(CTN NEWS) – Aqbat Jaber refugee camp in the occupied West Bank serves as the backdrop to a poignant story.
In the vicinity of their demolished home, two young boys from the camp were still asleep late into the morning.
Their own bedroom had been targeted and destroyed during an Israel Defence Forces (IDF) operation in the camp.
The operation was conducted due to the boys’ father, Maher Shalon, being arrested on suspicion of killing an Israeli settler.
The raid resulted in the tragic death of a 17-year-old Palestinian, injuries to six people, and the arrest of two others.
In the aftermath of their family’s home being reduced to rubble, the boys’ mother had taken their older brother to Bethlehem for medical treatment.
The care of the younger children now falls to their uncle, Mansour, and their paternal grandmother, Hamda.
According to them, the boys have not ventured outside since these traumatic events unfolded.
Mansour, at 56 years old, described the relentless Israeli presence in the area, noting that it has persisted since October 7, the date when the Palestinian militant group Hamas broke out of the besieged Gaza Strip, resulting in conflict that claimed the lives of many.
Aqbat Jaber is among the 19 refugee camps still existing in the West Bank, established following the creation of Israel in 1948 to shelter those who fled during what Palestinians refer to as the Nakba, or catastrophe.
These camps continue to be overcrowded, impoverished areas with limited services, grappling with crime and poverty, and they also serve as centers of resistance against the Israeli occupation.
The recent raid in Aqbat Jaber on Friday was just one of several major Israeli military operations in West Bank refugee camps and cities over the past two weeks.
This suggests that Israel considers the West Bank as fair game in its ongoing conflict with Hamas in Gaza, raising concerns about the potential for increased military activity to further destabilize the already fragile West Bank.
According to Palestinian data, more than 90 people have lost their lives, primarily in clashes with the IDF, and Israeli forces have arrested around 1,200 Palestinians in the West Bank since the conflict began.
Additionally, at least eight Palestinian communities have been forced to abandon their land due to escalating violence from Israeli settlers residing in the West Bank.
One such incident occurred in Wadi as-Seeq, near Ramallah, where soldiers and settlers detained three Palestinians, subjected them to degrading treatment, and assaulted them.
The IDF has initiated an investigation into this incident.
The entire region, home to approximately 3 million Palestinians and around 500,000 Israelis, seems to teeter on the brink of an eruption.
In Aqbat Jaber on Tuesday, tensions were palpable as long lines of cars and trucks waited at checkpoints near Jericho.
Alongside one of the makeshift concrete booths, a young Palestinian man, hands bound and blindfolded, sat on the ground in the scorching desert sun as his vehicle underwent inspection by soldiers.
The Shalon family’s two-story home now lies in ruins, surrounded by date trees covered in dust and rubble.
During the demolition, soldiers also entered Mansour’s neighboring home, removing windows under the pretext of ensuring the family’s safety.
Two rooms of Mansour’s house were also damaged.
In another family’s home, that of 22-year-old Mahmoud Hamdan, who was killed by an Israeli sniper during a surprise raid while on his way to work, his parents Tahani and Mohammed, like others in the region, were glued to the news.
They watched a Jordanian channel that aired unfiltered and unedited material from Gaza, exposing them to the unrelenting images of lifeless children being carried from ambulances and placed in body bags.
“I share the anguish of all mothers since Mahmoud’s death.
I know the Israelis could return at any moment and harm my other children,” Tahani, 44, said, her voice quivering as she fought back tears.
Prior to the resurgence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the Gaza front earlier this month, the primary concern in the region was the potential for a renewed large-scale conflict in the West Bank.
In 2022, the occupied territory experienced its highest levels of violence since the end of the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising, in 2005.
The grim statistics for 2023 had already surpassed those of the previous year before the latest war erupted.
Hamas maintains active cells throughout the West Bank, and their incitement has contributed to the violence in the area.
However, a new generation of fighters, predominantly concentrated in Nablus and Jenin, holds only loose affiliations with established factions like Hamas and their secular rivals, Fatah.
The escalating violence is placing considerable pressure on Fatah, which holds a dominant position in the West Bank’s semi-autonomous Palestinian Authority (PA).
Fatah is widely perceived as undemocratic and corrupt after 16 years without elections.
The PA president, Mahmoud Abbas, is 88 years old and has refused to appoint a successor.
The territory faces a significant power vacuum upon his departure or if he passes away while in office.
The PA is deeply unpopular because of its cooperation with Israel on security matters, and it has already lost control of several camps in the West Bank to militias in recent years.
PA security forces have quelled protests against the war in Gaza with tear gas and rubber bullets, further reinforcing the perception that it no longer represents the Palestinian people.
“The PA acts as if it sides with the Israelis,” said a 19-year-old at a barbershop in Aqabat Jaber.
He declined to provide his name due to security concerns.
“It’s quite evident why my generation despairs in the face of an enduring occupation and believes that the militias hold the answer.”
The Palestinian Authority (PA) finds itself largely marginalized in international mediation and de-escalation efforts.
Jalal Zakout, a member of Ramallah’s Palestine National Council, voiced deep concerns about the situation in the West Bank, emphasizing the potential for escalation.
Zakout described it as a highly perilous situation, highlighting Israel’s attempts to create divisions between the West Bank and Gaza.
Nevertheless, he emphasized the shared Palestinian identity, noting that events in one area will inevitably impact others, including Jerusalem.
Anticipation of increased violence extends beyond the West Bank.
Israeli communities in the north of the country and Lebanese communities just over the Blue Line boundary are also preparing for heightened tensions.
“This time is different,” remarked Mohammed Abdul Salah, the barber.
He emphasized the worsening trend of each new generation facing more intense conflict, concluding, “Nothing will be the same after this.”
MORE RELATED NEWS: