'We were afraid we were going to die'

Jenin residents describe fleeing their homes during IDF’s operation

One Palestinian local says IDF took over his home, put snipers on the roof, as thousands fled West Bank city, particularly its refugee camp

Gianluca Pacchiani is the Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

People flee the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank during an ongoing Israeli military operation on July 4, 2023. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP)
People flee the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank during an ongoing Israeli military operation on July 4, 2023. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP)

Jenin resident Samer Alawneh said Tuesday evening that he and his family were forced out of their home in the West Bank city overnight Sunday-Monday, left the city with his wife and four children, and didn’t know when they would be able to return.

Since the launch of the IDF operation in Jenin, thousands of residents have left the city and its refugee camp, fearing an escalation of violence.

Alawneh, a tour guide, told The Times of Israel that he first heard a drone fly over his house at around 1 a.m. on Monday, as the operation was launched. He then heard an explosion coming from the refugee camp.

Subsequently, he said he saw military vehicles passing by his house and began to feel worried for his family as the operation continued.

“I didn’t know what to do. My children were so scared when they saw the Israeli tanks so close to our home, they started to cry. All I could think of at this point, as a father, was how to protect my family,” Alawneh said.

Later Monday, at around 2 p.m., Samer said he heard banging on his door and at least five IDF soldiers broke into his home and forced him and his family out.

An image circulating on social media of Noureddine Marshoud posing with a weapon (used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

He claimed the military proceeded to place snipers on the rooftop of his house, and said he has not been able to return home since. He said he was now in his home village of Jaba’ with his family, about 25 kilometers (16 miles) from Jenin, waiting for the military operation to end. Access roads in and out of Jenin were closed, he said.

He added that the son of his neighbor, Noureddine Marshoud, was one of the 10 Palestinians killed in the first hours of the operation. Photos of Marshoud brandishing an assault rifle have been doing the rounds on social media.

Following an inquiry by the Times of Israel, the IDF confirmed that in some cases civilian houses have been used with prior authorization by the regional military commander.

The IDF added that the Jenin operation has been carried out in a “targeted and limited fashion, to thwart the terrorist threat against Israeli citizens, based on intelligence information.”

Alawneh also commented on Tuesday’s car-ramming and stabbing terror attack against civilians in Tel Aviv, describing it as a “natural reaction” to the IDF’s operation in Jenin. He also said he did not accept the IDF’s allegations that the al-Ansari mosque was being used by Palestinian gunmen as a weapons depot, describing this as a “fabrication.” The IDF, which gained control of the mosque on Monday afternoon following a shootout with Palestinian gunmen in the area, said it had been turned into a “fortified” hideout, complete with an underground tunnel and a cache of weapons.

Entrances to underground storage sites for alleged weapons and explosives in a mosque in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank, July 3, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Thousands of Palestinians have left Jenin since the operation began, particularly residents of the Jenin refugee camp, where at least 3,000 have fled out of an overall population of 18,000. They have found shelter in schools, mosques, medical centers and other places throughout the West Bank.

Various Jenin residents have said the IDF asked them to leave their homes during the operation.

Israeli officials have denied ordering an evacuation of the camp, claiming that people left of their own accord, fearing an escalation in the camp due to the permanent presence of armed terrorists. The IDF’s Arabic language spokesperson, Avichay Adraee, said the evacuation reports were “baseless.”

According to the Ynet news site, several civilians left their house doors open, with money and food for the Palestinian gunmen to enjoy.

A note left by fleeing Jenin refugee camp residents inside their home on July 4, 2023, telling Jenin Brigades gunmen where to find food and NIS 700, and how to escape if necessary. (Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

In one house, the residents left behind a written note saying the fridge was full, there was NIS 700 ($190) in the freezer, and if necessary, there was an escape route from the backyard.

A resident of the Joret al-Dahab section of the refugee camp, who only gave his family name, Agbariya, told Ynet that his neighborhood was bombed and all its residents left for fear of “running out of food to feed our children.”

“We walked past the IDF as we left the camp, and the soldiers understood that we were leaving because of the situation, and they did not hurt us,” he said, but added that this did little to alleviate the family’s fear.

“We were afraid we were going to die, that we would never come out alive.”

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