Israeli army fires tear gas at refugee camp, destroying rooftop hydroponic garden at youth center – Mondoweiss

At 7 p.m. local time on Tuesday, January 18, the Israeli army launched an attack on the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem, Palestine. The attack, which lasted 20 minutes according to eyewitnesses, was launched after dark, in empty streets and without provocation, from a military base overlooking the camp.

This has impacted the Lajee Center, a youth and community organization that houses a preschool, hydroponic garden, library, and more. and which is located near the military base. The hydroponic vegetable farm on the roof of the building was damaged, with 1,000 plants destroyed. The children’s playground adjoining the newly opened kindergarten was also damaged. As it was cold, the windows were closed and the people inside the nearby houses were not physically injured, but thick clouds of tear gas settled around the houses and streets in the lowlands. camp elevations.

Clouds of tear gas cover Aida camp following an Israeli raid on January 18, 2021. (Video: Lajee Center)

The next morning, Lajee Center staff and volunteers assessed the damage and collected over 150 used canisters from and around the building. The cartridges can also burn the surfaces where they are deposited. Burn marks marked the street and the ground in many places.

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Asked what could have caused this attack, Lajee Center staff members could only guess. According to those who saw approaching military vehicles, canister launchers appeared to be a new model. Maybe they were testing this new equipment? Perhaps it was a collective punishment for a transgression distant in time and space? Maybe it was bored soldiers doing this for fun? Or maybe it was just another reminder of who’s boss. There is no definitive explanation for the motive since the IDF does not feel obligated to provide one.

Asked about the hydroponics unit, Shatha Al-Azzah, director of health and environment programs at the Lajee Center, says the rooftop farm, established in 2021, serves about 120 families, 800 people in total, their providing fruits and vegetables.

There is no open space in the dense and congested camp established by the United Nations following the ‘Nakba’ (catastrophe) that drove 750,000 people from their homes when the state was established. ‘Israel in 1948. In Aida camp alone, more than 70 years later, families from 27 destroyed and evacuated villages remain in the camp as refugees.

In addition to feeding families, the farm offers the opportunity for an older generation familiar with the crops to work with younger generations eager to adopt this new technique which uses 70% less water than traditional methods of growing produce. market gardeners. The range of crops, including tomato, parsley, mint, lettuce, strawberry and onions, all 100% chemical free and organic, have been developed in conjunction with the Lajee Community Health Program to encourage a healthier food.

Examining the burnt plastic roof canopy and shriveled plants, Shatha says the system needs to be thoroughly cleaned to remove all traces of toxic gas, which has settled as dust on the ground, pools and leaves of the garden. A new thick plastic shield must be put in place, and around it a protection network to prevent the tear gas canisters from reaching the plastic. Then comes the replanting. In a week or two, she hopes to have sown new crops.

The kindergarten, Zahrat Al-Yasmeen (Jasmine Flower) School, opened last year to 50 students aged 4 to 6 in two classes. The program is loosely based on the philosophy of Reggio Emilia with particular attention paid to children raised in an environment of ongoing stress and trauma. The student cohort includes children with physical and cognitive difficulties, who are fully integrated into school activities, guided by teachers with special training. The school has been a great success in the community, generating happy students and happy parents.

The classrooms themselves, as with any school, have been designed to be light and airy with as much natural light and air as possible, and access to the outdoor play area. Anticipating the type of attack that happened last Tuesday, doors, windows, roller shutters and ventilation were designed to close quickly and save children. The playing field itself is more difficult to protect. Work will have to be done to repair or replace the shade structures. Protocols will be repeated over and over again, to ensure that students can be quickly brought to safety. Families in the camp are used to the dangers of life under occupation. The day after the attack, all the families sent their children to kindergarten.

The kindergarten and hydroponic garden are supported by 1for3.org, a Boston-based organization that works to advocate and expand health, environmental, and educational opportunities for Palestinian refugees. Together with the Lajee Center, the two organizations seek to nurture multi-generational community strengths in the face of the many threats of occupation. Executive Director Nidal Al-Azraq commented, “Our partners in Palestine are working on reconstruction as we speak, and this is an expression of Palestinian steadfastness and determination.”

Tuesday’s incident is not an isolated case. According to a 2017 report from the Center for Human Rights at UC Berkeley Law School, Aida Camp is one of the most intensely gassed places in the world.

Not only in Aida but throughout the West Bank and Gaza and even in Israel itself, the Israeli army and police have used tear gas and “skunk water”, a vile liquid that smells of feces and putrefaction , to enforce the order of the occupation, generously and for many years. Most tear gas is manufactured in the United States by companies such as Combined Systems Inc. and Federal Laboratories, both located in Pennsylvania, And there are many more.

Tear gas, CS gas and their variants are classified as non-lethal weapons, although many deaths have been caused by this material. In 2014, Noha Qatamish, 40, was muffled by tear gas in his house in Aida camp. Tear gas regulation has been weak in form, ineffective in practice. In the 1990s, the International Chemical Weapons Convention prohibits the use of tear gas in times of war, but reserved the right for each country to use it in its own country. In 1991, a lawsuit was filed by 61 plaintiffs against Federal Laboratories and its parent company, TransTechnology Inc. in California for the injuries and deaths of eight Palestinians who died as a direct result of tear gas attacks. So far there have been no prizes for death or injury caused by tear gas.


Hubert Murray
Hubert Murray, FAIA, is a Boston-based architect who has practiced in the United States, Africa, Europe and the Middle East for over 40 years. He first visited Palestine during the second Intifada in 2002 and recently helped develop a kindergarten in the Aida refugee camp.


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