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Diary of Jenin Refugee Camp

By George B. Sahhar

It was on Thursday, April 25, 2002, that I visited Jenin Refugee Camp. I will never forget what I saw there. What level of hatred could produce such devastation, I keep wondering.

At the entrance there, I saw an ambulance totally smashed by Israeli tanks. Also, I saw a building turned into rubble, and I was told that 7 members of one family were buried there alive. The smell was awful, testifying to the validity of the story told by survivors.

Refugees were walking around, defiantly, trying to get on with their lives, as if there were any roads left or businesses to attend to, nevertheless they looked somber. Gradually, I was surrounded by destruction, destruction, and more destruction. I felt I was on a different planet altogether. Everything had been damaged by the Israeli Destruction Forces. In the midst of the dust, the smell, and the enormity of the scene, I could not look the refugees in the eye. I am not sure why I felt that way. Honestly, it was difficult for me to look them in the eye.

I saw a woman and her young son, digging through the rubble. They told me that they were trying to figure out where their home was, because they had some money and some gold. A few meters away, I saw a man digging, and he had just found his Palestinian Passport.

In Jenin Refugee Camp, I was told that a 12-year-old girl was buried under the rubble, and only the upper half of her body was retrieved. Later on, I was taken to a place where a mentally retarded woman was executed. Somewhere else, a man told me that the spot where I was standing used to be his four-story building, while there was absolutely no trace whatsoever that a building existed on that spot.

I saw a store with the name “Happy Home.” How sad and ironic, I thought, especially that homes in the Camp were destroyed. The remaining homes were damaged, and one can see inside, through the big holes pierced by Israeli shells. Inside, I could see pictures hanging on the walls. People were sitting on the ground, some were fortunate to have a sofa salvaged, while others had placed wooden blocks in order to gain some privacy.

I saw a young Palestinian woman, in her early twenties, veiled, standing by the door of her home, surrounded by what seemed to me her younger brothers and sisters. She tried to say something, but she started trembling, her hands were moving in an expressive manner, and suddenly she burst into tears. She could not utter a single word.

A man with crutches, walking defiantly from one heap of rubble to the other, insisted that I walk into his home. “Come,” he said, “I want you to see what Sharon did to my house,” and he insisted. As I looked inside his house, I saw a Palestinian family trying to get on with its life, while every inch of the inner walls was riddled with bullets.

In Jenin Refugee Camp, I saw a Palestinian woman, sitting on the rubble, trying to salvage the remains of her shattered life. She had found a pair of pants, underneath a big chunk of cement. She was trying to retrieve the pants without tearing it.

By then, I arrived to a location where I could leave without having to go through this via dolorosa once again. The concept of walking back was too painful for me.

I will never be able to re-conceptualize the smell and the dust, the same way I find myself unable to explain my feeling why I could not look the refugees in the eyes. Yet, the faces and the destruction, the voices and the tears, and the perseverance I saw there, are images that will live with me forever. I am not someone with a powerful story, because the story of Jenin Refugee Camp is powerful in itself.


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