July 14, 2024

While the world’s focus is on Israel’s genocidal siege and bombing campaign in Gaza, Israel is also inflicting terror on Palestinians across the occupied West Bank. At least 186 people, including more than 30 children, have been killed there by the Israeli military and settlers since October 7. And nowhere in the occupied territories has seen more military aggression than the Jenin refugee camp, which to all intents and purposes has become a warzone.

Since 2018, the Brighton Trust, an English charity that I am part of, has been helping fund the Al Tafawk Children’s Centre in the camp. It is a place where children can go to learn, play and socialise. In recent weeks, many have sought refuge from Israeli bombing in the Centre, and have been sleeping there because their homes have been destroyed.

Like every corner of the overpopulated camp, the Al Tafawk Children’s Centre is currently under attack. In fact, it has been under attack for a long time.

In July this year, during their violent incursion into Jenin which killed 12 Palestinians, Israeli soldiers also raided the Centre and wrecked it.

They not only destroyed all facilities and equipment, including children’s books, but also punched large holes into the exterior walls of the building, leaving it barely habitable. Our charity, together with the British Shalom-Salaam Trust, had to raise money to repair the building and replace equipment.

Children eventually returned to the Centre, but it was clear that they were not safe there. The Israeli military was determined not to allow Palestinians in Jenin to have peace and quiet, even at a centre for children. And things got significantly worse since Israel responded to Hamas’s October 7 attack with a genocidal bombing campaign in Gaza and increasingly aggressive and deadly military operations across the West Bank.

A teacher at the Al Tafawk Children’s Centre wrote to me in mid-October about the horrific situation Jenin’s children have been in since the July incursion.

“We did not have one peaceful night since [July],” she explained.  “When the attacks on the Gaza Strip started, the attacks on the camp became even worse. Life got so hard that it feels like we can’t breathe. The soldiers are threatening that they will do the same to us in Jenin, as they are doing to people in Gaza. Actually, they have already started doing it, but the world is too busy elsewhere, showing only the Israeli side of the story. We have only one wish today. To have just one peaceful night, without waking up with the news that a family member or an entire family got killed.”

She went on to tell me about the night soldiers entered her home and detained her family for hours as they tried to capture someone in the area.

“They locked us up for three hours in the bathroom,” she said.  “Even my brother’s baby, who is only 15 days old, was not allowed to get milk. These things start to feel normal here, but all the children are dying from inside. They don’t understand why this is happening. We are screaming, but no one hears us.”

The same teacher wrote to me once again on October 27.

“Each night we lose people, children. We buried lots, but because they die after the attack, the news never mentions them! Even our cemetery was bombed.”

“Our Centre is in the middle of camp, the only lovely place for children. It is now very dangerous to reach, but the children find it the only place that can help them survive. I can’t tell them we are really in danger [at the centre]!”

The media only talks about the Gaza Strip. But in the West Bank, the situation is very bad as well. Cities, villages and camps are all locked down and under near-constant attack. And everyone, including thousands of children, is at risk and suffering.

Israel’s excuse for its murder and maiming of thousands of Palestinians, including children, in the Gaza Strip is that it is trying to “destroy Hamas”. In the West Bank, Hamas is not in power, yet Israel is increasing the repression and the violence.

It is doing so because its real objective, in Gaza and elsewhere in Palestine, is not “destroying Hamas” or defeating any other enemy. Its true goal is, and has always been, ethnic cleansing.

As we’ve already seen in a leaked Ministry of Intelligence document, Israel desires to annex the whole of Gaza and expel its population into the Sinai desert. The same is true in the West Bank even if, so far, the means of expelling the Indigenous population are not the same.

Large areas of the West Bank had already been made Arabrein (“free of Arabs”) through the use of settler and army terror and pogroms before October 7. But in the last month, there has been an acceleration in Palestinians being forced out of their villages and homes.

On October 28, the Palestinian community of Khirbet Zanuta in the South Hebron Hills had to pack up and leave their lands due to settler terror. This was just one of the eight communities that have been forced to abandon their homes and lands in the past four weeks. Six others have been partially evacuated after villagers have been told they will be killed if they refuse to leave.

This is a pattern we have seen before. First, Palestinians in rural areas will be forced to leave their land and move into cities. Then, those in the cities will be pushed out into a third country. Israel has embarked on a second Nakba – not only in Gaza, but also in the West Bank.

On November 9, there was yet another attack on Jenin, the most serious yet. 14 Palestinians were murdered, mostly by drones. During the attack, Al Tafawk Centre was tear gassed with the children still inside it and, according to some reports we received, live ammunition was used. Most of the children were evacuated, but about 20, owing to the inhalation of gas, were unable to. Later the same day, the teacher I’ve been in contact with risked her own life and went into the Centre to check up on the children. She found some of the children unconscious.

It beggars belief how a children’s centre has become the object of a military attack unless the real goal is to destroy all Palestinian civil society organisations.

On November 13, we received a distressing message from the Centre’s head teacher whose father has been arrested and beaten. She told us the Centre is barely operating because of the attacks of the Israeli army. People have no food, and many of the children don’t know what has happened to their families.

The Al Tafawk Children’s Centre, and the Palestinian children trying to find peace and safety there, are now under attack. Like others in the Jenin camp, across the occupied West Bank, and in Gaza, they are being targeted, threatened and traumatised for the crime of being Palestinian, and trying to exist in their ancestral lands. They are telling us that “they cannot breathe”. That they are screaming, but no one is listening. The world cannot continue to ignore their plight. We have to help the children of Gaza, and the West Bank. We have to demand an immediate end to Israel’s brutal ethnic cleansing campaign.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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