The streets are abuzz with life; merchants are plying their trade; vegetable vendors call out their prices and find a brisk business. Life has changed since yesterday. This is the first day of relatively normal life in Jenin for nine days, and it is greeted with welcome, but also with apprehension as to what will happen next.
The Israeli Army is not in evidence today. They seem to have withdrawn for a while; they never withdraw permanently. The curfew is said to be in effect again at 8:00 p.m. though I have not seen or heard tanks.
How does today compare to the last week and a half? A huge deployment of tanks have been patrolling and chasing civilians constantly, arresting children and adults, including patients and workers on ambulances. Jeeps have been around every corner, and soldiers on foot conducting house to house searches, shooting and kicking doors, arresting residents and bakers.
What is the purpose of their Jenin mission? It is not clear.
They have killed two people during this invasion, but this toll is no higher than usual. They have injured a number of people, but again at about the standard rate. They have certainly made their presence known, however, occupying different houses from night to night, placing snipers on the roofs and doing their best to terrorize city and Refugee Camp residents. Before they leave a house, many soldiers pillage cash, jewelry, cell phones, and other items of value. The Army occupied several mosques, and will probably leave them as they have in the past, polluted and humiliated.
But people I have talked to put such things into perspective: “God is here.” Whatever steps the Army takes to demonstrate its power to do evil, most people feel that the real power is in respecting God and His creation in a way that material might cannot imitate. Nonetheless, they also ask: How long? How long must they endure this abnormal situation? How long will people with the privileges of freedom be silent?
Children have not attended school because of this invasion. That is a crime in itself. I saw the Director of the Jenin High School today in town, buying supplies and doing errands like everyone else. He would rather be taking charge of his students and faculty. But he carries on with a smile.
The streets bear the scars of the tanks’ grinding and plowing, in addition to the rubble from edges of buildings and statues they have blundered into and broken. The tanks come from inside Israel. Do the Israeli roads bear these scars? No. Thanks to the Swedish trucks which transport the tanks to the Occupied Palestinian lands, the Israeli roads escape injury.
Water, electricity, and telephone service have been cut in different parts of the Camp for various time periods. Some people are still waiting for water. Civic minded neighbors took to arranging for tanks of water, and then accompanying them to fill people’s tanks, since the municipality is not able to fulfill the needs. I was so looking forward to riding the tractor pulling the water tank up and down those steep inclines of narrow winding alleys, but was then deployed for bread distribution.
Homes Blown Up: Thursday morning, 31 October, the Army occupied itself…with house demolitions. Between 3:00 and 5:30 a.m. they dynamited five homes in the Camp and at least one in town. The blasts were very powerful, and blew out the windows of many nearby homes, in addition to partially destroying neighboring houses. If this happened to my home, I am sure I would express some vigorous emotions. The most surprising thing to me was that people found it worth mentioning how unusual it was that a woman from one of the houses was crying without solace. Looking at the wreckage, with the whole roof collapsed onto the house in one piece cracked down the center, I was not surprised.
The next door neighbor of this home told me how the soldiers had come to the adjoining houses and warned them to evacuate because of the blast, and one soldier had carried her sleeping daughter in his arms to a neighbor’s house. It is a tender scene, and I hope for an increase of the sentiment, but looking at the wider frame of the picture places it between the absurd and the surreal, with a kick of evil. And it is not comforting that the soldiers forced another family just across the alley to stay in their home and shut the door. Fortunately they were not hurt. It was a mighty explosion: People felt it five miles away but where I was, one street away, there was no doubt about the Army’s presence.
The Army’s Presence: The driver of the unfilled bread truck, pickup truck size, tried to find a way to avoid the tanks in our route from the Camp to the only bakery open in town. They had the main streets of Jenin blocked, so I got out to approach the tank on foot. By this time, I find the tanks absurd and almost boring. I stood in front and called out to the metal monster: “Hello, we are just going to get bread. We are on our way to the bakery.” No reply, and it is a good idea to get an okay from a human before going around a tank, even if they are boring. I tried again: “We are going to get bread.” “I know,” the reply was broadcast to me. I have always dealt with a human who pops the top of his head out of the tank’s top porthole. I waited for some kind of okay. Then the tank behind him revved its engine, roared in an about face, and took off in the other direction. My tank in turn did the same. What a success–I got rid of the tank! The driver and I laughed as I got back into the bread truck.
Later, I met up with the ambulance workers who had just been released after their arrest. One said, “We were in the tank, blindfolded and handcuffed, when you were going to the bakery. When you said you were going to get bread, I said–we need bread in here!” That resilient Palestinian spirit: He could laugh about the ordeal and then carry on driving the ambulance that has to face tanks.
Meanwhile, back at the bakery…A young man locked the door of a shop across the street, not knowing there was a group of soldiers around the corner from the shop. The soldier who had said to me, “Oh, so you are Santa Claus” regarding the bread delivery, ordered the boy to come over and began questioning him. As I approached to observe, he kept telling me to go away. I crossed the street and asked him to leave the boy alone. He was not one of the gentle soldiers. His comrade, though, asked me to listen to his side of the story, and told me that Palestinian mothers raise their children to be terrorists, and that this boy, like all Palestinian children, was a terrorist. “Who has the arms? You do. He is not armed. He just came here to close the shop door. He is not harming you. He is not a terrorist. Let him go,” I said, presenting my side of the story. I admit that I was a bit surprised when they let him go his way. The harsh soldier asked where he wanted to go, and let him get a bag of bread from the bakery before going home.
Many stories. Those are a few. Yes, we are dealing with humans here.
The good news: Children open up when I ask them to sing or tell a story or read from their school books. They miss the stimulation of school. They brighten up easily, and love to be called into the action of creativity.
ANNIE HIGGINS teaches arabic in Chicago. This is her second visit to Occupied Palestine with “International Solidarity.”