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Security in Jenin, a Jewish American perspective

ISM Updates 09/23/03: Security in Jenin, from a Jewish American perspective

Security in Jenin, from a Jewish American perspective

Jenin 24 Sep 03 Aaron {NOTE TO THE READER: Feel free to use excerpts, etc, as you deem it appropriate. Please keep in mind, however, that my focus is on educating the American Jewish community about the terrible costs of the occupation. Spinning or using material out of context in order to increase impact could potentially undermine my credibility with the Jewish community and, thus, my effectiveness in advocating for withdrawal. Thx - Aaron}

Well, it has been an interesting couple of days. I’ll give the ’highlights’ in this email (seems like a perverse word to use for occupation and oppression), but the details, photos, etc., will have to wait till I return. For anyone who’s even worse at Mid-East geography than I, Jenin is a large town of around 100,000 (just my guess) located in the northern West Bank.

Early yesterday morning, Jenin was again hit with a military lockdown. I always thought the word ’curfew’ referred to a particular time (probably at dusk) when everybody had to be off the streets. It turns out that, over here, it means that nobody can move outside of their home for an indefinite period without a fairly serious risk of being gunned down. Serious enough, at any rate, that the adult Palestinian population is nearly invisible. The children, unfortunately, are impossible to contain, and chase after tanks and armored personnel carriers (APCs) throwing rocks. When the vehicles turn their guns on the children (tanks have huge cannon, and APCs have .50 caliber machine guns), they run away to try again later. I can say with absolute certainty that this activity isn’t staged for the benefit of the press. There is apparently only one news team in all of Jenin, in addit

The ISM team of which I’m a part spends a great deal of its time maintaining an international presence on the street, hopefully discouraging the soldiers from firing on the Palestinians. This is particularly important during the beginning of ’curfew’, when the Israelis appear to be more tense, the kids are more defiant, and (most critically) there are lots of adult civilians still trying to get home, make one last purchase (or sale), etc. While observing, I’ve had a tank cannon pointed straight at me from about 25 feet away, and I can assure everyone that, particularly taken together with the dark, the huge size of the tank, and the tremendous noise it makes, it is a genuinely frightening experience. It says a great deal about the lives of these children that ’tank-chasing’ has become almost a game to them, despite the large numbers who have been injured and even killed. I sho

The Palestinian people really are as friendly and hospitable as rumor makes them. This would be remarkable in any case, but, under the circumstances, it is almost inconceivable. One of our challenges is to be about our business without being drowned in tea (which I don’t like) and Arabic coffee (which I truly loathe) every time we say ’Salaam’ to someone. I’m exaggerating a bit here, but only just. Early yesterday afternoon, we asked a man for directions; he offered to lead us (we thought), but it turned out he was taking us to his house, where we were: a) fed a three course ’snack’ with two rounds of tea and one of juice, b) introduced to everyone in the family, c) shown every drawing ever made by their eldest daughter (who’s at university somewhere in Egypt, I think).

Late yesterday afternoon, four of our group went to check on the family in a house that had been occupied by the Israeli Army to use as a sniper outpost during the current ’curfew’. Two people waited at a distance, while a female team member and I rang and knocked for ages without a response; finally a man appeared on the stairs and told us that there were no soldiers in the house. We asked him to come down, or let us into the house, but he said that he had no coffee to offer us (you probably have to be here to get how utterly impossible this is). After a great deal more knocking and ringing, we finally got a soldier to come to the stairs. We told him that we wanted to check on the family, and obtain the release of the women and small children. There followed yet another long period of us calling into the house, while the soldiers (this time) told us to go away. Finally, two

Today we went back to the house to try again, and found that the soldiers had left. The family (of course) invited us in and gave us Arabic coffee, although, thankfully, I was able to persuade them I genuinely preferred cold water. {We arrived unannounced, by the way, and the information that follows was obtained in separate rooms from the husband and his sister (due to the local customs, the men and women spoke separately, although the sister’s English was far better, and we suspect she had a superior education in other respects, as well). The stories matched well, without any hint of dissembling.} The soldiers had kept the entire family in a single room for the entire 16, or so, hours. Most of the house’s furniture had been dragged against the outfacing walls, and firing holes were slashed in almost all of the screens. Every blanket in the house had been used to cover the

This same family has suffered unbelievably from the occupation, not to mention the founding of the State of Israel. In 1948, they farmed 600 dunum (150 acres) in Haifa; they fled Haifa to the Jenin area, where they started farming 300 dunum (75 acres) of absolutely miserable, rocky soil. As noted above, about 100 dunum were then seized for a settlement, leaving them with 125 acres. During the Jenin resistance, three of their children were shot and killed while gathering flowers on their own land. Since that time, two of their five houses have been demolished for building permit violations (briefly, building permits for Palestinians are almost never granted). The family is vehement that none of the adults, or children, have ever participated in, or been accused of, any militant activity, although it’s hard for me to imagine why. Certainly, the grandmother and her sister, the Obviously, this was another long email, but I suspect that this time I needn’t worry about it being boring. I hope everyone’s having a good time, and getting ready for a great New Year. I also hope, however, that you’ll take a minute to remember the people of Jenin, whose entire town may well be held at gunpoint straight through the holiday in order to ensure a peaceful and secure experience for the Israeli Jews.

Shana Tova,


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