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Letter from Birzeit #6: In Jenin

October 14, 2013
by Maya Rose Goldman Maya Rose Goldman is a third-year student at the University of Chicago, where she studies Human Rights, Anthropology, and Arabic. After a visit to Palestine in the Spring of 2012, she became passionate about understanding the situation in the Occupied Territories and the relationship between Israel and Palestine. In August, she returned to the West Bank to study at Birzeit University, from where she has been writing these letters.

An Intense Day in Jenin

September 22 img_0293Today a group of us made the long trek to Jenin to visit the Jenin Creative Cultural Center, which works with youth and describes itself as using “art and cultural projects to foster peace and justice in the Palestinian occupied territories.” However, the day turned into so much more than that. Yousef, the manager of the center, met us at about 11 a.m. at the governor’s office, where we MET THE GOVERNOR OF JENIN, whose name is Talal Dweikat. We were all just a little bit nervous, especially because the meeting was so unexpected. We then got to speak with him for almost two hours and ask him any questions about Jenin or the occupation, or anything else that came to mind. Yousef acted as translator throughout the entire conversation. It was interesting to compare what the governor said in Arabic (what I could understand of it, at least) with what Yousef translated into English. Here are just a few especially significant moments from the long conversation: - The governor said that some families in Palestine only eat one meal a day, but they still do everything possible to send their children to school. As he put it, “Education before bread,” or التعليم قبل الخبز. - He spent 6 years in Israeli jail before becoming governor, and all of his brothers are either in jail or have been killed. - ”Everyone is affected by the occupation. Walk down a random street in Jenin, and go into the homes of ten families. Each of them will have a martyr, someone injured or in jail.” - ”Because of the wall, families can live thirty meters from each other, but they can’t visit each other. One father’s daughter got married and moved just a few meters away, but they only way he could say hello to her was to wave to her from the roof of his house.” -”Palestine is like a bar of chocolate being eaten by Israel.” - At one point, we were talking about the Right of Return and the two-state versus one-state solution. Someone asked the governor where the Palestinians would live if all of the refugees from Jordan, Lebanon, etc. came back to the country. The response: The settlers will leave and the Palestinians will move back into their original homes. I then pointed out that the Israelis who were born here are not criminals; why should they be pushed out of their homes and made homeless just like the Palestinians were, when they were not the ones who evicted the Palestinians in the first place? Yousef then responded (these were his own words, not something translated from the governor): “That’s not our problem.” img_0299img_0309Afterward, Yousef — and two of the governor’s bodyguards, both of whom had guns in their pockets and let’s just pretend that that didn’t make me at all uncomfortable — drove us to an old water tunnel from about 3000 BCE. He showed us where people would tie up their horses (inside the tunnel!) while they gathered water from the spring, and he showed us a blocked-off tunnel that the excavators predict could go on for another 3km. Just outside was what used to be a railway that led to Lebanon and Jordan. We also got to see some of the pieces that diggers had found in the area. It was all very cool. Afterward, we walked around the old city (I feel like only amazing things happen when you walk through the market of any old section of a city/town) and ended up eating a delicious lunch of hummus, falafel, foul, fried eggplant, and some little salads. Yousef then took us to the Jenin Creative Cultural Center (J3C, as it’s known) and showed us the paintings on the wall as well as some of the pictures hanging. There was a poster of a young boy from the Jenin refugee camp who was killed by the IDF in 2005, and whose father then donated the boy’s organs and saved six Israeli children. “This is what we are taught. This was the message of Jesus, the first Palestinian to be crucified by the Jews.” Yousef then pointed out that people in the Jenin refugee camp can stand on their roofs and see the towns where they used to live. img_0325 img_0322 We then all sat in Yousef’s office and looked at pictures and videos of youth from the center, dancing or acting or doing other artful things. I was so impressed that Yousef could tell us where every single one of these kids was in school now. I thought that was so beautiful, and showed that he had a close relationship with each of them and valued their education and success in life. By this time, it was late and we were all exhausted and ready to go home (especially the Germans with us, who were eager to get back and watch the results of the election), but then we got into the really intense stuff: Yousef began to show us images of Jenin during the Second Intifada. We saw destroyed homes and fields, groups of Israeli tanks, and we heard stories of people who were crushed in their homes when the IDF wouldn’t let family members retrieve them (this particular story was about a man in a wheelchair who was left to die in his home) before they bulldozed the house. In this story, the family later dug and dug through the rubble, but all they could find was the man’s wheelchair. We saw these images and heard these stories for over an hour, until we really couldn’t take it anymore. It was all so overwhelming. Finally, we told Yousef that we had to go home, but that we would return in October for the cultural festival in Jenin (which was supposed to be this week, but was postponed due to the IDF murdering a 22-year-old man from the refugee camp a few days ago — everyone should look up the story of what happened to Islam al-Tubasi). img_0323I fell asleep at some point during the last leg of our one-and-a-half-hour trip back to Ramallah. Near the end, I woke up suddenly, startled by the sound of a loud bang. I turned around to ask my roommate what happened, if it was just fireworks. The driver turned to me and shook his head: “Al-jaysh al-Israeli, the Israeli army.” My roommate explained that we had just passed a refugee camp, and passing us in the other direction were two IDF trucks, driving slowly. There was a group of teenage boys at the edge of the camp, and as the trucks began to pass, they started throwing stones at the trucks. The soldiers then shot (I’m not sure what they shot, though) in the boys’ direction, which also happened to be our direction. Everyone who was awake on the bus said they saw the flash. So here I am, trying to calm my nerves after this long and kind of emotional day. I have officially been here four weeks now, and I’m really starting to feel the difficulty of it. Today was intense, and I know it will be one of many intense days, but it was also a beautiful day, full of kind, honest people and mountains covered in lush foliage. It’s important to always remember the positives and not get hung up on events that can only lead to anger and sadness. The governor talked about the challenge of instilling hope and peacefulness in the Palestinian youth, and I really don’t know how people here manage to accomplish such a thing, but maybe they can teach me. Click here for all Maya’s Letters from Birzeit.