Jenin. The sky sets with shadow somewhere around seven or eight in the summertime. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m about to head down Mostashfa Street and leave the wall IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been working on all day. I have a headache from constantly focusing on my Arabic Listening skills, and my arms are tired from all of the spastic pantomiming I do to express the other 90% of my thoughts to my newfound friends and family in Jenin Camp. Across the street from me -Ã¢â‚¬â€œ a friend in the doorway — Abid motions with a wheel at his mouth that it is time for me to put down my paints, come in and eat.
I have been painting a mural in the Palestinian refugee camp near the city of Jenin, in the West Bank, on a wall of the home that belongs to Abu Rakis. The mural faces across the street, onto Abid IlbasoonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s home. At the Ilbasoon home, I take an almost daily meal, followed by a nap. I wash my hands at the sink. Good smells inside. Abid offers me a towel and sits me down in the living room.
More pantomiming ensues, though my companion is much more effective than I at this form of expression. AbidÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s wife brings a tray of fruit, soup, rice, bread, and olives. She invites me to eat — Ã¢â‚¬Å“Faddul, Faddul. SahÃ¢â‚¬â„¢tain.Ã¢â‚¬Â I want to go home now. I am tired from the dizzy beatings of the sunrays on my neck. The humor of the local shebab (adolescent boys) is still ringing in my ears. They call each other Ã¢â‚¬ËœdonkeyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ and Ã¢â‚¬ËœmouseÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ and tease each for not taking regular showers.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Abid,Ã¢â‚¬Â I start to explain my fatigue to my friend, but he only smiles and makes a wheel at his mouth again. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Faddul,Ã¢â‚¬Â and as the soup drains down my throat the fatigue gradually transforms into a near-coma, by which point I am led into the TV room for a nap.
Life in the Jenin Refugee Camp is at once simple and complex. On one hand, people lead lives based around families. Everyone knows everyone. Everyone seems to love everyone. People are simply happy to be with each other. But these homes are noticeably suffering from neglect and wear. The families bravely, humbly cultivate their mutual happiness in the face of obvious economic hardships.
On the other hand, to get anywhere outside of town, the Palestinians of Jenin camp must display their passports to soldiers, are made to wait as they stare down the barrel of an M16. The checkpoints can be severe, but it doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t end there. If the army sees fit, they call curfew on the city and patrol with tanks day and night, effectively imprisoning people in their homes. The shebab sneak out of their houses like misbehaved alley cats, chasing after the iron behemoths with slingshots and rubble, casting stones in exchange for rounds from a mounted machine gun.
Yes, the Israeli army has a habit of firing on crowds of children. From what I could see, sometimes they just fire because the kids are there. In their own city. In their own neighborhood. Maybe on the way to school or the ice cream shop. Just about every teenaged boy I meet over the course of my work in the Jenin camp shows me a scar from a bullet wound or from shrapnel taken from a grenade.
These kids are smart. They know the score. They know that the USA gave Israel 12 billion dollars in March 2003 and billions, annually, in the years before that. They know that the USA is only concerned about the Apartheid Wall in that it could create some bad press in the next election season. They know that the occupation of the West Bank is loosely modeled after the European occupation of North and South America. These kids know that the tanks, the HumVees, the Apaches and F16s that stalk their days and dreams and memories were all made in the USA. Still, these children have the discriminating strength of judgment not to hate me for the crimes of my government. They welcome me into their homes, offer me food and friendship — These are not the despicable terrorists that we are invited by our media to believe in. No, the truth is greater, nastier, and much more complex than that.
And simpler. The Jenin Camp was ravaged by Israeli forces in the first week of April 2002. Named Ã¢â‚¬Å“Operation: Defensive Shield,Ã¢â‚¬Â this invasion decimated approximately 200 homes in Jenin Camp, homes wherein multiple families were already dwelling in many cases. The destruction cleared a giant patch of land in the middle of the Camp Ã¢â‚¬â€œ known now as the Ã¢â‚¬Å“Zone of Total Destruction.Ã¢â‚¬Â The invasion resulted in the deaths of 60 Palestinians, but think also about the effects felt by the survivors, the merely maimed or hospitalized Ã¢â‚¬â€œ those whose homes were torn asunder.
Jenin was invaded under the premise that many fighters in the Palestinian resistance have come from there. There is clearly documented proof that the victims of Jenin were not only fighters. It is an inarguable truth that the Palestinian fighters are only civilians, themselves. There is no Palestinian Army! If, in military campaigns, it were deemed appropriate to go knocking at the doorsteps of every family home of the oppositionÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s infantry Ã¢â‚¬â€œ just think about what neighborhoods in the State of Israel would look like!
I include Muslim images in the mural. A man praying Ã¢â‚¬â€œ another reading from the QuÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ran — Farris, one of the children of Abu Rakis, writes Ã¢â‚¬ËœAllahÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ in Arabic in a couple of places. I am not Muslim. I am not Christian or Jewish. My mother is an astrologer. I worry at times, throughout the muralÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s creation, about taking free license in my reference to Islamic ideas. I question my incomplete awareness and understanding of it. I feel that my appropriation of the imagery is legitimate. I see in the Islamic culture of Jenin an innocence and an earnestness which you do not find every day in the United States, or in Israel.
This painting of mine, it will not change anything. The only thing I would hope it might accomplish would be to communicate a sense of acknowledgement to the people of Jenin Camp. I am an American. I cannot truly relate to the suffering of the Palestinians. I am becoming better aware of the truth, though, and sharing this awareness with as many people as I can. Maybe that will transfer over to someone who sees the mural. Maybe the people of the Jenin Camp will have reason to believe that somebody is listening. Maybe, if enough people in the world begin demanding it, our international governments may actually listen, too