Long Night Ahead for Dheisheh

by Muna Hamzeh

March 11, 2002



(March 11) I thought that the hardest thing today would be going to the office and putting in a day's work. I was wrong. The hardest thing today was constantly checking Al Jazeera for updates on Dheisheh and seeing the photos of men I know in the camp, standing their blindfolded and hands tied behind their backs. The attached photo -- for those who receive this in html -- shows a good friend of man, Khaled Helmi, father of three.


The 600 males between ages 14-50 rounded up in Dheisheh at 6:30 am today (Palestine time) are still being held. It has been nearly 18 hours with all these men sitting there, blindfolded and their hands tied behind their backs. The Israeli military brought some food at some point, but not everyone to eat. My young friend Maissa, 21, told me over the phone a while ago that no one should eat. But I told her that everyone is human and how much pressure can a person take. So what if they eat. there were reports earlier that the soldiers would let some of the men who aren't wanted go, but so far, no one has been released.


But perhaps Maissa was venting anger. She is, after all, sitting at home under curfew, with her grandmother and sister. Her uncle is detained nearby and the immense fear that Maissa feels for her uncle's safety is too great to describe. All day long, the women and children have been worried sick about their husbands, father and brothers. All day long, house-to-house searches have been taking place. "They finally came to our house this evening," Maissa tells me. "This frightening-looking soldier held his machine gun to our heads and told us he'll shoot if we moved. Then the rest of the patrol searched the house for males. They left when they didn't find anyone except my grandmother and sister and I. But I just called a friend who told me that there is another patrol going around house-to-house and checking the identification papers of the females. They are comparing the last names to a list of wanted men."


Today, Israeli troops dynamited more houses in Dheisheh. In the past 48 hours, 6-7 homes have been dynamited. All belong to the families of young men who were shot dead by Israeli troops during the current uprising. About 9-10 people from Dheisheh have been killed so far during the uprising. The destruction of homes isn't over. Families have not only lost loved ones, now they have lost their homes too.


Some of the homes being searched by Israeli troops are being heavily damaged. The soldiers simply go on a rampage, destroying personal belongings and furniture. In other homes, they merely go in, look around and leave. But any family who gets a knock on the door and doesn't open the door immediately is getting an explosive tossed at its front door. Ibrahim Melhem, a journalist from Dheisheh, was apparently too slow to get to the door, so the soldiers tossed an explosive that went off just as he was opening the door. I don't know if he was injured and what type of injury he sustained.


Of course, I am not supposed to say that what is happening in Dheisheh is reminiscent of Nazi Germany. That's a big no, no. After all, this is only happening to the Palestinians. Israeli soldiers are writing on the blindfolds, for the world to see, the names of the factions that some of the detained men in Dheisheh belong. But this isn't supposed to remind me of Nazi Germany. And I am not supposed to dare and ask Anne Frank where she is? Yet I am certain that Anne Frank would cry her heart out if she were to see what the Israelis are doing. I am certain that she would scream at them, "not in my name". And like me, she would tell them that "Never Again" is not exclusive to the Jews, but includes all humanity, and humanity includes the Palestinians. She would tell them that their occupation of a civilian population will go down as the darkest time in Jewish history. Shame on the Israelis for tarnishing their people's history in this way. Shame on them for doing this in the name of their people.


Can you imagine the Palestinians dynamiting the houses of the Israeli soldiers who shot Mohammed al-Durra and his father? Can you imagine the Israeli government rounding up the Israeli soldiers and settlers who have shot dead more than 1000 Palestinian men, women and children in the past 17 months and then terrorizing their wives, mothers and children with their tanks and guns and explosives and dynamite? And who will blindfold and tie the hands of the sniper who shot my ex-neighbor Mahmoud Sajadi (aged 10) in Dheisheh yesterday? Couldn't the soldier see that Mahmoud is a child playing in the street? Of course he could.


Israeli news reports are, of course, telling the world that the army has found missiles in Dheisheh and that their operation there is necessary to root out "terrorists". What a broken old record. Israeli tanks surrounded Dheisheh as early as Thursday (March 8, 2002). If Ibdaa Cultural Center was able to take-out all the computers out from the center and take them to a safe place outside the camp, then it defies logic that someone with missiles would have just sat there with his missiles and waited for the soldiers to invade the camp and catch him.


Under increasingly stupid excuses, the Israeli government and its military are committing war crimes in Palestine. Where are the western UN officials in Jerusalem and the western officials and the Red Cross? Where are Israeli doctors and engineers and academics? Isn't it time for these people to get themselves on buses and drive to the refugee camps and everywhere else in the West Bank and Gaza Strip where there are tanks, soldiers and helicopters and say, enough is enough. This occupation will not lead to peace. Killing the Palestinians will not lead to peace. Trying to force them to kneel will not lead to peace. Completely ending the occupation is the only way. Just like apartheid had to end, so this has to end. And Arafat has to step aside and make room for a national unity coalition, instead of the cronies who run the Palestinian Authority.


As I call Dheisheh every hour-on the hour, I sound panicky and my friends there calm me down. I sound afraid and they sooth me. I begin to sob and they comfort me. I hang up and laugh and cry both at the same time. I am supposed to give them strength, but they are giving me strength. They have gone past the insane feelings of fear. They are so numb, they want everything to be over with.  And they curse Arafat as much as they curse the Israelis.


I speak to Kholoud, Hourieh's 11-year old daughter who watched her father blindfolded in the TV screen earlier today and went mad with fear and sadness. "Do you have food in the house?" I ask her. She laughs and says, "Sort of. We are out of all the vegetables and fruits." I ask her who ate them, "Mom and Dad did", she giggles. I dare not ask her about her father Nabieh. I dare not because I don't trust my tears. They are sneaky and have this way of creeping up on me, always at the wrong moment. So with her I pretend that everything is OK.


I think of little Marianna in Dheisheh, and her new born baby-sister Muna (born February 24, 2002). Yes, they named her after me. Now how do you want me not to believe that someday, there will be a rainbow in Palestine and pastures of green grass? Of course there will be. I know it in my heart. I see the colors of the rainbow in Marianna's pictures and hear the echo of freedom in her laughter. "I love you as much as I love chewing gum with grape flavor", she tells me through her giggles over the phone.


All we have to do now is add the color of grapes to our rainbow and make sure we live up to our moral responsibility of seeing Marianna grow up free to enjoy it. She has every right to be free.


Muna Hamzeh is a Palestinian-American journalist who has been writing about Palestinian affairs since the 1980s. Her work has appeared in Ha'aretz, The Economist, The Christian Science Monitor, Jerusalem Report and Middle East International. She is the author of "Refugees in Our Own Land: Chronicles from a Palestinian Refugee Camp in Bethlehem."