for tonight?

How wonderful daylight is. Fear retreats to the dusty corners. Bright sunshine and the sound of our neighbour's voices banishes anxiety.

Mohammed, our ISM Co-ordinator arrives. He tells us four young men, under 18, were arrested in Balata during the night. Two young men are now wanted. To be wanted means to be even more caged in. These two young men will not be able to pass through any checkpoints. They will live daily with the knowledge that they could be arrested at any time. Perhaps the soldiers will return in the night. To be arrested… to be beaten… to be tortured… to be imprisoned for months, years.

Soldiers also raided the neighbours of Ahmed, an ISM volunteer. He told me quietly that he had got dressed, got his ID and waited. He wasn't able to sleep till the light came.

International Solidarity Movement

Back Saida village under curfew (January 2005)