Jerusalem24 – The city of Jenin, and particularly its refugee camp, are accustomed to enduring hardship, trauma and loss under Israel’s occupation. But even for the camp’s resilient residents, Thursday’s massacre (the death toll of which rose to 10 today when 20-year-old Omar Al-Saadi succumbed to injuries sustained during the four-hour-long military invasion) was particularly brutal to witness.
“They destroyed the youth club, attacked the hospital, killed people, injured others, and arrested some,” Mustafa Sheta, Director of the Freedom Theatre in Jenin and a resident of the camp, tells Jerusalem24. “They’re acting crazy, targeting everyone in the streets. They don’t care for anything around them.”
Mustafa likened Thursday’s massacre to the 2002 Jenin refugee camp invasion which left dozens of residents dead under the rubble of hundreds of houses.
“They [Israeli army] say they target the “wanted” people – but they targeted everyone, every living thing,” he asserts. “They invaded the city and the camp in the early hours of the day when parents send their kids to school.”
Mustafa believes Israeli authorities are trying to send a message to the people of Jenin through a policy of collective punishment, besieging the camp, and suppressing any attempts at resistance.
Jenin has been at the center of Israeli military raids in the occupied West Bank, which began increasing in frequency and intensity at the beginning of last year.
During 2022, the deadliest year recorded in the occupied West Bank since the Second Intifada, 59 of the 157 Palestinians shot and killed by the Israeli military were either from Jenin or killed in Jenin during near-daily invasions of the city and refugee camp.
Mustafa was able to evacuate the camp with his children and wife early on during Thursday’s invasion, but says that everyone worries about themselves and their families.
“We talk all the time about the importance of maintaining and caring for our mental health and finding ways to improve it, but they keep destroying it.”
Mustafa recounts, again, that this is “just another 2002”: “You are under attack, and you cannot protect yourself. Every day, we expect that an invasion might happen any minute. People prepare themselves for something big, every day, we don’t know how big it will be.”
To the residents of Jenin, the camp is much more than the place they call home. It is a political geographical space, a symbol of their right to return to their cities and villages.
“It’s a continuation of our dignity, our identity,” says Mustafa, “and our story of why we are already here in Palestine, why we are still under this ugly occupation. It’s a reflection of our human story.”
A burden handed down through the generations
Nearly all of Thursday’s casualties, with the exception of a 60-year-old woman, were teenagers and men under 25. Several of them were armed when they were shot. It is traditional here even for the very youngest to be involved in confronting the Israeli soldiers when they invade the camp – even just by picking up a stone and throwing it.
“Some ask why this generation is involved,” muses Mustafa. “This generation grew up in this camp, and this conflict, in the blood, and this ugly situation.”
“Kids witness the arrest of their relatives, and the killing of members of their families. This is the scene of everyday life in the camp and Palestine.”
Mustafa says his kids ask him on a daily bases about the realities on the ground. “Why it happens, or how it happened… Sometimes I can’t provide an explanation.”
“Our right to exist”
“When the world supported the Ukrainian resistance against the Russian occupation,” says Mustafa, “we were happy that ‘finally they might think about the terminology they use, they might see occupation and resistance for what they really are.’”
But the world looks at geographically different issues through different eyes, he says.
Jenin is still waiting for its resistance to be recognized and applauded by the world.
Mustafa’s not giving up though. “We want the world to recognize our right to exist, be liberated, and be independent.”
You can listen to the full interview on Wake Up Palestine.