Letter from Jenin

On the twenty-eighth of January, young men were letting out triumphant whoops and jumping up and down in a victory dance. Campaign headquarters in Tel Aviv? No, Faisal Street, a main artery in downtown Jenin. The Army snipers on the roof of a commercial building are congratulating one another on their ‘victory’ over an unarmed Palestinian policeman in civilian clothes, Rashad al-‘Arrabi, wearing no protective vest or helmet, and having no tank or airborne defense. Annie Higgins writes from Jenin. 

What they say

“As we are settling onto our floor-level mattresses for the night, Raghda kisses me on the four diamond-points of my face, ‘That’s how you kiss a shahid on the bier!’ She has experience with a number of family members.” Meanwhile, the Middle East Editor of an American-based international newspaper derides the experiences of Palestinians. Annie Higgins writes from occupied Jenin. 

Re: At the theatre

The young men have gathered in Lulu’s room, piling onto the spare bed and offering me a chair with their instantaneous politeness. Munir’s placid face looks out from his poster across his younger brother’s bed and beyond. Lulu’s nickname means “pearls,” recalling the Quran’s celestial simile of serving-boys like protected pearls. Lulu was protected in this world. Although the tank sniper damaged his legs severely, he is still amongst the living to keep his brother Munir in his heart. Annie Higgins writes from occupied Jenin. 

Hearts and Flowers

Every home has flowers. “It’s because we want to show that we still find beauty in spite of all the difficult conditions,” explains Im Ayman. But I suspect the tradition pre-dates Israel’s oppression. It must have its roots in the ancient gardens of peasants and urban classes alike, in a common appreciation of nature’s gifts. Annie Higgins writes from Jenin. 

Swept Clean

The idea of Sharon with broom in hand is comical enough, but the suggestion that he sweep the rooms of the Islamic Center that his soldiers left in shambles made me laugh. My friend, who conducts Qur’anic study sessions, always manages to find humor in the midst of the bleakest conditions. Her laughter itself is a resistance against the gravity of oppression. Annie Higgins writes from Jenin. 

Do they talk to you?

Photo by Musa Al-Shaer. “As I was walking from the house at the top of the hill, occupied by Israeli forces from beginning to end of the sixteen-day invasion of Jenin Refugee Camp in October/November, schoolboys on the road asked me this question. It is a refrain that punctuates my comings and goings, and it is one that leaves me tongue-tied. The question is not, ‘Do you talk to them?’ because anybody can do that. What matters is if they respond with words rather than gunfire. The nature of the soldiers’ response is a source of curiosity for people who are always in danger of being shot rather than spoken to.” Annie Higgins writes from Jenin. 

Life Story of the Olives

Photo by Musa Al-Shaer. As we are picking, news comes of yet another increase of the attacks on Nablus. An international calls friends there, climbs back into the high branches to pick, but comes down shortly after, resolving to go to friends whose house is in immanent danger of being bulldozed. Everyone understands and bids her a safe journey. I think of the many dunums of olive trees that have been bulldozed, innocent trees wrenched and uprooted from their refuge in the soil. On my first journey to Palestine some years before, I had seen an olive tree claimed to antedate Jesus’ advent on earth. The symbol and the reality of the olive tree made an impression, and I began to name things like my car license “olive/zaytoun.” 

Six Soldiers

The Israeli Army reported that two soldiers were injured as they attacked Palestinian members of the resistance in Gaza (BBC, 2 January 2003). The reality could be far more severe than they admit. Annie Higgins reports from Jenin. 

Language lessons in Jenin

“What language beside Arabic do you see in shop windows in Jenin?” A few boys answered, “Hebrew.” “Yes,” the teacher/ustadh went on, “when there were good relations between Israelis and us, people came from Israel to shop in Jenin. How can they know where to buy something unless they can understand the sign?” Annie Higgins writes about language lessons in Jenin.