NABLUS, DEC. 22 -- The Balata refugee camp here, a pock-marked, rubble-strewn collection of concrete houses, open sewers and back alleys that is home to 12,000 Arabs, is one of the places where the new round of Palestinian violence started nearly two weeks ago.
It is also one of the places where Israeli military authorities say they have brought things under control.
Agents of Israel's Shin Bet internal security service started rounding up alleged rioters at night at their homes 12 days ago, while paramilitary Border Patrol members swept suspects off the streets. When a small patrol found itself surrounded by stone-throwers during one roundup outside a mosque, it opened fire, killing three residents and wounding at least 10 others.
Then, according to residents, the Border Patrol started breaking down doors of houses of suspected ringleaders and rock-throwers, arresting those they could find, and smashing windows, furniture and other possessions in the houses of those who were not home. In some cases, family members were assaulted, and tear-gas canisters were fired into one house filled with women and children when they refused to open the front door.
Over the following weekend, uniformed men also vandalized parked cars late at night, smashing windshields, side windows, headlights and brake lights on more than 30 cars. An Army spokesman said an investigation of the incidents is under way.
Today, as in most of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, Balata was a standoff. Small groups of nervous-looking soldiers in their late teens and early twenties patrolled the alleys and huddled for cover from a biting wind. They attracted cold stares, but no rocks, from Palestinians of roughly the same age.
One Palestinian was killed in an incident at sunset in the Jabalya refugee camp in Gaza, and another died from wounds suffered yesterday, bringing the official death count to 21 over the past two weeks.
Military officials, including Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, said they had stepped up troop deployment in the territories and were making more arrests in an attempt to halt the most violent civil disorder Israel has known in 20 years.
"The Army will restore order," Chief of Staff Dan Shomron told a Knesset legislative committee. "This is an essential issue for the state of Israel. Already today there were many troops, enough troops."
The Army sees Balata as a weathervane for the rest of the West Bank, and this was one of the first places where it strengthened its presence after the conflict began.
"The situation was almost out of control there, but it is calming down because we put in more Border Patrol," said an Army spokesman. He added that Gen. Amram Mitzna, West Bank military commander, had given strict orders that the patrolmen should "behave like they would inside Israel. Several people have been suspended from working in the area."
As for incidents of misconduct, the spokesman said, "If it happened, it will not happen again."
In Balata, residents jeer at those remarks. The Border Patrol, they say, was sent here to do a dirty job and did it. But the fighting, they contend, is not over.
"My heart boils," said Ramadan, a 23-year-old whose mouth has a wide gap of four missing teeth from an Israeli gun muzzle. "When I see any soldier, I only wish I could strangle him by the neck."
It is a grim battlefield, a refugee camp with the appearance of the desperate slums of Gaza rather than the well-fed villages of most of the West Bank. Many children show signs of stunted growth and other indicators of malnutrition. United Nations refugee workers here say unemployment is high. Concrete walls, steel drums and barbed wire installed in recent years seal off all but one access route to the area.
Earlier this year, Law in the Service of Man, a Palestinian rights group, charged that Border Patrolmen regularly hauled off suspected young rock-throwers to a command center in the north of the camp, where the suspects were beaten and then released. The Army denied the charges. Many of the patrolmen are Israeli Druze, members of a breakaway sect from Islam who have a reputation as fierce and aggressive combatants.
Balata is said to be under the tight control of Shabiba, the youth wing of Fatah, the main branch of the outlawed Palestine Liberation Organization. The Army says Shabiba has sought to make the camp off-limits for soldiers and civil administrators. The Border Patrol was sent in to break the organization and reclaim the area.
Residents say every family here has an angry tale to tell about what happened as a result. Umm Mahmud Sabah showed three windows where she said Border Patrolmen broke in and lobbed two tear-gas canisters. She had to have stitches inside her mouth where she was struck with a gun butt.
At a neighboring house, a woman who would not give her name described how her husband and 85-year-old mother had been set upon by patrolmen searching for young men. She pointed to six broken windows, a smashed wall clock and tape deck, broken picture frames, water pitchers, flower pots and dishes. She said one patrolmen pointed a gun at her mother's head while another hit her husband.
Asked if she had filed a complaint with the authorities, she laughed. "We complain to God," she said. "He answers us."
It is a short walk to the house of Sahar Jarmi, aged 17, one of the hundreds of angry demonstrators who participated in the Dec. 11 clash with the Border Patrol. The Army says the patrolmen opened fire only when their lives were threatened and only after tear gas and rubber bullets failed to disperse the mob.
But two witnesses, who refused to be identified, said there was no tear gas, only a quick burst of rubber bullets followed by live ammunition. They said the patrolmen were not surrounded and could easily have run away, but chose instead to open fire. One said a patrolman chased Jarmi down a main street after she threw a rock at him. When he caught up to her, the witness said, he shot her in the chest.
Her mother, Halimi, says youths brought the body back to the family home, but that soldiers came shortly after and seized the corpse for an autopsy. The body was returned late that night and the authorities required that it be buried at 2 a.m. with only three family members allowed to attend to avoid a political demonstration.
Halimi Jarmi, a religious Moslem, says she misses her daughter but expresses no regrets over the death. "Sooner or later we all die and I am very proud that she died such a death of honor," she said. "It was her duty as a Moslem to die such a death. She is in heaven."
As for the soldiers, Halimi Jarmi smiled bitterly. "If I had the chance," she said, "I would drink their blood."
Down Haifa Street is the home of Suhaileh Salah Kabi, a 57-year-old mother of eight who was shot dead under a tin roof next to the front door of her house. She went outside when she heard the gunshots, her husband Nimer said, and was hit in the chest by a burst of gunfire a few seconds later.
Nimer Kabi is not as fierce as Halimi Jarmi, but he is just as angry. "She did nothing, yet they killed her," he said. "We can't move around here because of the soldiers, and we can't even stand at our own doors. What do they want from us? We don't fight them in Tel Aviv, yet they fight us here in our houses."
Despite military claims, Kabi says the continuing presence of soldiers only exacerbates tensions at the camp. "All day and night they are here," he said. "As long as there are soldiers, there will be troubles."