I knew that my trip to Jenin, a town in the North of the West Bank, was only a matter of time. However, time seemed to have found me instead of the other way around. My host organization has a local coordinator in Jenin, but I couldn’t get in touch with her to arrange my trip. Instead I was almost forced to go to the city with a girl named Mai, who is originally from Jenin camp and who participated in WATC’s training of young leaders. Mai is a vivid example of how Palestinian hospitality can border on something rather aggressive and pushy.
Our trip started early in the morning, but we couldn’t find a direct bus to Jenin. The night before there was violence in the camp with one Palestinian killed and two Israeli soldiers wounded. To give a little bit of a background to the place I should say that the North of the West Bank is generally considered the area of higher unrest and insurgencies than Ramallah and its vicinities.
To add to the security dilemma you have a refugee camp near the town of Jenin, inhabited by the Palestinians who were forced out of Jaffa, Nazareth and other towns after 1948. These are the embittered people who feel they face more grievances and afflictions than other West Bankers. The camp has a higher level of poverty and unemployment, lower level of education and morale, a penetrating feeling of hopelessness and despair and as a result a higher level of violence.
The day of my trip there was an increased level of security in the North and we had to pass through five check points and change two buses before we got to Jenin. The camp has a hard-hitting effect on a newcomer from the very beginning: narrow dusty streets, piles of rubble, dilapidated and bombed down houses, and very few people walking around.
Mai’s family gave me a warm welcome, but I was impatient to get going and see the place. I know I didn’t have much time – I was advised to leave the camp before 5pm, that is before the unwritten curfew and possible incursions. My hosts were kind enough to take me around and tell me all the local stories. We were, by the way, heading to see the family of the “shaheed”, a 24-year old man killed on Monday night. This meant I would experience a Palestinian mourning before a Palestinian wedding.
Now when I think back to yesterday’s events I try to figure out what I could have done to mentally prepare myself, but I really don’t know what would make me less vulnerable to the camp realia.
My hosts took me to the places where the Palestinian fighters were killed (they knew all the names of them too!) – bullet-ridden cars, demolished houses, hide-outs.
I was preoccupied looking at the camp walls all covered in shaheed pictures before I paid attention to Mai’s little brother, who was vigorously pointing at something on the ground. When I lowered my eyes it took me a minute to realize that the white stones, which are so characteristic of Palestinian buildings, in this particular camp had red marks of dried blood on them. Out of all thoughts mine was that these streets would never get cleaned…
I knew I was the only foreigner to enter the house of that particular shaheed. In fact I guessed I might be the first foreigner some of the women there had ever met. It made me very conscious. The room was full of women – family, relatives, neighbors – sitting on the floor along the walls. We offered our condolences to the mother (a few Arabic lines I memorized right before entering the house) and found our seats. At once we were served bitter black coffee (a Palestinian tradition) and explained who we were and what we were doing. The mother addressed me first, and only after that I had the courage to ask her my questions. We talked a short while and then got up to leave because some of the neighbors started to cast side-glances at us and were obviously distracted from the actual mourning. No pictures were allowed, of course. As we were leaving we heard several angry women say that I might be a spy, for all they knew. Mai said to ignore those, but I got the impression they were not the only closed-minded and over-conservative inhabitants of the camp.
I didn’t stay in Jenin much longer, though I did leave later than planned. The driver had to take back roads to avoid the check points. We drove through olive gardens and I was glad I had a couple of hours to digest the events of the day. I was crushed by the spirit of violence in the camp. I was sad to see how sure the mothers were that their sons would be in heaven for killing Israeli soldiers. I was disconcerted by the fact that little children in the camp are growing up on the stories of martyrs hoping one day to become ones. I am against violence in all forms! It’s not ok for children to have such dream and it is surely not the way to build peace.
I have to say I was very happy to get to Ramallah (for a moment I thought it was my place of sanity), the center of good local and international work and powerful ideas for a better future.
Posted By Tatsiana Hulko
Posted Jul 5th, 2007