AIDA refugee camp in Bethlehem around 4pm in the afternoon. Three young Israeli soldiers aim their weapons (presumably loaded with rubber bullets) at Palestinian youngsters gathering at the camp’s entrance. A photographer is capturing the moment on camera.
If stones are thrown or if teargas or rubber bullets are fired, we usually withdraw. On that very day in AIDA refugee camp there was, however, still some hope left for the situation to end without violence. Therefore, we step out of the firing line while capturing the moment on camera.
About 5000 people live in AIDA refugee camp in Bethlehem, which was established in 1950 after the first Palestinian refugees from Jerusalem and Hebron arrived. Space here is confined. Water shortage and lack of infrastructure are just some of the problems inhabitants have to deal with. The camp is bordered by the concrete wall on two sides and overlooked by several military watch towers. During clashes between the Israeli military and the Palestinian youth, shots are also fired from the towers, we are told by witnesses.
That day, three soldiers – two men and one woman – are approaching the entrance of the camp where also the Lajee community centre is situated. The centre offers a variety of social, educational and cultural activities for children and young people and it has just recently opened a playground in its yard. The approaching soldiers are armed and wear protective helmets. They are cautiously passing the unarmed people of the Lajee centre and our team. As soon as they are visible from the entrance of the camp, the youngsters standing there become nervous.
We are watching the soldiers walking towards the door of the playground without an obvious reason. A member of the Lajee centre calls out to them in English: “This is a playground. There are children there. A playground is no place for soldiers.” The soldiers start and change direction. We are capturing the moment on camera. So does the staff of the Lajee centre.
In the meantime seven additional soldiers started to move towards us from the watch tower up the street. We are being captured on camera as well – this time by the Israeli army. Three soldiers bend their knees now and aim their weapons at the youngsters about 100 meters further down the road. A Palestinian starts shouting at the Palestinian youth in Arabic. We are capturing the moment on camera.
Suddenly, the group of young Palestinians disperses and almost simultaneously the soldiers are returning to the watch tower. A photographer of the Lajee centre, who was shot by a soldier during work a few months ago, reckons that our presence has probably helped to prevent the outbreak of violence. We will never know for sure. During the following days we regularly hear sound grenades which are thrown into the camp by the Israeli army.