Socialist Worker

No statistics can convey the terror

by Drew McEwan in Jenin
Issue No. 1793

The kids in Jenin camp look like kids in any deprived area in the world. They have that knowing look in their eyes, a look that says, 'I know something you don't know'-a look of pride, anger and defiance. The eyes of battle hardened veterans that belie their age.

They don't say very much to us as we enter the camp. They just point at the holes in the walls from the Apache helicopter 80mm shells. One of the kids thrusts a twisted, tangled piece of what looks like copper into my hand. Now I know what a full metal jacket means. It is a bullet from a M-16, made in America. The Apache, made in America. The debris of demolished buildings and the small holes created by shrapnel grenades, all made in America. There are the remnants of an invasion of a foreign power-this is the last colonial war.

The kids follow us everywhere through the camp. The older kids occasionally pull them away. Showing the merit that goes with age, they nod as if to say that everything is under control.

The image of a refugee camp doesn't quite fit here. No tents or open sewers, but small houses, narrow streets and the overpowering aura of poverty. But 54 years ago this was a camp of tents and soup kitchens. Jenin camp, like every other camp in the West Bank and Gaza, is hard to distinguish from the city or town that it has attached itself to.

But you always come from the town or the camp. The difference is important because the people who live in these camps consider themselves as refugees-as visitors waiting to go home. To say you come from Jenin would be like accepting the loss of your home. Home for the people of Jenin camp is Haifa or Afula or one of the many villages that are scattered on the other side of the green line.

Some no longer exist, buried under forests of cactus planted, they say, by the Israelis to stop them ever going back. They talk of these places with affection, describing their beauty with the exaggeration that comes from stories told around family circles and never-ending dreams. We have been invited here by the Palestinian Authority, and a vast crowd follows us everywhere we go.

The narrow streets follow the zigzagging pattern of the original tents-hardly broad enough for cars. The Israeli tanks barged their way into the camp three weeks ago, demolishing everything in their path. We pass houses without stairways-only a makeshift ladder for access. Some have been completely destroyed, burned after the soldiers who were billeted there left to go on to Tulkarm.

Electricity cables have been torn up by the earth moving equipment which is as much a part of the terror as the tanks and Apaches. For a week Jenin camp was plunged into darkness as the Israeli defence force conducted its terror campaign. Terror has its own statistics, and there are plenty of statistics that tell the tale.

But no statistics can convey the terror of lying awake, waiting in the darkness for the next round of assaults, house searches, evictions, occupations and murder. Or of the old man who dragged me into the small internal square of his extended family's home to show me where members of his family lay huddled in a small room as grenades were tossed into the open space.

He then opened a door, showed where the mother and children hid from the explosions and pointed to the ceiling. It was crisscrossed with cracks, and was supported here and there with wooden posts. With a motion of his hand he told how the Israelis had thrown grenades over their shoulders as they continued on their rampage further along the street. I tried to imagine what that felt like. I couldn't.

I was in the camp for two hours, and everywhere I went I was dragged into little houses to see the damage left behind. I was accosted by an old woman who spoke to me in Arabic, waving her hands to convey her feelings. 'They are more frightened than we are,' was the translated message.

When the news broke about the murder of the doctor in the Red Crescent ambulance, the BBC said that he had failed to stop at a checkpoint. I saw the ambulance, not at a checkpoint but trapped in a narrow alleyway. They had let it burn for two hours before they would let anybody near it and rescue his charred body.

He is Shaheed, a martyr like the 24 other people who gave their lives in Jenin camp that week.

Before Jenin camp it was Balata, just outside Nablus, and after, Tulkarm, then Qalkilya. A never-ending cycle of terror that was meant to break the resolve of the Palestinians, and force them to the meeting with US General Zinni on their knees.

Now, as I write, the tanks have sealed all the major towns and cities in Palestine and deals abound to bring the peace. From Saudi Arabia they talk about a recognition of Israel and an opening of trade relations with the Arab world-a goal long sought by many Israelis who see a Palestinian 'bantustan' as an achievable and worthwhile goal.

Moshe Dayan, Israeli general of the Arab wars, talked about the continuing subjection of Palestinians and the goal of keeping them 'like drunken cockroaches in a bottle', a subjected workforce for the factories of a dominant Israel. Fodder for the colonial masters.

As I was leaving Jenin camp the kids started shouting at me. 'Kandahar, Kandahar!' they were shouting. I wasn't sure what they were saying but then they started pointing to the ground and the older kids were laughing. 'This is Kandahar,' they said. Later I learned that the kids from Balata camp in Nablus have renamed their camp Tora Bora.

If they ever believed that they could break the will of the Palestinians then this is their message to Zinni, to the Saudis, to Sharon and their American masters.


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Features
Wed 27 Mar 2002, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1793
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