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Displaced at Israeli gunpoint, Jenin residents return to find their homes in ruins

More than 800 houses have been damaged or destroyed in the two-day Israeli assault 
General view of Jenin refugee camp after Israeli troops completed a two-day assault in the occupied West Bank city on 5 July 2023 (DDP/Alejandro Ernesto via Reuters)
A man sits among the wreckage in Jenin refugee camp after Israel's two-day assault, on 5 July 2023 (DDP/Alejandro Ernesto via Reuters)
By Fayha Shalash in Ramallah, occupied Palestine

Lana al-Shalabi woke up to the sound of shelling after midnight on Monday. 

Located at the heart of the Jenin refugee camp, her house was close to the initial air strikes launched by the Israeli military at the start of its two-day assault in the occupied West Bank city. 

Amid the panic and chaos, she moved with her family into the basement to take cover. But soon enough, the shelling and gunfire got closer and closer. Israeli soldiers broke into the house, searched the identity cards of everyone inside, and forced them back to the basement. 

“Suddenly, while we were crammed into the basement, we heard explosions,” Shalabi told Middle East Eye. 

“We all started crying, children and women. We felt that the house would collapse on top of us.”

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The upper floor of the building had been shelled without warning while the family was trapped below. 

Amid the horror caused by the flames and smoke rising from the explosions, the family found a way to leave the house quickly. 

Shalabi took one last look at her house to find it a ball of fire, with shrapnel flying from within. Then the windows exploded.

“In those moments, our greatest concern was to escape death. We wanted to escape to a safe place, with [our] children crying the entire time. We walked with other families after an ambulance, to get out of the camp safely,” she recalled.

Jenin raid: An eyewitness account of Israel’s large-scale offensive
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It’s a scene endured by thousands of the camp’s residents during the Israeli assault. 

According to city officials, more than 4,000 residents were displaced and 800 houses were damaged or destroyed. 

To many, the displacement brought back the bitter memory of the Nakba, or catastrophe - the ethnic cleansing of Palestine by Zionist militias to make way for the creation of Israel in 1948.

The Jenin camp is home to almost 14,000 refugees, including many who were expelled from their homeland in 1948 and their descendants.

“Leaving the camp didn't take it out of our hearts,” Shalabi said. 

“We kept following up on what was happening inside and tried to find out what happened to our house, which holds unforgettable memories.” 

Difficult questions 

Shalabi sought refuge with her family at a hospital in the city, which later came under attack from the Israeli army, forcing them to flee again, this time to a town near the city.

As they waited for the raid to come to an end, Shalabi’s six-year-old sister kept searching for answers her family didn’t have. 

“She was asking my mother about her toys in her room and what happened to them,” Shalabi said. 

Al-Shalabi returned to her home in Jenin after the Israeli assault to find in ruins (Provided)
Lana al-Shalabi's home bears the scars of the initial Israeli air strikes (Provided)

On Tuesday night, after two days of heavy attacks, Israeli forces withdrew from Jenin, leaving behind a trail of devastation.

Shalabi returned to her home to find it half destroyed, the walls collapsed and the furniture burnt. 

Her sister’s toys were buried under the rubble. 

“Because of the severity of the bombing, my sister left her cat inside the house. We don't know what happened to it,” she said.

Trapped for 26 hours

Enas Abahreh, a Palestinian woman with special needs, who lives with her family in an area overlooking the Jenin camp, came back to her brother’s house to find it in ruins.

On the first day of the Israeli attack, dozens of soldiers raided the apartment building they lived in. 

Her brother, his wife and children - who live on the second floor - were brought down to Abahreh’s apartment on the first floor at gunpoint. 

“The soldiers detained my brother, tied him up and blindfolded him,” Abahreh told MEE.

“Then they put them in our apartment, locked the door and took the keys with them. We heard their voices in my brother’s house above us, without any clue what they were doing,” she said.

The two families, including four children under the age of six, were trapped inside the apartment for 26 hours.

'Most of the streets were vandalised and all vehicles were destroyed by Israeli armoured vehicles'

- Hassan al-Amouri, head of Jenin camp's People's Services Committee

All they could hear was the sound of digging and drilling by the Israeli soldiers upstairs. 

After pressuring the soldiers to let someone go upstairs to bring milk for the crying children, Abahreh’s sister-in-law was shocked at the scene she witnessed.

Soldiers had dug holes in the walls to place snipers’ rifles, ready to target Palestinian fighters. 

Once the army finally withdrew, Abahreh learned from her neighbours that five snipers were stationed in the house.

“It was destroyed when we went up to inspect it,” she said. 

“The tiles were removed from their place, the walls were open and had Hebrew symbols on them, all the furniture was upside down. We found traces of the soldiers, including food, water, maps, and the remains of medical equipment,” she added.

Israeli forces dug a hole in the wall of Palestinian home in Jenin to use by snipers (Provided)
Israeli forces dug a sniper's hole in the wall of Enas Abahreh's family home in Jenin (Provided)

Hassan al-Amouri, head of the People's Services Committee in Jenin camp, told MEE the extent of the destruction is enormous.

He said the sewage, water and electricity networks were “completely destroyed”.

“Most of the streets were vandalised and all vehicles were destroyed by Israeli armoured vehicles,” he added. 

As for the displaced families, most of them have returned to their homes in the camp, although some are looking for places to sleep tonight, as many buildings became unfit for habitation. 

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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