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Journalist's death brings new attention to the Jenin refugee camp

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

What compelled a young Palestinian man to open fire at a bar in Tel Aviv last month? It was one of several deadly attacks in Israel that has sparked a military crackdown in the occupied West Bank, where a prominent journalist was recently killed covering an Israeli raid. NPR's Daniel Estrin visited the Jenin refugee camp to trace one early spark that ignited the latest flames.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Amin Khazem invites us to his rooftop porch in the Jenin refugee camp.

From your rooftop, you can see the whole camp.

AMIN KHAZEM: Yes.

ESTRIN: What are you growing here? All these rooftop plants, what are these?

KHAZEM: Small orange.

ESTRIN: Small oranges.

KHAZEM: Yeah.

ESTRIN: Amin is also raising two parrots...

(SOUNDBITE OF PARROT VOCALIZING)

ESTRIN: ...And looking after his 5-year-old grandson, whose T-shirt, shorts and shoes feature the silhouette of an M-16. Your T-shirt - (speaking Arabic).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Speaking Arabic).

ESTRIN: "A gun," the boy says.

KHAZEM: (Speaking Arabic).

ESTRIN: "Here, the culture in the refugee camp is a culture of jihad and martyrdom," Amin says. They carry the memories of their families' old villages, destroyed when Israel was created.

KHAZEM: (Speaking Arabic).

ESTRIN: Wow. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine - can't even count how many bullet holes are - oh, on that wall, too.

KHAZEM: From the Israeli army.

ESTRIN: Scars from a major battle with Palestinian militia 20 years ago. It was the Palestinian uprising. Young men from this camp were going to Israel to carry out deadly attacks. Israel stormed the camp and destroyed hundreds of homes. Amin's 29-year-old nephew Raad watched all of this when he was this little boy's age. One night last month, Raad wasn't home in the camp.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: A Palestinian assailant opened fire inside a crowded Tel Aviv bar, killing three Israelis.

ESTRIN: Hundreds of Israeli officers and armed civilians launched a manhunt through the streets of Tel Aviv. Officers say they found Raad at dawn and killed him in a firefight.

KHAZEM: (Speaking Arabic).

ESTRIN: Amin says the family was shocked. Raad was a techie. He invested in Bitcoin and was financially stable. But his uncle says neighbors shot Raad in the legs several months ago in a dispute over a loan. He says Raad wanted to shoot them back, but the family convinced him to reconcile. He did, and a week later, he was in Tel Aviv. Did this personal anguish drive him to kill Israelis, knowing he likely wouldn't come back alive?

KHAZEM: (Speaking Arabic).

ESTRIN: Amin denies any connection. He says Israel links Palestinian attacks to personal hardship to undermine the fight for Palestinian rights. Raad's father was a senior commander in the Palestinian security forces, trained by the U.S. to round up gunmen, bring order and prepare the ground for an independent Palestine. But here, Palestinians are fed up with their own security forces who brought no security and no independence.

KHAZEM: (Speaking Arabic).

ESTRIN: He says, "we fell in love with the United Nations Security Council and the International Criminal Court in the Arab states and ended up with delusions. People have reached a dead end. There's no horizon that we we will be liberated without us liberating ourselves." He says the camp is full of guns.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRAYER)

ESTRIN: It's peaceful when we visit. Prayers echo below the balcony. But Jenin refugee camp still sees intense fighting between Israeli special forces and Palestinian gunmen. This is where a prominent journalist was killed covering an Israeli raid two weeks ago. But the battle in Jenin has not ended. An armed man and a young teen were killed by Israeli troops. And Amin's own family is being pursued. One was arrested this week, another is in hiding. We see a young man dart out of the house.

This is your son here?

KHAZEM: Yes.

ESTRIN: Carrying a big gun. And there he goes. He's off to hide.

Daniel Estrin, NPR News, the Jenin refugee camp. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.