I have never seen anything before like the annihilation I have seen in Jenin. I have heard it is the same in Nablus but I haven’t reached there yet. I am lucky, I have a white skin and come from a middle class Christian family in the south of England. I have never had to go through what the people of Jenin and Nablus have been through this month, and have been going through for last 54 years.
I studied the history and practice of Islam, Judaism and Christianity at school. I remember asking about what happened to the “other people” who were living in the land that was proclaimed as the state of Israel in 1948. My teacher thought that they probably weren’t so happy about it. That was that, and I didn’t think more about it.
At school we were shown many videos about the brutality of the Holocaust and abuse of the human rights of Jews living in Europe under the Nazis. What happened in the Holocaust was a crime against humanity, but nobody ever showed me videos about those other crimes against humanity in Deir Yassin, Tantura, Kufr Qassem and Sabra and Shatilla. Nobody ever told me how many Palestinians, both Muslim and Christian, were killed by Zionist Israeli forces. Nobody told me about how the Israelis led a new invasion in 1967, keeping a population under occupation until this day.
But when I came to visit a Palestinian family in the Galilee in 1999 several people did start to tell me. And after visiting Palestinian families and towns on both sides of the 1967 border I wanted to come back again. When I moved to Nazareth to work with an Arab human rights organization in September 2000, just before the start of the Intifada, I didn’t know the extent that I would witness of the state sponsored terror that Israel has inflicted on the Palestinians for over half a century.
So now, over a year and a half later, I am still here, and every week I see more of the brutal effects of the Israeli occupation. As well as working with a community organization for the rights of 1948 Palestinians, I now also write for an English language Cairo based magazine. I came to my computer this evening after spending the day talking to families in the Jenin camp. It is only 20 km away from me here in Nazareth, but it takes about 2 hours after we have walked across fields to avoid being turned back at checkpoints.
I visited Jenin for two days last weekend. Although I didn’t see him, 10 year old Asad Qraini was alive then. His family thought that they were lucky as their house hadn’t been destroyed. The Qrainis were not part of the UNWRA estimated 4000 homeless. I didn’t meet them last weekend but drank coffee with them today because this week they have one of the latest agonizing stories from the camp. On Monday, as his father was praying, Asad climbed into a place where the Jenin municipality and foreign volunteers had piled the unexploded ammunition. The camp is littered with unexploded shells and booby traps that were deliberately placed by the Israeli army.
There was supposed to be a man standing guard to prevent people getting close. Unfortunately he wasn’t there to see Asad climb in. His father turned round to see his son’s shattered body fly into the air. The hospital couldn’t save his limbs and by Wednesday he was dead.
I ask myself why this tragic accident happened. Why did my country and others not come to the immediate aid of the victims of this disaster? Why was there not a huge team of international bomb disposal experts? Why were the refugees still in the same clothes weeks later? But these are not the real questions. Why did the UK, along with all the other Western governments, allow the killings in Jenin camp to happen? The answer is simple, because it was an Israeli military assault, not a disaster.
Despite the international awareness of the crimes that Israel is perpetrating against the Palestinian people, outright governmental criticism of Israel is still taboo. No government in Europe is prepared to stand against the U.S., particularly the British government. U.S. interests in Israel are not ultimately religious but strategic. It is essential that the American government keeps a client military state in the Middle East in order to maintain the balance of power in the region and, ultimately, U.S. hegemony. And sadly the UK and “U.S. vice-president” Tony Blair will be the last to rock the boat there.
However, among the British people themselves I believe that there is an increasing consciousness of the brutality that Israel is inflicting on the Palestinians. I have had many people who previously had little knowledge or interest in the region e-mailing me questions and expressing disgust over what happened in Jenin. Another friend reports that the “Boycott Israel” campaign stickers are dotted all over London. Over 40,000 people attended a rally in London, previously unheard of in the apathetic UK.
I don’t blame my parents for not telling me about Palestine. Nobody told them and they were subject to the pro-Zionist propaganda that dictates a large amount of the British media. I think that it was their encouragement of an inquiring mind and their deeply held religious beliefs in equality for all humanity that made me open my eyes to the situation here. Since I have seen so much in Palestine, both my parents have taken the time to question their assumptions about the Middle East just as I have done. My mother has started to attend Palestinian human rights demonstrations in our hometown of Cambridge.
But if I ever have children the Holocaust won’t be the only massacre they are told about. They will always know what I saw in Jenin and most importantly what always happens in conflict; the innocent are killed. Just look at the innocent killed in my own government’s recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Some people have said to me that I should leave here and go back home because this has nothing to do with me. But on the contrary I believe that it has everything to do with me. My country has economic and military dealings with Israel, and my country is a supporter of U.S. foreign policy, which means I have everything to do with what is going on here. Looking further back, my country had a big hand in allowing the establishment of a Zionist state in British Mandate Palestine to begin with. So if by any small chance you are reading this, please don’t tell me again that this has nothing to do with me. Nobody of any race or religion can escape the fact that we live in a global society. Those on the side of the system that is reaping the benefits have a total responsibility to engage in the struggle for global social justice.
And lastly I want to make it clear that it is no hardship for me to live in the Palestinian community. Quite the opposite. Arab society has shown me an overwhelming acceptance and hospitality to the stranger, and a respect between Muslim and Christian that I have never experienced back in the my own “developed” society. And this I shall always keep with me wherever I go.
For another eyewitness account of Jenin, see also
*Isabelle Humphries is Development and Programs Director at the Ahali Center for Community Development, Nazareth. She has an MA in Middle East Politics and is a freelance writer for the Cairo Times. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org