FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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. The Center’s rooms have chairs, a cabinet with copies of the Qur’an, and floors full of dust. The Army appropriated the computers that had been donated for the advancement of the Refugee Camp community. Still the ladies come to learn, to consider new ideas, compare interpretations, and especially to address issues relating to martyrdom, remarriage of young widows, visiting graves, handling grief, ! and pondering heaven. I take my turn with an infant who is energetically doing calisthenics on my lap, and I comment on his strength. “That’s because he is from the Camp,” beams his mother, articulating the resiliency of Camp identity.

At home, the Qur’an teacher laughs as a sock attacks us when a coil of wire it is caught in springs out of reach. “Sharon doesn’t want us to go visiting on the holiday/eid; he just wants us to work at home.” Later, neighbors chide me for not visiting during the three-day holiday of Eid al-Fitr, but how could I abandon my friend whose house was raided as soldiers searched for a “wanted” family member? Instead of holiday baking, we face oil in the salt and sugar, and the pantry’s many treasures mixed with pots, pans, lamps and implements. The kitchen is picture-perfect compared with the bedrooms knee deep in clothes, clothespins, dismembered notebook pages, shoes, jewelry, framed pictures, manicure sets, and artificial flowers all swirled together in hea! ps. We concentrate on the kitchen, with her daughter Maryam expelling us to do the final clean sweep, swooshing plenty of water with a fan-shaped hand-held broom.

Sweeping is part of the rhythm of home life. After a meal you gather the fragments of bread, just as Jesus’ disciples did following the post-sermon meal on the hillside, and then you sweep up the crumbs. Dry sweeping, wet sweeping, inside sweeping, outside sweeping seem almost like reflexes, and assure a constant orderliness in the home and on the street. The Israeli soldiers are acquainted with the manners and methods of the people whose lands they occupy. The incredible messes they so frequently produce, for no security reason, seem to be a physical and spiritual attack on hearth and home.

But sometimes they too fall into the rhythm of local order and orderliness. A family in Jenin city tells that when soldiers left a building they had been occupying, they disposed of their garbage and then swept all of the apartments in the building. During that period, one of the homeowners had passed by an alley after the evening/maghrib call to prayer, and saw an Ethiopian soldier in uniform clearing the ground to pray. He confided to the local Jenin resident, “Shhh, I am Muslim. Don’t tell.”

One day on an ambulance mission, we yield as a house-toppling Caterpillar bulldozer passes through the Saha area near the Camp’s entrance. It is escorted by a tank in front, and an armored personnel carrier behind. The flat top of the last vehicle is littered with stones, with an empty cola bottle where you would expect a headlight. And there, tucked into a crevice on top, is a handle-less broom. To clean up after the destruction? This little reminder of home economics looks so foreign in the heaving parade of metallic hardware, and so innocent with its blue, yellow, and red fringes. It is quickly lost in the black smoke spewed out to mask the vehicle and cause confusion.

Another day brings more tanks on a street nearby. Amidst the detritus the tank has sucked into the street is a broom which has become part of the clutter it might clear away. I restore its mission, walking toward the tank and sweeping the street with ritual, rather than practical, motions. This has little effect on the rubble in the steet, but delights the children who cheer this gentle defiance of the tank’s bullying. I hope that the tank’s soldiers will not burst a bullet hole in my bubble of whimsy, but there is no guarantee of their sense of humor. Very soon the boys, who have been fearlessly lobbing stones and trash at the tanks, call me back with uncharacteristic urgency. They report excitedly that an international friend has been wounded. I think they are joking but they insist that some of the boys carried her to safety on a home-made! stretcher. She was getting a few small children off a street when a tank sniper shot her. A local journalist confirms the news, and we find her in the Emergency Room at the hospital. Minutes later, another foreigner is wheeled in, and we learn that UNRWA’s Jenin Refugee Camp director, Iain Hook, has been killed.

The escalation of violence calls for heightened security measures, so I go back into the street where tanks are facing off with children, and walk toward the lead tank. The hatch is open, and I call out to the soldier, “Don’t shoot! They are children!” Am I expecting him to read my lips? The noise of the tank is deafening, and behind it a mega-machine is idling with a bass roar. It is the first time I have encountered a monster-size tank. The soldier in the hatch waves me aside, but I remain like a fly on the windshield. The monsters lurch forward and I take a few steps back, still facing them, then pick up my pace, jogging backward. With both tanks coming toward me in high gear, I take refuge against the wall of a house. I realize it was a poor strategy to come close to the tanks and leave the children behind. The tanks brush by, churning up! more mud in a dirty sweep.

Clean sweeps and holiness are related in Semitic tongues. In Arabic, a church is called “kanisa/swept place,” just as a Jewish holy place is called in Hebrew, “bayt kaneset.” The same word is found, with modified transliteration, in the familiar name for theIsraeli Parliament, the Knesset.

The morning prayer on the Eid al-Fitr holiday closing the month of Ramadan was held on the barren ground of the former Hawashin neighborhood, alarmingly obliterated in the April invasion. When I heard of the prayer plans, I realized that the boys I had seen collecting stones were not resupplying their munitions, but making a clean-swept place for this holy day.

The image of Sharon sweeping an Islamic center in a Refugee Camp is still comical. But elections are coming up. Perhaps the Knesset could use sweeping.

ANNIE C. HIGGINS specializes in Arabic and Islamic studies, and is currently doing research in Jenin, Occupied Palestine.

More articles by:

January 21, 2019
W. T. Whitney
New US Economic Attack Against Cuba, Long Threatened, May Hit Soon
Jérôme Duval
Macronist Repression Against the People in Yellow Vests
Dean Baker
The Next Recession: What It Could Look Like
Eric Mann
All Hail the Revolutionary King: Martin Luther King and the Black Revolutionary Tradition
Binoy Kampmark
Spy Theories and the White House: Donald Trump as Russian Agent
Edward Curtin
We Need a Martin Luther King Day of Truth
Bill Fried
Jeff Sessions and the Federalists
Ed Corcoran
Central America Needs a Marshall Plan
Colin Todhunter
Complaint Lodged with European Ombudsman: Regulatory Authorities Colluding with Agrochemicals Industry
Manuel E. Yepe
The US War Against the Weak
Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
Victor Grossman
Red Flowers for Rosa and Karl
Cesar Chelala
President Donald Trump’s “Magical Realism”
Christopher Brauchli
An Education in Fraud
Paul Bentley
The Death Penalty for Canada’s Foreign Policy?
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Not to Love NATO
Louis Proyect
Breaking the Left’s Gay Taboo
Kani Xulam
A Saudi Teen and Freedom’s Shining Moment
Ralph Nader
Bar Barr or Regret this Dictatorial Attorney General
Jessicah Pierre
A Dream Deferred: MLK’s Dream of Economic Justice is Far From Reality
Edward J. Martin
Glossip v. Gross, the Eighth Amendment and the Torture Court of the United States
Chuck Collins
Shutdown Expands the Ranks of the “Underwater Nation”
Paul Edwards
War Whores
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail