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Bethlehem Aida camp under siege

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West Bank tensions escalate as Palestinian refugees mourn the murder of a young boy, Lydia Noon reports.

09-10-15-Abed-al-Rahman-Obeidallah-590x393.jpg [Related Image]
Abed lived his short life in the shadow of Israel’s 8-metre separation wall that winds its way around two sides of Aida camp, annexing the community’s land and cutting Bethlehem off from Jerusalem. The checkpoints, night raids, arrests, Israeli settlements, the distant dream of seeing the sea and visiting Jerusalem were part of growing up under occupation. by Lydia Noon

In the minutes before an Israeli sniper killed Abed al-Rahman Obeidallah, he may have noticed a large memorial for the 556 children killed during Israel’s assault on Gaza last summer.

Lydia Noon
A poster of Abed is displayed next to a memorial for the children killed in Gaza last year, entitled ‘When our children are killed’. Behind the Key of Return is a watchtower and the separation wall that zigzags around Aida camp and northern Bethlehem. Lydia Noon

He certainly would have seen Bethlehem Aida refugee camp’s 9-metre long Key of Return – the symbol of Palestinian refugees’ right of return – when he pointed his gun at 1.42pm on a sunny afternoon on 5 October.

The soldier, about 40 years of age, knew that 13-year-old Abed was wearing a blue school uniform and carrying a school bag as he looked through the crosshairs of his rifle.

He saw the UN sign above Abed’s small 1.6-metre frame when he fired a 0.22 calibre bullet directly at the boy’s chest.

For Palestinians, Abed’s murder is a reminder that the UN neither protects them in life nor speaks out for them in death.

Lydia Noon
The spot where Abed died, next to Aida camp’s UNRWA office. On Wednesday senior Israeli officials said they had made a mistake in shooting him. Speaking to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, they claimed that their target was standing near the 13-year-old. Despite the youth posing no obvious threat, at a safe distance of over 100 metres from the soldiers, officials said there was no alternative to using live fire due to the volatile situation in the West Bank. Lydia Noon

‘All the camp is sad,’ says Umm Mohammed, a friend of Abed’s mother, Dalal. The mother of 6 fights back her tears. ‘He was one of our children.’

Abed’s death comes at a time of increased tensions across the West Bank and East Jerusalem. For weeks Israeli rightwing groups have occupied the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, accompanied by Israeli soldiers. Access for Palestinians has been limited and worshippers assaulted.

Lydia Noon
Palestinians from Bethlehem and beyond attend the funeral of 13-year-old Abed al-Rahman Obeidallah in Aida camp, constructed by the UN in 1949 after the Palestinian nakba [catastrophe] of 1948 led to the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. Lydia Noon

Israeli forces killed 2 Palestinians in separate shootings in Hebron and Doura village, near Hebron, on 22 September. The following week, on 1 October, 2 Israeli settlers were shot dead by a Palestinian near Nablus; 2 others were killed in East Jerusalem’s old city 2 days later. This provoked a violent response from Israeli settlers and the Israeli military.

On 4 October, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society declared a state of emergency after 14 attacks on the Society’s ambulances and crew, settler ‘price-tag’ attacks, and bullets fired by Israeli forces left more than 100 Palestinians injured in 3 days.

Akram Ameen
Children from Aida camp’s Sounds of Palestine music group give their condolences to Abed’s mother, Dalal, and the rest of his family on 8 October. Abed is the 7th child in the camp to have been killed by Israeli forces since its encirclement by Israel’s separation wall in 2005. Akram Ameen

Today sees the 9th consecutive day of clashes in Bethlehem between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian youth outside Aida camp (population 6,000), next to Israel’s separation wall. Ambulances are on standby and debris, stones, spent rubber bullets and empty teargas canisters line the road. In the camp, residents watch the clashes from their roofs and balconies, running inside when soldiers fire teargas into the camp.

The sense of frustration with the Palestinian Authority and the international community is growing. No-one is sure what will happen next but while the 3 day official mourning period is over, the loss of Abed and the almost certain impunity for his killer will not be forgotten.

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