Palestinians strike against Israeli siege on Jerusalem camp

Occupied East Jerusalem – Palestinians in the Shuafat refugee camp and surrounding neighbourhoods in occupied East Jerusalem have launched a general strike in protest against a days-long siege by Israeli forces that has affected severely access to basic services.

Stores and schools in the area remained shut on Wednesday, while labourers refused to go to work. Students at Birzeit University, in the Ramallah area, also boycotted classes in solidarity. The city of Nablus, in the northern occupied West Bank, also observed a general strike, while confrontations broke out with Israeli forces at checkpoints near Ramallah and Bethlehem, with several injuries from live ammunition reported. Israeli forces also fired tear gas at Shuafat refugee camp residents marching against the siege.

The camp, as well as the nearby neighbourhoods of Anata, Ras Khamis, Ras Shhadeh and Dahiyat al-Salam, is home to 130,000 Palestinians. Residents living there are fully encircled by Israel’s Separation Wall and have only two exit and entry points in the form of permanently staffed Israeli border police checkpoints. These have been shut down since Saturday night after an Israeli soldier was killed in a shooting attack at the camp’s main checkpoint.

A man sits outside a shop which is closed in protest of an Israeli clampdown Shuafat refugee camp [Ammar Awad/Reuters]

Eleven Palestinians have so far been detained as Israeli police and special forces conduct raids and arrest operations while searching for the suspect, who they have identified as 22-year-old Uday Tamimi and say they believe he is trying to escape to the occupied West Bank.

Israeli forces raided the Shuafat refugee camp on Tuesday, during which confrontations broke out with Palestinian youths. At least one Palestinian was wounded by a bullet to the stomach, while dozens suffered injuries from tear gas inhalation and rubber-coated bullets, according to residents. Israeli forces also sprayed large amounts of skunk water – a foul-smelling liquid – on residents and homes in the tight alleyways of the camp.

Camp residents have announced a state of “civil disobedience”, while residents in Anata said in a statement that Palestinians must “act as one in order to break the siege”. In Nablus, the Lion’s Den armed group has also called for a day of general mobilisation and confrontations with Israeli forces in response to the continuing siege.

Israeli security forces conduct a search the Palestinian Shuafat refugee camp
Israeli forces take positions during clashes with Palestinians demonstrators after the army entered Shuafat refugee camp [Mahmoud Illean/AP Photo]

‘Unacceptable’

Access to basic services including health treatment, education, the entry of food supplies and waste collection have been severely hindered since the blockade began.

UNRWA, the United Nations agency running the camp’s primary medical centre and in charge of education and waste collection, said the situation was “unacceptable”.

“Our ability to provide services – whether in education, health, or environmental health services – are between being disrupted or completely halted,” Kazem Abu Khalaf, a UNRWA spokesperson, told Al Jazeera.

“If people are able to enter, then exiting it is extremely difficult. We are in contact with Israeli authorities and we are telling them that this is unacceptable,” Abu Khalaf said.

“They are imposing a closure on over 100,000 people. This is being described by many as collective punishment.

“We may be forced to implement measures we took during COVID-19, such as reverting education to being online, and begin delivering medicine, especially to elderly people, in their own homes,” Abu Khalaf added.

Israeli forces stand guard during an army raid in the Shuafat Refugee Camp
Israeli forces stand guard during an army raid in the Shuafat Refugee Camp [File: Mücahit Aydemir/Anadolu]

‘Camp in danger on all levels’

Mahmoud Abu al-Antouz, head of the camp’s popular committee, said more than 3,000 residents suffer from “chronic diseases, who need to go to chemotherapy, who need kidney dialysis”.

“These people are sitting in their homes waiting for death,” al-Antouz told Al Jazeera.

“With this closure, the camp is in danger on all levels, on the health level, the environmental level and the nutritional level,” he added. “Food supplies are not being allowed in. Medical teams are not being allowed in.”

According to al-Antouz, more than 5,000 Palestinian pupils in the camp cross checkpoints daily to go to schools in other areas of Jerusalem, but they have all remained at home for the past four days.

Abu Khalaf said the camp and the surrounding areas produce about 10-15 tonnes of solid waste each day, which the UNRWA is responsible for collecting in coordination with Israeli authorities.

“Only on Tuesday, and after a long discussion with Israeli authorities, were we able to bring in the compactor which collects the waste into the camp, and it took some of the trash that was piling up – that is putting the health of residents at risk,” said Abu Khalaf. “When the truck was trying to exit the camp, it took seven hours for it to cross the checkpoint to get to the dump site.”

Shuafat refugee camp
Israeli security forces conduct a raid in the Palestinian Shuafat Refugee Camp [File: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP]

Medhat Deebeh, a lawyer appointed by residents of the camp, said he and his colleagues submitted a formal complaint to Israeli authorities to lift the siege.

“We told them about the suffering of more than 130,000 people in Shuafat,” Deebeh told Al Jazeera. “We got an initial response – that the situation is being reviewed,” he added.

“The siege is affecting the environment, health. The trash is piling up, they are preventing the collection of waste. Yesterday we had an injury with a live bullet and we could only provide him field treatment – it took a long time before he was allowed out to the hospital,” said Deebeh.

The Shuafat refugee camp was built by UNRWA in 1965 to provide housing for Palestinian refugees who were expelled from their homes in areas including Lydd, Ramla and Gaza during the 1948 establishment of Israel, known to Palestinians as the Nakba, or catastrophe.

The eastern half of Jerusalem, including the camp, was militarily occupied by Israel in 1967 and illegally annexed in a move unrecognised by international law. There are currently 350,000 Palestinians in Jerusalem, with at least 220,000 Israeli settlers living in illegal settlements among them. Some 86 percent of occupied East Jerusalem is under the direct control of the Israeli government and settlers.

As the blockade continues, al-Antouz, the head of the popular committee, said the situation in Shuafat is only worsening.

“We are calling for international intervention to help this camp.”

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