Update from Jenin

The city and the Refugee Camp breathed more easily when the Israeli Army withdrew from its two-week invasion about a week ago, but everyone knew that the Army would maintain its presence, if slightly less visibly. During this most recent invasion, the Army left a trail of demolished houses and many houses which were violently invaded and searched, stolen from, and left in disrepair with dispirited residents. The Army occupied more than thirty-five homes as they moved their local house-camps from day to day. Some families were not allowed into their homes while the Army was occupying them, but more often families were imprisoned in one room, relying on food they had stored, or on the few internationals who visited them bringing supplies.

Some international organizations distributed food and medicines, concentrating on homes in the city. The Army prevented water trucks and ambulances from movement, and arrested patients and workers, as well as the personnel of the bakery they permitted to operate. Their parting shot in the bakery was to invade and mix major amounts of flour and oil, gumming up bread productionopunishment for providing this basic comestible, perhaps a twist on Marie Antoinetteis solution: “No bread? Let them eat brioche.” The end of her story might be instructive.

Unarmed citizens were arrested without charge. Among these were children as young as eight years old, some of whom were brutally beaten in the street or within houses the Army was occupying. It wrenched the hearts of neighbors to hear the childrenis cries and to witness vicious kicks to the head, all the while remaining impotent to defend them in any manner. A society is judged by the way it treats its children, and people feel deeply when they are helpless in the face of violence against their communityis youth.

During the invasion, commerce, travel, and formal education were brought to a virtual standstill. As a worker in the building trades and father of schoolchildren said, “For the workers, it is difficult, but this is a crime for our children.” Some children continued with their studies independently at home but more put their studies on hold. People discussed setting up home-based schools in neighborhoods so nobody would have to walk very far and be exposed to shooting from passing tanks or accurate snipers aiming from near or far. Every neighborhood has a teacher, but people waited instead until a return to some degree of normality and the opportunity for organized education.

Is it any wonder that children who are prevented from attending school and who have no alternative activities, gather and throw stones at tanks? Parents try valiantly to keep the children at home out of harm’s way, but how many days can you keep a child cooped up inside? The absurdity and imbalance of tanks versus stones became real to me one day when the Army had lifted curfew for a few hours. When they came rolling back into town in tanks and jeeps, most people went home. However, some children lingered in pockets and defied Goliath’s tanks with their pitiful stones.

David’s story may be instructive but its result was not repeated here. A few internationals walked between the tanks and the children, imploring the unseen tank soldiers not to shoot the children, and urging the children to go home, though now they would be shot at if they tried. Jeeps are more versatile for the narrower streets, and the soldiers within took aim and shot as they were trained to do. We were teargassed a number of times. I feel that we prevented violence to some degree. The toll was three children wounded that day, and the Army was using the less lethal rubber bullets, not metal or rubber coated metal bullets. A small success.

Israelis success was to kill Iyad Sawalha after threatening that they would blow up his house if he did not come out. He came out fighting and they got their man in what they called an “extermination.” They also arrested his Romanian bride of one month. Then they withdrew to their posts outside the city on 9 November.

Since then, the tanks continue to prowl and hunt, even though they have not been in residence among the local inhabitants. The Army continues to make arrests and invade homes in what seems more of a psychological than physical battle. However their physical imprint has permanent effects, too.

On 15 November, the television serial on the life of the Virgin Mary bore an announcement of the attacks on the Israeli Army in Hebron in return for Iyad Sawalhais killing. The next morning I descended from the top of the hill, enjoying the aerial view of the Camp and the fresh breeze. Tanks had been passing back and forth in the night, and I heard shooting as I walked.

Israeli snipers are well practiced and accurate, particularly at this entrance to the Camp. They shot high school student Ibrahim Saidi on the same site and in the same way, a bullet through the heart, as they killed his twin brother two and a half months ago. Two other family members have been victims of the Army, Ibrahim and Abd al-Karimis grandmother and their little boy cousin. When soldiers came to question the grandmother in June, they deceptively told her that they had killed her son, and spoke and acted with such terror that she died on the spot of fright. This morning before the school’s opening bell rang, I saw four schoolgirls in their uniforms gathered at Ibrahim’s grave, quietly crying.

The good news:

People say that, in spite of it all, their spirit is strong and they are not afraid of Israel.

Tanks have been coming and going, and concentrated on schools in Jenin and the neighboring village of Sabah al-Khayr [meaning “Good Morning”!], but schools are in session and students are grateful to resume their studies.

Dr. Annie Higgins is an Arabic and Arabic literature lecturer at the University of Chicago and is a former recipient of the Fulbright-Hays Fellowship. She is currently in Jenin.