Child in Balata refugee camp
Child in Balata refugee camp Flash 90

Reshet 13 reporter Ohad Hemo visited Balata "refugee camp" during a homecoming celebration for a local returning from 15 years in Israeli prison, Halil abu Hashia.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) claims there are 5.3 million refugees, when in fact there are around 20,000. Balata is the largest "refugee camp," called so despite that all of these camps are in PA-controlled areas, and nothing is preventing the PA from transferring residents of these camps to permanent housing.

Hemo returned with footage of a continuous two-kilometer parade of gunmen shooting in the air indiscriminately for as far as the eye could see.

"It was a strange feeling; an Israeli walking the alleyways of the biggest refugee camp in the West Bank for two kilometers, maybe more, where a distant vantage point in nonexistent in such a situation," he said.

"It was at night, surrounded by a mass of people, but the background music never lets up, nor do those who play it. Wherever you look or face the camera, you see them," referring to the gunmen swarming the streets.

"This display of power was no confrontation, not with the Palestinian security apparatus; certainly not with the IDF. This was celebratory gunfire honoring a village local returning after 15 years. But this celebration can teach something of the mindset, the cultural heroes, and of this sector which is so close to us. Although it's been quiet in recent years, the underground currents there should worry us greatly," Hemo reported.

"A few hours prior, we entered the camp's gates south of Shechem, one of the most densely populated places in the world. Scores of thousands living in less than a quarter kilometer square. It's doubtful whether there's another place in the territories where death as a result of the struggle against Israel or prison are so prevalent. If this is the pulse of the territories, it would be worthwhile, even a must, to feel it once in a while."

Hemo interviewed a local senior citizen: "You were a prisoner?"

"Yes, yes," answered the man.

"Life sentence?"

"Yes, I was sentenced for life."

"Really? When were you freed?"

"In '83."

Hemo then asked, "There's a struggle, there's resistance, there's more and more and more; but in reality, nothing ever changes."

"The resistance will continue until the end," said the old man, "Even if one generation of fighters dies, the next generation will continue its path, you understand? As long as Jerusalem and Palestine aren't liberated, we won't stop fighting."

Balata as seen from Shechem
Balata as seen from Shechem Flash 90

Hemo interviewed senior PA Tanzim official Jamal Tirawi: "Inside we meet the most famous resident of the camp, the one who holds Shechem's safety latch, and some would say far beyond: Jamal Tirawi, Tanzim official, a man to whom hundreds of Tanzim, maybe more, pledge loyalty."

"'Is it possible that we'll be seeing a new armed intifada in the near future?" Hemo asked Tirawi.

"'We don't wish for a new armed intifada. But with everything that's happening these days, decisions about Jerusalem, bills to annex the territories, all these decisions don't serve peace or the way of peace. We say, we have to consolidate a clear Palestinian position, we must begin nonviolent civil resistance, to assure we achieve our rights.'

"It would appear that recently something has broken among the Palestinians; the American Embassy, the announcement of Jerusalem as capital of Israel, the charged atmosphere, and even the impression of talks with Israel that no longer exist - this perhaps explains the thirst for folk heroes in the territories, one of whom is Rabbi Shevach's murderer, who has become an icon."

Hemo continued his interview with Tirawi: "What bothers me is I see for instance the way you, the Palestinians, see Ahmed Jerar; children want to emulate him."

"'Yes, all the Palestinian children now look to Ahmed Jerar. We will always tell every Israeli government, we want peace; we don't want a new war. We want peace.'"

Hemo entered the home of the soon-to-be-freed prisoner. "We met him outside of the prisoner's house, a former Al Aqsa Brigades senior member who is set to be freed in a few hours from prison, after 15 years."

A man sitting with two small children asked one, "Do you love Uncle Halil?", to which the child answered, "Yes."

"Who put Uncle Halil into prison?"

"The Jews."

Balata Flash 90

Hemo interviewed the prisoner's mother, who said, "We need to live together. You'll get a part, and we'll get a part, right or wrong? I think we should live side-by-side, but we have a right to a homeland, that will be our true country. Not a mock country, not a half-country of lawbreakers. Like the lying leaders of the Arab countries promised us, or the Jews - don't get angry at me - like Netanyahu and those like him. I'm not afraid that Netanyahu will come an arrest me; I'm telling the truth, you understand?"

Hemo interviewed the prisoner's sister: "The second intifada, because of which your brother went to prison; maybe it was a mistake?"

The sister answers: "Intifada can't be a mistake. Intifada can't be a mistake. Our children, our youth - why do they rise up?"

Hemo pointed to her son and asked her, "Does he have a future, your son? Does his generation?"

The prisoner's sister began to answer, "What future is in store for my son?" when shots were heard outside. Hemo stepped out to see.

"During the interview we heard shooting outside the door. We went outside, and this is what we saw:

"Instead of running after candies, in Balata the chase is after bullet shells. It's hard to miss the admiration with which the children view those only slightly older, who already hold firearms."

At this point, Tirawi emerged from the apartment and announced in Arabic, "I ask that nobody shoots anymore. That's enough, thank you."

Hemo filmed the festive parade carrying the freed prisoner to his home. Meanwhile, outside of the camp, they awaited the prisoner's cavalcade. "We want peace; Shalom, shalom," bystanders jeeringly told the reporter. "We want peace."

"We want peace."
"We want peace." Flash 90

"He arrives. The motorcade climbs to Kafr Kalil, overlooking Shechem. A warm welcome awaits him in the local cemetery."

At a festive meal in his honor, Halil abu Hashia spoke. "With the help of God, the Master of the Universe, the joy will be complete when the rest of our men and women fighters are freed." After a short feast and words of thanks, he returned to his house.

"Here we get an idea of who runs the camp." Hemo interviewed a masked gunman participating in the parade. "What's happening here?"

"Thank God, there's a good atmosphere," answered the masked man. "Everyone's happy about the release of the prisoner Halil abi Hashia after 15 years."

Abu Hashia took the microphone: "I hope all the prisoners will soon be freed," he announced to a volley of automatic fire.

Hemo then offered personal insights: "Such a quantity of armed men and firearms, many scores, maybe more - I don't remember such a thing for a long time. It perhaps answers one of the most important questions being asked: Do the Al-Aqsa Brigades still exist? It could very well be that what we are seeing here - many scores or maybe more of armed men and guns from every direction - shows what's happening in just one West Bank refugee camp."

Hemo concluded with an interview of Abu Hashia: "You know Israel perhaps better than most Palestinians; you speak Hebrew. What do you think about Israel today?"

Abu Hashia answered: "Correct; there is a possibility to build a bridge of peace between us and Israel. I say that thanks to the experience I got in prison, as one who served as prison spokesman and from what I saw and experienced. I know there is a possibility; there are people on the Israeli side who want peace."

Hemo then interviewed a young child of the camp whose father died while killing Jews, an eleven-year-old who was called to the stage to speak: "My father was in the Al-Aqsa Brigades, he was their chief sniper. I was 40 days old when my father became a martyr. I am proud that my father is a martyr. When I grow up I want to be a fighter in the Al-Aqsa Brigades like my father."

"We see here hundreds," Hemo said to Abu Hashia. "Should the Israelis worry about the guns we see here?"

Abu Hashia carefully considered the impact and propaganda value his answer was liable to contain. After a moment of thought, he answered Hemo, "I wouldn't want to answer for the other side." Slightly smiling, he said, "I leave the answer to that question to the Israelis. They'll answer that question."

Balata peaceseekers
Balata peaceseekers Flash 90
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