April 17, we entered the Jenin camp for a third time,accompanied by
met Thawra the night we first entered Jenin. She came into the crowded,
makeshift clinic organized by Palestinian Medical Relief Committee
workers, cradling Ziad, an 18 day old infant born on the first night
of the attack against Jenin. Like most of the young Palestinian workers
volunteering with the Medical Relief Committee, she wore ahijab and
blue jeans. She had slept very little in the past ten days, working
constantly to assist refugees from the camp. Her fiancée, Mustafa,
was missing. Many people whispered to us that they were sure he was
killed inside the Jenin camp, but that Thawra still hoped he was alive.
was Thawra's first chance to find out what had happened to her
home. She and her family lived on the first floor of a three story building.
Mustafa lived on the third floor.
the camp, we noticed spray painted images that Israeli soldiers must
have made the night before. On the entrance gate to one building, in
blue paint, was a stick figure image of a little girl holding the Israeli
flag... Next to it was a star of David with an exclamation point inside
Israeli soldiers preparing to leave the house they had occupied. Five
soldiers and an Armoured Personnel Carrier positioned themselves to
protect a soldier as he walked out of the house carrying the garbage.
"Five soldiers and an APC to take out the trash," said Jeff.
"That's a sure sign that something is radically wrong."
the homes at the edge of the camp are somewhat intact, although doors,
windows and walls are badly damaged by tank shells and Apache bullets.
Each home that we entered was ransacked. Drawers, desks and closets
were emptied. Refrigerators were turned over, light fixtures pulled
out of the walls, clothing torn.
of the stories women told me, earlier that morning, about Israeli soldiers
entering their homes with large dogs that sniffed at the children as
neighbors fled from explosions, snipers, fires and the nightmare chases
will take a very long time.
climbed higher, entering the demolished center of the camp where close
to 100 housing units have been flattened by Israeli Defense Forces,
we heard snipers shooting at a small group of men who had come to pull
bodies from the rubble. Covered with dust and sweat, and seemingly oblivious
to the gunshots, the men, all residents from the camp, pursued the grim
task. With pickaxes and shovels, they dug a mass grave. They pulled
four bodies out of the rubble, including that of a small child. Little
boys stood still, silently watching. One of the many soldiers who stopped
us as we walked into Jenin City, several days earlier, told us there
were no children in the camp during the attack. That was a lie. But
now I wonder if it may have become a strange truth. The concerned frowns
on the little boy's faces belonged to hardened men.
boy, perhaps 10 or 11 years old, helped carry his father's corpse
to the mass grave.
down on a rock and shook his head. "After September 11, I drove
toward New York City, and all along the highway carloads of volunteer
firemen sped past me, coming from all over the country, to help at Ground
Zero. Here, bullets paid for by US taxpayers are being fired on people
simply trying to bury their dead."
trudged single file, silently, uphill through the debris, carrying their
belongings on their heads. Their faces were wracked with grief. One
woman carried an infant in her arms. No one spoke as they approached
the hilltop. At the top of the hill, in front of a house that was still
somewhat intact, a large family was seated as though posed for a family
photograph, surrounded by devastation.
led us to what was once her home. The house is still standing, but every
other house in the area is completely demolished. She quickly collected
some clothes, then went to the third floor and returned holding Mustafa's
blue jeans in her arms. Her eyes welled with tears. We began to wonder
if she had lost all hope of finding Mustafa.
her home, we met 8 year old Ahmad. He had found six shiny, small bullets
which he showed to his neighbor, Mohammed Abdul Khalil. Mohammed is
a 42 year old mason, also trained as an accountant. Having worked in
Brazil and Jordan, he now speaks four languages. In Spanish, he told
me that he built many kitchens in this area. Mohammed nodded kindly
feet away, Hitan, age 20, and Noor, age 16, dug through the debris with
their bare hands to retrieve some few belongings. Hitan found a favorite
jacket, torn and covered with dust. She fingered the pockets, then set
it aside. Noor laughed as she unearthed a matching pair of shoes. Then
Hitan saw the edge of a textbook and the sisters began vigorously digging
and tugging until they pulled out five battered and unusable books.
Noor held up her public health textbook. Hitan clutched The History
of Islamic Civilization.
see these girls, they are laughing and seem playful," said, Mohammed,
again speaking in Spanish. "It is, you know, a coping mechanism.
How else can they manage what they feel?" Hitan stood and pointed
emphatically at the small hole she and Noor had dug. "You know,"
she exclaims, "underneath here, there are four televisions and
two computers! All gone. Finished."
stared sadly, then persisted with her search for information about Mustafa.
Mohammed if he knew a man sorting through a huge mound of rubble next
to where we stood. 'He is my cousin. That was our home. He wants to
find his passport or his children's documents." Mohammed's cousin
then sat down on top of the heap that was once his home, holding his
head in his hands.
surveillance plane flew overhead.
are clear," said Mohammed. "We are not animals. We are people
with hearts and blood, just like you. I love my son. I want the life
for my family. What force do we have here? Is this a force?" He
pointed to the wreckage all around us. "Do we have the atomic bomb?"
"Do we have anthrax?"
walked away, Jeff pointed at another bone sticking out of the debris.
We stepped gingerly around it. Thawra dipped down to pick up a veil
lying on the ground, then paused a moment and placed it over the bone.