home has flowers. "It's because we want to show
that we still find beauty in spite of all the difficult
conditions," explains Im Ayman. But I suspect
the tradition pre-dates Israel's oppression. It must
have its roots in the ancient gardens of peasants
and urban classes alike, in a common appreciation
of nature's gifts. And they are reproduced in profusion:
red and yellow roses complete with dew drops in a
ceramic bowl, pink flowers in a basket with the handle
as a halo, apricot blossoms amid deep green leaves
in a white ceramic shell, delicate yellow petals adorning
the inside of a large cutaway jug.
are everywhere, in living rooms, on the school principal's
desk, as a backdrop in the photography studio, and
hanging from the rear-view mirror of the taxi. One
young man's white sportscar-to-die-for has a sleek
black interior free of any ornamentation save a single
red rose at the glove compartment. Climbing roses
in twin frames deck Siham's kitchen wall. In another
home, twin martyrs look out from a hinged double frame,
each boy's photo graced by an oversized red flower
between the portrait and the glass.
the Eid al-Fitr holiday when the faithful proceeded
to the cemetery after the prayer in the destroyed
area of the Camp, I heard that the twins' graves were
"like a garden" with all the flowers people
brought. One night their brother-in-law is crafting
a wreath in the wee hours when the house is still,
and I marvel at the fabric flowers he weaves into
his design. He assures me they are easy to find in
day, a boy in the alley insists that I come in NOW
to meet his family. They have the biggest teapot I
have ever seen but tell me this is nothing compared
to the tea arrangements they improvised during the
Big Invasion in April. With over thirty people in
the house and limited kitchen supplies, they made
tea in a huge square baking pan over coals, and drank
and endured together. Their descriptions are so funny
that I dub this the House of Laughter.
a daughter, engaged to be the co-wife of a man from
town, speaks of going to work, I ask about her activities.
"I work in roses," is what the words seem
to say, but I do not compute the answer. Yes, roses.
I mention Daoud's wreath with the portrait in the
middle. Yes, he had been in to buy roses, and they
are glad to hear of the result.
take me upstairs to a splendid store-room filled with
a rainbow of roses. It is heavenly, even if fragrance
free. I feel I have unveiled a mystery: So this is
where all the roses come from to adorn every possible
corner of each domicile and workplace in Jenin. As
I decline the insistent offer to be an overnight guest
in the House of Laughter, another daughter gives me
a blue rose as a parting gift. I tell her of my sister's
blue-roses wallpaper when we were growing up, but
don't mention our family's loss of this dear one.
The blue rose is an unexpected remembrance of a gentle
living room typifies trends found in many. Decorations
are sparse but appropriate: a framed verse of the
Qur'an, a flowery ornament on the wall, an artificial
tree full of red roses, and a photograph of the daughter
who died in her teens. She is standing in front of
an expanse of red flowers. The picture was taken at
the sea in the days when they could travel inside,
i.e., into Israel. A teenage son takes this opportunity
to show me his recent photos, one of which features
his arms. "Nice?" he asks. "I took
the photos because maybe I will be martyred."
"May you live!" I reply, and his mother
nods emphatically with a smile that expresses more
relief than cheer.
remembrance - you never know when you'll be martyred,"
explains a high school student as he waits his turn
in the photography studio. People don't usually use
the word "die/maat" or "pass away/tuwuffiya."
The word employed is "to become a martyr/istashhad"
and it applies to anyone who is killed, including
innocent children and elders. A sign declares that
no portraits will be taken with weapons - no exceptions!
of the memorial posters of men in the resistance show
them posing with a weapon, probably taken with a home
camera. "You should have been here last night,"
laments Fatima, "we all took photos together
with the martyrs." The gallery of the family's
six martyrs from six-year old to grandmother is still
on the wall, where the living family members had posed
for family holiday pictures.
is always brisk in the photography studio -- schoolgirls,
some women, babies, fathers with children, and especially
young men having their image graven as a remembrance
for those who love them. Protecting the memory of
a loved one in better days is a practical measure.
Siham had seen her uncle just a half hour before a
house was bombed on top of him. She quietly describes
the horrific scene of bodily disfigurement, although
his companion left only unrecognizable fragments.
A poster of her uncle cradling the infant son he had
seen just four times meets the gaze of Siham and her
husband in a red heart frame crafted by a friend in
her own two-year-old tries out new words, Siham elaborates
on the terror tactics of the enemy with its high toll
of children. "If I were to undertake a martyrdom
operation and I saw a child or an elder nearby, I
would turn back and say I cannot do it." It takes
me a moment to realize that she is indeed putting
herself in this hypothetical situation. She is not
involved in any social, political, or resistance organization.
operations" have gone beyond the policy or control
of any group or leader; they have become part of the
everyday vocabulary of living under Occupation. This
is Siham's personal reaction to the horrors she has
experienced. Meanwhile, her little girl's white teddy-bear
sits contentedly with his heart-shaped red paws. Every
home has hearts, the symbol loved almost as much as
day the electricity is out in the greater Jenin area,
including the nearby colonies/settlements, as Israel
overhauls the lines. The photo studio glows with battery-powered
light from red and white hearts on the table. Rashid
is meticulous in all aspects of the business, and
the little blue outline of a heart on his hand darts
back and forth as he rearranges the desk.
men have this little heart tattoo, usually between
thumb and forefinger, and sometimes accompanied by
the English phrase, "I love you." In my
homeland, they would be considered sentimental. And
these are the men on whom the warplanes, helicopter
gunships, and tyrranosaurus tanks of the mighty Israeli
army focus as collective targets. Close up, the munitions
seem out of proportion to these heart-loving men and
hearts occupy each corner of the membership certificate
from "Love and Relationships Corporation"
whose Director lists his mobile phone as a contact
number. After the deaths of his older brothers, this
high school student was talking everyday of martyrdom,
"How about it, Tahani. Let's become martyrs together!"
"May you live," I replied, and I am glad
that he is living with a more sentimental project.
But he misses his brothers and is sure they have a
peace that he does not.
his brothers martyred and his father far away - like
the children's song - he is called upon to keep order
in the home. "You can't go out today without
Zayd's permission," says their mother. "Tahani,
are you going out today?" They laugh when I reply,
"If Zayd permits." But I feel free to exit
the typical metal front door.
first time I saw the heart grill-work was on bullet-riddled
doors of a home that suffered rocket attacks in the
April Invasion. Next to the hearts were spray-painted
stars of David with the Hebrew letter "b"
in the center. But Camp residents also use spray paint
on various walls with messages honoring martyrs: "Munir
is in our heart."
keep memories alive and flowers keep hearts fresh.
One early morning at the Red Crescent ambulance division,
I walk across a field toward the rising sun. I have
passed this field many times, but never ventured off
the path. At the far end, I discover a hidden garden,
complete with a tree, not a bush, of red roses. I
glory in their rich perfume, and return to the ambulances
remembering the intoxicating fragrance of sun-drenched
red roses, I decide to replay the pleasure and pay
another visit to the secret garden. As I head across
the untended expanse of overgrown grasses bounded
by cement barriers with "cooperation" and
"peace" spray painted on them, an ambulance
sweeps into the drive, and I hear my name. I turn
to see the sunny smile of Muhammad, whom I always
associate with songs. He led the midnight singing
and table-top drumming with ambulance staff one balmy
night, a charmed evening of spontaneous entertainment
that came to an abrupt halt when the Palestinian Liaison
Office phoned the Red Crescent to retrieve two corpses
the Israeli Army was holding. One was Muhammad's cousin,
shot in the jaw at close range, so Muhammad rode in
the ambulance to bring the bodies.
today he is smiling and calling across the field,
"Tahani! There are bombs there!"
further explanation, but I forego visiting the roses.
Perhaps I will go to the photography studio instead.
Annie C. Higgins specializes in Arabic and Islamic
issues, and is conducting research in Occupied Palestine.
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