“Tear gas has been used, live bullets, stun bombs, there have been incursions and arrests, people have been shot, houses ransacked. We are scared of Israeli soldiers, we want it to stop”, writes Juno McEnroe Political Correspondent, in the West Bank
These are the words of Leyan, 14, a pupil at the UN school in the Jalazone refugee camp in the West Bank. Leyan and her schoolmates describe what it is like living under raids from Israeli soldiers and attacks from Israeli settlers in a camp that is home to some 10,000 refugees.
Increasingly, as tensions rise amid the vacuum of the failed peace process, Palestinian refugee camps are under siege across the West Bank, as are Bedouin communities threatened with displacement.
For some of the 1,300 girls and boys at Jalazone’s UN school, they have witnessed tear gas grenades and sound bombs which have even smashed through class windows or onto the school grounds.
Across from the camp lies the Beit El Israeli settlement. There are often clashes between both communities on the road, but also random attacks from settler youths, say UN staff.
Excessive force is used by Israeli soldiers: They set dogs on people and use live ammunition, say staff. The latter is especially worrying — the UN relief and works agency for Palestinians (UNRWA) has recorded an 85% rise in the use of live ammunition by Israeli soldiers in incidents last year.
A 10-year-old Palestinian boy was shot in the stomach, while a mentally ill man, who ran away from soldiers was also shot dead, say staff.
Scott Anderson, director of operations for UNRWA for the West Bank, confirmed the increased incursions. Despite forwarding letters of complaint to the authorities, little has changed. “It’s a real challenge. The IDF [Israeli defence forces] come in with tear gas and sound bombs. Women are even sleeping clothed in their beds at night in case soldiers come.”
Mr Anderson says there are around 15 military incursions into West Bank refugee camps every day. Soldiers say they are looking for fugitives, weapons, or are there to make arrests.
The biggest challenge in the West Bank is the protection of the refugees, says Mr Anderson. There are 19 such camps with some 200,000 Palestinians across the region. “The two-state solution is not dead, but it is on life-support,” he says, adding that Israeli military raids on homes and violence near the school are having long-term effects on children.
In the village of Khan al-Ahmar, families live among desert and rocks, and sleep in makeshift shacks. A request to build a school was denied but they built one anyhow, made of 2,200 tyres.
Paintings of animals and plants dot the mud walls and a canvass keeps the searing sun at bay.
A case to demolish their 170-student school is before Israel’s Supreme Court. Villagers, NGO workers, and EU observers say its proposed destruction is part of a grand plan by Israelis to split the West Bank in two and cut off Jerusalem from Jericho by displacing Bedouin families.
Community leader Abu Khames said: “The Israeli narrative is it is an illegal school. If they demolish it, 170 students will be on the street — what can that be other than apartheid?”
This is not the only Palestinian school facing demolition. There are 187 schools in what is known as Area C, part of the West Bank controlled by Israel but also the most fertile for farming.
Others are also threatened with destruction, having been built without Israeli permits.
So far this year, 11 students have been killed in the West Bank and 49 injured. Dozens of teachers were also injured and others detained, according to Kahraman Arafa of the Palestinian Ministry of Education.
Some 34 schools have been attacked and there have been 55 demolition orders issued against schools.
Attacks are carried out by Israeli soldiers or settlers, says Ms Arafa.
Another herding community in the nearby village of Abu Nwer is also under siege. It is the biggest Bedouin community in the region but surrounded by settlements and Israeli military.
The EU’s humanitarian arm, ECHO, which aids Palestinian communities, says the Israeli military has destroyed three times as many structures built this year compared to 2015.
EU representatives here say they are obliged to aid communities like Abu Nwer, supplying them with water, education, and health supports.
Bedouin leader Dawood Jahaleen said families were living in conditions not even suitable for animals. “Whatever Israeli occupation does to this community, we will never leave our land. The only way is if we go to the graveyard,” he said.