A Field Trip to Jenin

by Susi Abeles

Jenin is one among many "closed military zones" from which the media is barred; it considered the most devastated of the areas assaulted and occupied by the IDF in the last two weeks of its incursions into the Palestinian Territories). Reports leak out of hundreds dead and their bodies piling up in the houses and streets for lack of ability to transport them out of the camp, the wounded dying with access of medical assistance denied, houses demolished with their inhabitants still inside, hundreds of families fortunate to escape (as it were), driven out of the camp with nothing but the clothes they are wearing, those left behind destitute following the demolition of their homes and destruction of their property. Food supplies are scarce; the residents are reported to have been without fresh water for some ten days, relying now on sewage water which is also being given to babies.

Early Friday evening, as the dusk’s forgiving light softened the city’s streets and, just a couple of kilometres away, as city workers swept up shards of glass and washed blood away from the sidewalks where a woman had blown herself and others up only three hours earlier outside the market, I raided the large recyling cages in my neighborhood for empty water bottles. I was joining a coalition of peace groups to travel to Jenin, in the northern Palestinian Territories, to deliver water and other emergency supplies to the beseiged people of the refugee camp.

I rose with the sun on Saturday morning and mounted a battered coach, my buggy bulging with now filled water bottles. Along the way, we were briefed on how to respond in a non-violent fashion to the kind of police brutality experienced just two weeks earlier at another action –tear gas and sticks –and what to say if we were arrested. We received a call that water cannons were sighted at the checkpoint –tools, we were reassured, that were much less painful than tear gas and blows from sticks.

We travelled two hours north, past fields of irridescent coral red poppies and into the gentle hills of the Lower Galillee. We were soon joined by dozens of other buses, from Jerusalem to Tel-Aviv and Haifa, and from neighboring towns and villages. I cried to see a few thousand others embark over the next hour, mostly Jewish and Palestinian Israelis, as well as people from various Christian "peace-keeping" groups: from Italy and Spain, France and Germany, women from Greenham Common in England and several lively Brazilians, in baseball caps bearing the emblem of their organization, who had themselves photographed in front of their bus. And the media, some in bulky bullet proof vests –from the United States, Europe, Japan and other countries and continents.

We formed human chains, working for two hours to unload supplies from the buses and packing nearly as many trucks with them; there were several thousand litres of water, hundreds of boxes of infant formula and bags of diapers, bedding and clothes. One painful altercation took place between an Israeli activist who wanted to carry the Israeli flag –an attempt by the liberal left to reclaim it from the right –and a Palestinian enraged by the meaning it conveys. Otherwise, collaboration was realized nearly soundlessly — signs were written, last minute supplies distributed, marshalls organized us to move to this side and then to the other and suddenly we were setting off for the Salem checkpoint three kilometres away, where we hoped to be able to deliver the trucks to Palestinians waiting on the other side.

We kicked the dust into our hair and mouths, our spirits high, stirred too with the energy of young Palestinians’ vigorous chants. Along the road, clusters of Palestinians resting among orchards of fruit trees waved and called out to their friends. An Israeli with a video camera walked behind a photographer who was shooting for the police, irritating him with her calm challenge –whether he wasn’t ashamed to be working for them. He climbed into a military jeep and accelerated along the road; alas, we walked nearly as quickly as he was able to drive and she pursued him doggedly, poking her camera into the car and filming his license plate. A quick bright brushstroke in a vast landscape of injustice and powerlessness.

We arrived at the crest of the road where below sprawled the menacing complex that comprised the checkpoint. Soldiers with guns slung across their chests fanned out in a line across the field; behind them a tank along with several dozen various other military personnel reminded us of our small place. Our people and theirs met somewhere between our perspiring and exhilerated crowd and their ranks (I was reminded of team captains in sports). We waited for an hour, eating hungrily from donated boxes of shnitzel in pita and hotdogs in buns. A truck sold ice-cream and cold soft drinks, it’s cheery song dislocated in the rubble of this terrain. Men placed signs among the rough grasses of the fields, on which they carefully knelt for the mid-day’s prayer; women also settled onto pieces of cardboard and removed their shoes with relief. Knots of young men, oiled hair glistening in the sun, were tempted by the sight of the military; they advanced towards the checkpoint and then retreated as the marshalls shouted at them to return to the road.

Eventually, an settlement was negotiated –we would leave and the trucks would be allowed entry through another passage. We turned around and climbed back up the road, back towards the buses that awaited us. We trudged quietly now, thinning into groups of two or three, both pleased with our success and disappointed by the non-confrontational resolution. Somehow, rage isn’t satisfied with agreements reached over handshakes, –a sometimes truth seemingly obvious in this particular corner of the world…particularly in these "disgusting days", as Israeli journalist David Grossman writes.

Susi Abeles a grade school teacher in West Jerusalem on her participation in bringing humanitarian relief supplies to Jenin Palestine. She is an active member of several Israeli activist groups that favor the complete removal of Israeli military and settler society from the occupied territories to the "Green line" of 1967.

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