British-funded charity for disabled Palestinians ransacked by Israeli army in West Bank
A care centre for disabled children in the occupied West Bank was ransacked and vandalised by the Israeli army during a raid last week, part of an alarming escalation in violence across the territory since the start of Israel's war on Gaza.
British charity Action around Bethlehem Children with Disability’s (ABCD) centre in the Nur Shams camp near Tulkarm has been rendered non-functional from destruction caused by Israeli forces when military tanks and vehicles stormed the neighbourhood on 3 January.
Loud explosions could be heard across the town for over 40 hours, as the army blew up homes and took over others to use as sniper outposts and detained several Palestinians. Soldiers also broke into a mosque and used it as a military observation point, according to Palestinian news agency WAFA.
The rehabilitation and care centre is located near the entrance to the camp and offers vital physiotherapy, speech therapy and cognitive therapy support for children with disabilities, including those with cerebral palsy or autism.
The centre's manager discovered it had been damaged when she visited after the incursion by the Israeli army, the charity said.
Project manager Firas Sarhan told The New Arab that specialist equipment, teaching resources, computers, printers, and cupboards were vandalised and ransacked, with papers and equipment knocked over and strewn across the room.
“The centre has a ramp for wheelchairs and there are rails for disabled children to hold onto as they walk into the centre, this was damaged and part of it bulldozed, and the metal rails were damaged as well,” Sarhan, who is based in the UK, said.
“Some of the walking frames and walking sticks were thrown in the street,” he added.
The sensory room, which cost $20,000 to install and helps children with autism or cerebral palsy, was the most damaged. The centre is one of the few places which offers such specialist equipment in the whole of the West Bank.
“The television screen was smashed [using] the back of guns, and the interactive sensory table was smashed too, as well as the projector screen, windows, doors; it is really a lot of damage that took place.”
Water supplies were also abused, and food and winter clothing parcels collected as a part of an emergency appeal for the camp’s residents were stolen too.
The UK-registered charity has worked in the occupied West Bank since 1985 and has five centres across the territory working with local partners. The Nur Shams centre was established in 2014.
“I find it emotionally upsetting and disturbing that such damage took place. This is a centre that deals with vulnerable children,” Sarhan said. “Disabled children will be hugely disadvantaged by this act.”
He said that the charity is collating the damage and repair cost, and expressed concern that its forced closure will cause health setbacks for the children dependent on regular physio sessions.
Sarhan, who is originally from Jalazone near Ramallah, has been working in the UK for over 30 years as a public sector nurse in clinical education and volunteers for ABCD.
“Having worked with the centre from one room to become a four-story building, putting all of your energy and effort to match it to rehabilitation centres like those in the UK…and in an hour or two such damage takes place and back to square one.”
Prior to last week’s attack, the centre had been serving 250 children and teenagers who rely on the charity for therapy and learning sessions on a daily basis.
Sarhan said that the centre’s long presence had helped to quash taboos surrounding disabilities and allowed people with disabilities to have active roles in the community.
“By supporting and sponsoring these children and providing them with equipment at home and in the rehab centres they become more visual in the community, and people will start showing them more respect and start addressing some of their needs,” Sarhan said.
The centre also served as a crucial employment opportunity for the 13,000 men, women and children of the camp which has suffered from depravation and unemployment for decades.
Israel’s three-month long war in Gaza has caused violence and instability to spike across the West Bank, as Israeli forces storm camps, destroy houses and business and curtail daily life.
Charities and international organisations, including UN facilities, have been targeted by Israeli forces during raids even prior to the current conflict, as part of a wider intimidation campaign against civilians.
Since the start of the war, 330 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, according to the latest figures from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
In a statement to The New Arab, an Israeli army spokesperson described the raid on the Nur Shams camp as “an extensive counterterrorism activity” in which they searched “hundreds of buildings, questioned suspects and apprehended 11 wanted suspects.”
The spokesperson did not respond specifically to TNA’s question as to why ABCD’s care centre was attacked.