WATCH: Israeli forces threaten Palestinian refugees over loudspeaker
BETHLEHEM, Occupied Palestinian Territories - Yazan Ikhlayel, 17, was at a community centre in Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem when Israeli forces stormed the camp. Ikhlayel was using his iPhone to film as Israeli jeeps rolled by on one of the camp’s main roads, shooting off tear gas, when a soldier began issuing a message to residents from one of the jeep’s loudspeakers.
“People of Aida refugee camp, we are the occupation army,” the message began.
“If you throw stones, we will hit you with gas until you all die - the youth, the children, the old people, you will all die.”
The soldier continued, speaking in Arabic and issuing more threats and insults to the people of Aida camp. But Ikhlayel says it was the first line that really shocked people.
“The most important thing I want people to see when they watch this video is to realise what the Israeli ‘democracy’ really is,” Ikhlayel told Middle East Eye.
“They have said it for us now, they are an occupation - they said ‘we are the occupation army’. It is proof, this is an apartheid country, it is not democratic at all.”
“This is the first time I heard them say something like that over a speaker for everyone to hear,” Ikhlayel continued.
“The young people aren’t accepting what the soldiers are doing particularly now. They’re going to the streets [to protest] everyday, and they aren’t stopping. They aren’t scared of them.”
When asked if he thinks the soldier’s message would scare the youth enough to stop the protests, Ikhlayel shook his head adamantly.
“This will not stop until the occupation ends,” he insisted.
Mohammed al-Azza is a freelance journalist from Aida refugee camp. He was in the streets taking photos during the raid on the camp on Thursday.
“What happened today wasn’t normal. The way they attacked the camp was crazy. There were protesters in the streets, yeah, but the soldiers weren’t focused on shooting tear gas at the kids protesting,” al-Azza said.
“The main thing today was to hurt the people who live in the camp more than to try and stop the protesters in the street.”
Al-Azza said he believed Israeli forces were attempting to get the community to pressure the youth to stop the protests, instead of attacking the protesters back and forth in the cat-and-mouse game between youth and Israeli forces that has been going on daily since 2 October.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve seen the soldiers get on a speaker like that,” al-Azza said.
“But really we were surprised by one word - usually they call themselves the IDF (Israel Defence Forces), they don’t say the IOF (Israeli Occupation Forces) like we do, but that is something good for us, and for people outside the country to hear. They said it to us, ‘we are the occupation.’”
Al-Azza said he hopes people watch the video and think about what the daily reality is for Palestinians living under a military occupation.
“Usually when we talk about Palestine we are telling people abroad what happened, and it’s usually after the Israelis have done whatever they did, but now it’s good that the people can hear it from the soldiers. They said ‘we are going to kill you and we are going to do this and that’ in their message. It’s very important for international people to hear this sort of stuff that we are hearing all the time from them.”
Akkram Huessni and a handful of his friends were wearing gas masks, going through Aida refugee camp and helping others get to safety when the Israeli soldiers came on the loud speaker. Huessni still cannot believe what he heard, he said.
“Everyone in the camp tonight is sitting around talking about this, no one is talking about anything else tonight but what the [Israeli] soldiers said and what they did here,” Huessni said.
“It really shocked us, it is still hard for me to believe what I heard, that’s what everyone is saying too. We are really really shocked, not that they would say these things, but that they said it loud and in public,” Huessni said.
“But the really scary thing is they aren’t just saying that - we saw today and we believe them: they want to kill people here.”
Huessni said he and his friends rescued dozens of people on Thursday who had gotten trapped in clouds of gas. At some points all he could see was white around him, he said.
“Today was the first day we really felt like we needed to get a group together to have people on the ground in every neighbourhood of the camp to make sure everyone was safe. They were shooting the gas right into homes. There was a two-month-old baby that got gassed today, he is in the hospital now with his parents,” Huessni said.
“The entire thing was shocking, yeah, what they said was crazy, but what the soldiers did too - we are really convinced they meant what they said in that video.”