wish," Islah says with a smile. Her mother has
just told me that I would have been attending the
House of Mourning/Bayt Ajr for her "if not for
the Army officer stopping the soldier mid-aim."
"May you live," I say to Islah, and she
smiles again. She is in the top of her high school
class, loves poetry, and is uninvolved politically.
would you like to be a martyr?" asks Imm Nabil,
bathed in morning light as she lies on her mattress
under the window, recovering from an operation. She
tells me how the present world pales in significance
to the Hereafter, and being killed is no shame for
I want to have an operation," says a little boy
to his father. "Why? You aren't sick." "No,
I want to do an operation against the Army."
("Do" and "have" use the same
verb in Arabic.) His father is surprised at this;
he himself has never thought or spoken of such a thing
to his five-year-old. The man explains to himself
as much as to me, that the youngsters have never seen
the more positive times with Israelis that their elders
have. The children see the Israeli Army's destruction
every day - destruction of human lives, destruction
of material things, destruction of movement and destruction
constant destruction has planted in me a great desire
to find a peaceful place where I can learn to build.
The neighbors have just finished building an addition
onto the house, and the tiler is laying the new floor.
I ask him to show me how he does it, and then, with
no shame, I ask to try it myself. He guides me and
praises my attempt, but takes up my tile. I try again
with more coaching, but it needs another dollop of
sand and cement. Even so, it is a little bit of a
little dream fulfilled, and the constructiveness brings
a breath of peace.
of this destruction, and developing technology in
order to destroy; what good does it do?" asks
the shopkeeper who has every color of thread and every
shape of button imaginable. His shop is like a trip
into history; he has resisted suggestions to modernize
because he feels there is value in historical things,
even the cabinets. He speaks of Egypt's Pharaohs,
whose contribution of construction has lasted the
ages, puzzling modern engineers. "They took time
to think, and then acted. Their method is superior
to our quick reactions."
do foreigners have bigger imaginations than we do?"
asks Yumna when I draw a long-legged stick-man's shadow.
Her sister has asked for help in depicting shadows.
Yumna's question is a good one. I tell her that maybe
it is because we don't do so much memorization at
school. Since we don't know the answers to questions,
we have to use our imaginations to make them up. It
makes me wonder how our American education system,
which teaches us to ask questions, has produced a
nation so willing to believe without question what
they are told in illogical news broadcasts.
America, people believe that everything they hear
in the news is true," laughs Muhammad. "Here,
even an eight-year-old knows to question what he hears
in the news!"
of them are good, aren't they?" affirms eight-year-old
Mustafa with a question. "Half of the soldiers
are good," he tells me from the balcony overlooking
the main entrance to Jenin Refugee Camp. He is home
from school again because the tanks threatened the
children at the Primary School. Again. He tells of
instances of the soldiers' humanity, talking with
the children in the Camp, and of the military guards
giving him a banana after repeated body searches when
he went to visit his brother in the notoriously harsh
is the first time I have heard the proportion of good
soldiers identified as a full half. But along with
the accounts of killings and desecration, people of
all ages and classes have expressed the idea that
some of the soldiers are good and are at the mercy
of their superiors.
I had an airplane, I wouldn't fly over Israel. I would
attack the Arab countries first, for ignoring us in
our plight," says a creative and upbeat university
long for the day that Saudi Arabia is occupied by
Israel," says a journalist who has been wounded
twice while wearing a vest and helmet clearly-marked
'PRESS.' "Let them experience what we have endured
all these years while they ignore us."
at what he calls a "laundry list" of Israel's
attacks on civilians and infrastructure in Occupied
Khalil/Hebron, the Middle East Editor of an American-based
international newspaper derides the photographic evidence
as "a convenient catalogue" for international
journalists. He hopes the situation isn't as bad as
it sounds, and concludes that things aren't so bad
after a brief stroll in the street.
can imagine the intensity of the Khalil official he
met. I have encountered it many times, along with
the urgent desire -- sometimes a plea, sometimes a
demand to "get our story to the world! Tell them
what is happening!" With this particular newspaper's
reputation for fairness that often ran counter to
the crowd, the Khalil mayor probably felt this was
his chance to get someone to take him seriously, and
was intent on presenting all of his evidence. The
crimes of the Occupation are overwhelming when you
hear of them. Imagine living them.
Mayor's presentation and Editor's response brought
to my mind the image of a man struggling against an
undertow and calling desperately to someone on shore,
whereupon the potential rescuer responds casually,
"Trouble with water? Some people can swim"
and walks away.
bland carelessness is alarming because we are dealing
with human lives and with major international issues
on the cusp of a worldwide crisis. The crowning glory
of the Editor's Khalil/Hebron diary entry is that
any solution here will have to keep the Israeli colonist
(settler) safe, or within Israeli borders. No mention
of keeping even one Palestinian safe. Or of Israel's
refusal to define borders and stay within them.
sheds light on why my repeated pleas to these editors
to ask critical questions and to provide context have
been ignored. Is ignore-ance the same as ignorance?
we blame Israel, we have to clean up our own house,
first, right?" says Majdi with a big smile, and
no rancor. "We have to get rid of the spies amongst
ourselves." That was weeks before a score of
local spies, including some schoolgirls, were rounded
up. There was talk of executions, but a life-preserving
judgment prevailed. "What good would it do to
execute him?" says one father regarding the spy
who led the Israeli Air Force to exterminate his son.
"These young people are just being used. It is
the ringleaders who matter."
are Muslim on their identity card only," says
the mother of the collaborators who led the Army to
assassinate her son.
spies gave the Israelis the wrong information,"
laughs Islah's mother. They stormed the house where
they thought they would find their wanted man, and
instead found two men drinking coffee. But she is
serious in her relief that the soldier did not shoot
immediately when he saw Islah peering out at the commotion
from behind the window blinds.
the neighbor building the house addition mentions
"Israeli Arabs," I question the term, as
I do each time I hear it: "They are Palestinians;
why do you say 'Israeli Arabs'?" He agrees that
some identifications need to be specified correctly,
but instead picks up on the term 'Israeli': "When
I say the name, 'Israel,' I can only have respect.
I should not use derogatory language. Israel is the
name of God's people." He is enthused when I
refer to Banu Isra'il/The Children of Israel in the
Qur'an. "Yes, that is Israel!"
greet some young men hanging out in the evening across
from the destroyed Hawashin neighborhood, the bald
hill of hard reddish dirt. To my question, "How
are you?" they respond, as people do in every
circumstance, "Praise God." But they speak
of having no jobs - the UN won't hire them unless
they have four children. I tell them to look for brides
quickly! They have no place to go and cannot even
visit relatives in neighboring villages. A few of
my ideas for small sparks of self-expression are met
with, "Who will listen?" They miss their
shahid/martyr friends. "They are enjoying themselves.
They are in heaven. We are still here on earth."
"May you live," I say.
I come home, the women are stuffing zamatat leaves,
like grape leaves. "If there is a war, will Tahani
go back to America?" one neighbor asks. "No,
she will stay here and die with us," says my
hostess, looking up from her work and smiling. "Yes,"
I say, smiling, and forgetting my usual, "May
we are settling onto our floor-level mattresses for
the night, Raghda kisses me on the four diamond-points
of my face, "That's how you kiss a shahid/martyr
on the bier!" She has experience with a number
of family members. She then requests her favorite,
a Welsh lullaby whose refrain, in one version, says,
"All, all is well."
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