time I saw Mus`ab, he was holding a tire in a tub
of dirty water checking it for leaks. The auto repair
shop is on the Burqin Road between the two main entrances
to Jenin Refugee Camp. Mus`ab left high school at
age sixteen to provide for the family, because Israel
has imprisoned his father without cause in so-called
administrative detention since their invasion of the
Camp in April 2002.
had been inviting me repeatedly to visit his family
in Burqin village, to which they had relocated after
their house was destroyed, like hundreds of homes
in the Hawashin and Damaj areas of the Camp. I had
rescheduled a couple of times, and this time told
him I was going away for a bit, but would be back.
He insisted I must come for dinner as soon as I returned.
was one of the first people I met on my first trip
to Jenin Camp in June 2002. He had stopped by the
home of friends a little way up the hill, where I
was enjoying a starry evening on the upper-story verandah.
A few days later I saw him outside/inside a home at
the lower edge of the destroyed area. He was in what
should be the inner front room of the house, but with
the wall shaved off, the entire room was exposed to
the outside. The steps were missing also, so I climbed
up the broken concrete foundation to enter the home.
His mother greeted me so warmly, and introduced me
to his aunt and cousins, including one stocky young
boy who could be my own cousin with his red hair and
freckles. I sat on a chair facing the rubble of the
bulldozed homes, that cataclysmic panorama that the
eye grasps long before the intellect does, while the
poor heart straggles behind, never quite catching
up to how something like this could happen, never
fully believing the evidence of the eyes and the mind.
mother brought me coffee and joined me, intermittently
answering calls on her mobile phone as the lawyer
communicated his futile attempts to talk with her
husband in prison. Mus`ab's little sister, about four
years old, audibly expressed her desire to go with
him as he jumped off the inside floor to the outside
ground. His mother asked him to take her along on
his errand. I was so touched by what happened next,
though not surprised. With a typical Arab man's tenderness
toward children, he turned around and lifted her from
the floor to the security of his embrace, kissed her,
and she went proudly off, shoulder to shoulder with
her big brother.
was surprised when his mother told me he was only
fifteen. He seemed older, but she said the boys grow
up fast here, and she wished he would be more of a
child in listening to her. It seemed a fairly typical
complaint from the mother of a teenager. She joked
about the view from the open wall. This gave me courage
to ask if she would take a photo of me with the rubble
in the background. It was a documentary shot, but
I did not want to pour salt on the wound by focusing
on the destruction. However, it's not something you
can hide easily, and people don't seem sensitive about
it. This was the only photo of me in the Camp, and
it was among the many pictures that did not come out
in the development process. Im Mus`ab/Mus`ab's mother
pointed out the direction where their house had been.
When the Israeli Army was bulldozing homes, the family
took refuge with relatives in the relative safety
of this house across the street. The marathon bulldozing
operation crushed the box of toys Mus`ab's little
sister cherished, including her favorite plaything
-- her toy bulldozer.
another day I was so grateful that Im Mus`ab appeared
just as I was walking by the house. I only had a little
further to go to reach the home where I was staying,
but a walk to town under a very hot sun had affected
me. It was a great relief to enter the shade of the
open front room, and even moreso to enter the inner
room where the overhead fan transported me to another
atmosphere. As I rested, and they brought me cool
water followed by hot coffee from freshly roasted
beans, Im Mus`ab told me about her trip to town. She
wanted her little girl to choose some new toys to
replace those lost in the toy box in their destroyed
house, so she took her to a shop and showed her all
the dolls and fuzzy animals and cute child-appealing
things. Finally, the little girl chose a tank and
some other military toys. The mother was deflated
to see this, and finally compromised with some colorful
little serving trays. I didn't understand how those
could count as toys, but then saw they can be used
for playing house and serving guests. Like other mothers
I have spoken with, she felt that the worst effect
of the Army's invasion was not the material destruction,
but the feeling of vulnerability that leaves children
seeking protection and strength in every direction,
even in their games. The trays were very appealing,
bright oranges and pinks reminiscent of sixties styles
in a kind of abstract garden.
Mus`ab showed me how they had been sequestered in
the back room of the house, while the Army stationed
themselves in the house next door. Occasionally, one
brave family member would wend his way to a front
window to report on what was taking place, but the
danger of being shot near a window was very high.
This gave answers to my questions as to why people
stayed in dangerous areas during the invasion. What
else could they do? When you hear shooting, shelling,
and walls falling all around you, you don't know where
they are precisely, but you do know that you will
be a target of the munitions if you go outside. It
was difficult to imagine that right here where we
were having coffee and conversation, the family had
been trapped inside, captive to the constant sounds
of bombardment, in the darkness with neither electricity
nor natural light from the windows. How can you bear
something like that? When the circumstances are pressed
down on you, you bear them because that is what you
can do. Afterwards, your little girl chooses GI-Yousef
I came back to Jenin Camp three months later, Mus`ab
was elated to see me. The family were spending more
time in their relocated home in Burqin.
admit that I experience some trepidation when I read
reports of the day's harvest of killings and injuries,
especially from a distance. I had been away from the
internet for a few days, so was catching up with a
report from the prior Tuesday, 29 April 2003. News
of the Army invasion of Jenin Camp. And a name I know.
What happened? Shot dead? Mus`ab Jaber. That's my
Mus`ab! And another youngster injured. Maybe I read
it wrong; it's hard to tell with the skewed margins
of the forward. Maybe it's a different Mus`ab. Maybe
he was the one injured. I follow the lines carefully
with my finger on the screen. "Mus`ab Jaber was
shot dead." Do you ever become accustomed to
this, as if it is normal? Why should you? It is not
normal. It is excessive, but it never makes it normal.
I don't have the forbearance of many of my Arab friends.
When I cried out, my internet folk brought me a glass
of water. That wouldn't change the news, but I appreciated
went for a walk in the early morning sunshine, across
the Nile with comforting ripples carried by a light
wind. Every green leaf on the banks brought comfort.
I stopped to take in the view of a beautiful bankside
garden with bright pink and purple flowers. As I was
standing quietly alone, a voice behind me said, "You
cannot stop here. This is a military area." How
appropriate for the occasion! Where have I heard that
before! The Israeli Army charges into any and every
neighborhood, road, field, and orchard, and claims
it is a military area, trying to expel those who seek
or who bring comfort. At least this soldier was benign,
not threatening to shoot.
continued walking and crossed back on the next bridge
south, enjoying the view of more Nile-side flora as
the sun climbed higher. I sat on a bench for a moment,
and a gardener from a private club's garden greeted
me. When I arose to go on, his fellow gardener invited
me to the garden. It was just the reverse of the episode
on the other bank, where I had been driven away from
the lush beauty. A forbidden garden view gave way
to a permitted one. The universe compensates.
I could not believe the news. It seems odd, with the
number of martyrs Jenin has witnessed since I came
back in September, but Mus`ab is the first person
I knew well. And so young. Like so many. So unfair.
could not bring myself to socialize, though I had
made plans to visit some new friends. When they called
to check on me, I apologized for my absence, and then
told the news of Mus`ab. The response was instant:
"Oh, Tahani, don't be sad! He's not dead. He's
alive with God!" Heba didn't have a trace of
hesitation or grief, but she insisted that I come
and spend time with them so I would feel better. Once
again, I heard what I have become gradually less surprised
to hear, as she and her sister told me that to be
a shahid/martyr is the best way to leave the world,
and that they hope for such an end.
have now learned that Mus`ab was armed when the Israeli
Army shot him dead. The Army was also armed. In fact,
it was an individual in the Army who shot him. One
person. One armed person. Person to person. Armed
young man to armed younger man. But only one is named
in reports, and that one is Mus`ab. His murderer is
anonymous. Reports also imply that the deceased deserved
his bullet because he was armed, in front of his house.
Not his own house, of course, since the Army destroyed
it along with hundreds of others, but his relatives'
house. Those whose homes were destroyed are still
awaiting restitution. They could not defend their
am reminded of my direct ancestor, Ethan Allen of
Vermont. Some friends tell me he is still a hero since
Revolutionary War days. Others tell me that the man's
character pales in comparison to the legend. Legends
are like that. Some views of the history behind the
legend show that the American colonies had developed
a more participatory form of government, and wanted
freedom from the British Crown's rule and its rules.
When the British were attempting to enforce their
rule, my ancestor, Ethan Allen, opposed them, and
he was armed in doing this. But that is not all; he
also mobilized the Green Mountain Boys to be ready
to fight the British soldiers, to be ready at any
moment to take up arms at home or in the field, to
defend their farms and their families. When the British
were enforcing their dominion over the population,
my ancestor was active in armed opposition, and we
call him a hero.
he had a young volunteer Green Mountain Boy named
Mus`ab, and he got word of the dominator's invasion
of one of the independence seekers' towns. Do you
suppose that this freedom leader would advise Mus`ab
thus? "Don't defend us. Let them come in and
do what they have proven themselves expert at doing.
Let them murder a few more defenders, grandmothers,
schoolchildren, handicapped people, and doctors. Why
should you care? Why should you try to protect these
community members from deadly sharpshooters and shellers?
Relax! Have a glass of coffee from freshly ground
beans! Enjoy the view of the carnage. Enjoy the sounds
of bullets from the safety of an innermost room they
may invade at any moment. Think of it as your own
home cinema with sensurround. Most importantly, don't
get involved. Let your neighbors be hunted and killed.
Let your little sister be targeted. Don't get involved."
last time I saw Mus`ab, I had been walking in the
road when a man called out to me. I thought maybe
I knew him, so I waited for him to catch up to me,
and asked if he were working, as his tall rubber boots
indicated some kind of local labor. The question started
him out on a very long answer about his lack of work,
and a large family to support, and the way the Israeli
Army is attacking people at all age levels, and making
normal things like employment impossible in this society.
He pronounced these things very volubly with a great
deal of hand-waving, and people in the road looked
at me rather pityingly, that I should be accompanied
by this madman. His manner was disconcerting, but
all of his words were correct. Everything he said
was accurate. I thought of deCerteau's wild man who
says what everyone knows is true, but remains silent
about, leaving it to the man removed from society
in some way, to give voice to. Nonetheless, he was
becoming a little attached to my footsteps. When I
stopped to say hello to Mus`ab working on the leaky
tire, he managed to deter the man from following me
further. Very gently. I was reminded of his style
with his little sister.
morning I had awoken at the home of friends at the
top of the hill of Jenin Camp. Before the household
awoke, as I looked out across the Camp yielding to
the fertile plain, I saw a full rainbow arching from
the farmers' fields in the north across to the village
of Burqin. The rainbow faded out and then back in
with its full splendor of stripes. Burqin is said
to be the village where Christ Jesus performed his
first marvel of turning the water into wedding wine,
and where he later healed the ten lepers, of whom
only the stranger amongst them, the Samaritan, turned
and thanked him. Today the rainbow was bringing its
prism to Mus`ab's village.
hope to fulfill my promise to Mus`ab, to visit his
home in Burqin and dine at his mother's table. I have
not yet seen his memorial poster. I see him as I saw
him that day. Last time I saw Mus`ab, he was earnestly
fixing the tire, kindly steering the wild man away,
looking up at me and smiling.
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