Last night I brought Jenin to Israel. I tried to at least. I walked from East Jerusalem to West, seeking a drink after spending a night in the devastated northern West Bank town. Jenin was still on my boots. Its mud splattered my pant legs too. I wanted to track it across their faux-antiquated stone streets.
Did the Israelis that passed by know that I was carrying Jenin to into their city? Did they know what I had just seen? I hadn’t washed since I left the squalor of the demolished camp. Sporatic rains turned the pulverized homes into a soft tan mud. As I had climbed in and out of half demolished homes my pants were covered in the refuse left over from Israeli tanks and bulldozers.
Jenin was in my pockets as well. While walking through Ben Yahuda St., my right hand was fingering the casing of an M16 round. Perhaps its contents killed someone. Perhaps they only helped to terrify the thousands of residents left trapped for two weeks in their homes. The ones lucky enough to be alive. In my other pocket I carried a small piece of Jenin rubble. I had found it earlier wedged in the waist of my pants, perhaps having fallen down my shirt. Jenin was in my hair too.
I arrived at a small and almost deserted bar. Did they know what I had seen? Did they know how radically different their world was from the people living only a few miles away? Jenin had already taken on its own identity in my head. A symbol. Something ethereal. No longer just a town and a refugee camp. But to the people in this Israeli bar? It was probably still a point on a map they still glossed over.
In the bar sat two chatting men and a young female bartender. All were oblivious to the fact that I brought Jenin into their establishment. The bartender asked what I wanted in Hebrew. I asked for a beer in English. She asked, “liter?”. “Aiwa,” I replied in Arabic. Oops. Jenin came out of my mouth too. I didn’t care.
On one of the televisions was an old National Geographic show. It pictured a hawk devouring a field mouse. Occassionally the hawk would look up, as if to check if anyone was watching it devour its meal. No one interfered. The hawk continued to eat its kill. Israel. Jenin.
The bartender sat on a stool as there is little business. Was that because of Jenin? She looked innocent as she lightly bobs her head to the American Top40 music. Perhaps a little bored. Did she too see the children I did who had to pull their old toys out of piles of rubble? The ones that just stared into nothing, not really knowing what had happened to their world? Is that why she looked so innocent? Or did she simply not have a clue about Jenin?
“This is the rhythm of the night, the rhythm of my life” the music bleated. Its rhythm was a thump that reverberated off walls like the 105mm tank shells in Bethlehem did for me three weeks before. The song sounded not just absurd as I used to treat this type of sophomoric music, but outright vile and despicable. The music didn’t know of Jenin. It was inhuman. I sipped my beer and realized that I couldn’t handle this fake world, ignorant of human crimes so near by. I realized I had begun to cry.