In the late autumn heat, as puffs of grey dust rise from under the feet of the people of Jenin, I sense the lethargy blanketing the town. The Holy Month of Ramadan, marked by fasting and reflection, has begun and energy levels seem low. But in any case, people have little to do. The Palestinian economy is dead and what money remains in Jenin is slipping away fast — most of it into Israel itself to pay for electricity, gas, water and telephones, to list just a few of the bills which have to be settled. None of the money comes back. It is hard for a large family to live on a mere US$10 per day and be energetic.
Since I was last here, three months ago, the shops are more pitted with pockmarks from bullets and the roads more damaged by the treads of Israeli tanks. And more Palestinians have died. Violence and death at the hands of the Israelis have become standard, daily fare for the inhabitants of Jenin.
But some aspects of life have remained the same. The women are dignified, the men hospitable, and the children noisy. Little Naim’s coffee flavoured with cardamom tastes as delicious as ever and he welcomes me still with one prickly kiss on each cheek. And although Said’s girth is somewhat reduced — he had plenty to lose — his falafel sandwiches have yet to be bested. Most important of all, society continues to function; families are united, the community is intact, and local services operate.
So is it the lethargy of Ramadan muting the inhabitants of Jenin’s feistiness, or is it the dire poverty and the growing ferocity of Israel’s occupation? Or is it, perhaps. the apartheid wall being constructed within sight of the town — heralding a future devoid of hope?
The occasional voices of international criticism of Israel and its behaviour in the Occupied Territories are barely audible in Jenin. Like rafts on a storm tossed sea, they are hardly detectable in the maelstrom of people’s lives. It seems to them that the world is averting its eyes from the violations of international law and the resulting daily suffering in Jenin and other towns and villages across the West Bank and in Gaza. Palestinians do not understand why the violations of their internationally recognized human rights are of so little concern. Are they not human?
Nick Pretzlik is a British writer and human rights activist who is currently traveling in Occupied Palestine. He can be reached through his wife, Dr. Ursula Pretzlik: firstname.lastname@example.org.