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What’s happening in Jenin...and what isn’t

What’s happening in Jenin...and what isn’t

Jenin 25 Sep 03 Aaron

First, what *isn’t* happening:

The lockdown continues in Jenin. This means that around 100,000 people don’t go out of their houses for an entire week. Maybe 15,000 of these don’t go to work (another 15,000 are already unemployed due to the occupation). The average age seems quite low, so let’s say that 30,000 don’t go to elementary, junior high, and high school. Perhaps 20,000 don’t go shopping. Another 5000, or so, don’t go to university; of course, the universities are frequently closed, anyway, and nearly impossible to reach when they are open, but what the heck. And to what end is this large town, or small city, paralyzed? Apparently, so that the Israeli army can arrest four wanted men and imprison them without a trial, without public scrutiny of any kind, and for an indefinite period, and quite likely torture them to get information that will help the army do the same to others.

There is, of cours Now for what *is* happening: Yesterday, after I had sent my email, our team approached two more civilian houses that local kids told us were being occupied by the Israeli army. When we got to the first house, we met another international, working with a small group not affiliated with the ISM, who told us that two women from his group had been arrested at the same house earlier in the day. Apparently, the soldiers permitted them inside, then held them for two hours against their will, at which time they were taken away by Israeli police. Since arrests of peace activists frequently end in their deportation, our team was unsure whether making a second try was worth the potential loss to the international presence in Jenin. Fortunately, the one TV crew still operating in Jenin happened to drive by and agreed to stay on site during our action.

Two members of our team approached the house and announced our presence, the fact that we were unarmed, international observers, that I was a Jew, etc. After assuring the windows that we didn’t want anyone to get hurt, and that we were only concerned for the well-being of the family, we cautiously moved up to the occupied upper portion of the house (a duplex in this case). Once again, I called Rabbi Asherman, of Rabbis for Human Rights, who lent his name and stature to our efforts. After a lengthy period of reassuring the soldiers, and pressuring them with hostile press coverage, they finally opened the door a crack, and I was able to persuade them to let me bring up some food for the family, which we had brought for this purpose. When I brought the food back up the stairs, one of the soldiers indicated that I could enter; although naturally hesitant, I wanted to check on the

The other negotiator and I retreated to the street to rejoin the team, only to find that we were all confronted by soldiers spilling out of two Humvees around thirty feet to our left. The news crew (four courageous men with small, digital video cameras) were about thirty feet to our right, filming both us and the soldiers. Forty feet beyond the news team sat the aforementioned tank, with its barrel pointing right at all of us. While the soldiers shouted at us to stop, our team walked at a quick but controlled pace toward the news team and (thus) the tank. When we reached the news team, we turned left onto the intersecting road and hurried away. The news team, who held their ground and made our escape possible, caught up with us after a few blocks, loaded us in their SUV, and quickly drove away until we could be confident that the soldiers wouldn’t catch us. Today, our team revisited the two houses, hoping the soldiers would be gone. This turned out to be the case, and we spoke with both families, who were (as usual) unbelievably hospitable, despite their recent trauma. In the first house, the family consisted of a middle-aged couple, three young girls and two young boys, most of whom spoke English with varying ease; everyone was extremely friendly and courteous and, although the children were pretty shy, it wasn’t hard to coax some smiles. We were told that, while the soldiers didn’t physically assault the family, or explicitly threaten them, they were very angry and intimidating, and everyone was extremely frightened. As appears to be standard procedure, all members of the completely innocent family were held against their will in a small, single room of their own home.

When the soldiers first seized the house (a large number initially invaded and 11 stayed), they piled much of the family’s furniture against walls and windows, and overturned most of the rest (I have extensive photographs, but the files are too large to email). One soldier, who had served during the Jenin invasion, bragged to this Palestinian family, who were his helpless captives, of the six Palestinians he, personally, had killed during the offensive. Another soldier was about to be discharged, and wanted his picture taken with the husband as a memento, a thought that I, at least, find incredibly repellant. At one point, the wife began reading the Koran, but her holy book, along with whatever sense of security it might have brought her, was taken from her without explanation. When the soldiers finally left, they stole a quantity of the children’s clothing (I forgot to ask f

At the second house, the father was absent, and the devout Muslim mother was alone with her two (possibly three) young daughters and two young sons (the eldest was 11 years old). Once again, we were told that the furnishings were piled against the walls and windows, although the family had the place shining again by the time we arrived. In this case, the mother was permitted to pray, but felt deeply violated by the presence of so many strange men in her home while her husband was away, little protection though he could have offered. When the soldiers finally released the family and left, we were told that they stole $1000 worth of gold bracelets and necklaces, in addition to some cell phones (possibly phone cards, or SIMs; the translator was unsure). I should probably mention that this was an extremely beautiful and tastefully decorated house, and I see no reason to doubt that When we left the house, we ran into several groups of mostly pre-teen children, as we always do during curfew. As usual, for the most part we exchanged ’salaam’s, shook hands, exchanged mutually unintelligible comments, and the like. At one point, however, one of the children happened to catch the translator’s attention while asking me if I was a Christian, a question which I typically wouldn’t understand in the least, and therefore would never answer. This time, however, the question was translated, and... {STOP: ARE YOU HOLDING YOUR BREATH? IS YOUR HEART BEATING A LITTLE FASTER? ARE YOU AFRAID TO HEAR THIS CHILD’S REACTION TO WHO I AM?

I can tell you that all of these things were true of me. Now, I ask you to do the harder thing, and ask yourself whether, whatever the reaction, you honestly believe it was due to some ancient enmity, or ’taught’ hatred absorbed from biased school books, or whether this child’s response to me as a Jew is deeply and legitimately rooted in the fact that his entire young life, and his father’s as well, has been dominated and stunted by Israeli occupation, Israeli tanks, Israeli bulldozers, Israeli helicopters, Israeli soldiers, Israeli rifles, and Israeli tear-gas grenades, paid for by the United States, and that this is everything he knows, everything he has ever known, and, unless we act swiftly, everything he ever will know of Jews. Unreasoning anti-semitism is a frightening thing, but I, at least, find justified anti-semitism indescribably more frightening. The former is a damni ...since I had promised myself that I would never deny who I am, I said, \"I’m Jewish,\" and asked the translator to translate. There was a moment of disbelief, while the six or seven children overhearing tried to make sense of what they had heard. Then several of them made motions as if they were shooting me with machine guns. I explained that I wasn’t Israeli, which the translator gave as soldier, one of the few Arabic words I recognize. The children looked uncertain, a couple still hesitantly pantomiming machine guns, while the others seemed to be expressing disbelief, possibly that there were Jews who weren’t also invading soldiers. At this point, our group needed to move on, and I joined them after a smile and a friendly wave. A couple of the children ran after us a few moments later, apparently having decided that I was all right, after all.

Now, there are two Jews of the eight people currently on our team, and the other one of us, who has been in Jenin for a few months, is known and accepted as a Jew by most of the adults he knows. I am not particularly worried about being targeted as a Jew, even though I haven’t been here long enough to build up the same level of respect. In the almost inconceivably unlikely event that I am wrong, however, please don’t fool yourself: a Palestinian finger could, perhaps, pull the trigger, but the Israeli army bought the gun, and the bullets, and loaded the round into the chamber.

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