the world watched Arafat about to die, the Israeli
army invaded Jenin. Surrounding and closing off the
city for two weeks, they occupied houses to use as
bases, erected roads-blocks, and imposed curfew.
but he explained his neighbours’ houses were both
occupied by the army, and that he could not leave his
home. I offered apologies, but he responded; “It’s ok;
this is normal!”
In occupied Palestine, what is normal and what is not
are very different things to what most of us are used
The Israeli daily newspaper, ‘Haaretz’, reported that,
the week before I arrived in Jenin, Israel soldiers
had shot dead a Palestinian boy “during confrontations
with protesters in a refugee camp in the West Bank
town of Jenin… An Israeli military source said the
soldiers had responded after coming under fire,” the
short news item continued, “but Palestinians said the
protesters were only throwing stones.”
My friend, let’s call him Ahmad, explained that the
boy had been carrying a plastic, toy gun. Ibrahim
Mohammed Ikmeil was just twelve years old. You often
see children here playing ‘Soldiers and Palestinians’
in the refugee camps; usually they all want to be the
soldiers, because they always win.
Ahmad’s five-year-old niece came home from school when
the jeeps arrived on the street, and burst into tears
in fright. She had been kept awake all of the night
before by the soldiers who had occupied the house next
door. Bored and on a night guard, the occupying
soldiers shot out randomly every ten or fifteen
minutes. “Just as you’re dropping off again, they
shoot. Why do they do this?” asked Ahmad.
The journey into Jenin was like a game of cat and
mouse as we tried road after road: all were blocked by
the army. It had just got dark, so everyone wanted to
get back to their families to break the fast of
Ramadan. At one point we turned around, back to the
main road which circles the city, only to find a tank
waiting for us at the end of the road we had just
traveled up… the only option for it was off-road,
through a farm.
“This is the life we are used to”, said Ahmad. We
finally found an unmanned temporary road block, a dirt
mound which Palestinians had partially dismantled
enough to drive over. It was well passed dark by then,
and dangerous to be out on the streets.
“But why should we hide, frightened in our homes? What
can they do to me? Break my bones? Arrest me? Imprison
me? It doesn’t matter.” And with that, we set off to
the other side of town to visit ‘Yusef’.
Yusef’s neighbourhood had also been occupied a couple
of nights back, and several families were made to
stand outside their homes all night. Instead of
gunshots, Yusef’s family had been kept awake all night
by the sound of children crying. He hadn’t left his
home that day, so although we didn’t hang around for
long, he was happy to have visitors.
The streets were virtually empty on the way home. The
few people we did see in town all looked nervously
into the headlights of the car we drove, checking it
wasn’t an army jeep.
Keeping your humanity cannot be easy in such
circumstances. Playing with the young children in the
house the next day, it was easy to see how strong the
family unit becomes during occupation.
What happens when that family unit is torn apart,
though? Ahmad told me that often journalists ask what
he thinks of suicide bombers. “I’m a peaceful man, but
look how they treat us here. If the soldiers came and
killed my niece or my sister, what could I do? What
would I have left? I would probably become a suicide
I wonder how Ibrahim’s family will cope with the loss
of their twelve-year-old son and brother. I wonder if
Israelis really believe that they can continue their
claim to be ‘the good guys’ whilst they kill
twelve-year-olds. No matter how high they build their
wall in this land, if the occupation continues then
the cycle of violence will just go on and on.
Leaving Jenin the same way we came in, the army had
already put the dirt mound back up again, and now cars
had to snake around the olive trees in the adjacent
field. But of course, this is normal.