idea of Sharon with broom in hand is comical enough,
but the suggestion that he sweep the rooms of the
Islamic Center that his soldiers left in shambles
made me laugh. My friend, who conducts Qur'anic study
sessions, always manages to find humor in the midst
of the bleakest conditions. Her laughter itself is
a resistance against the gravity of oppression. The
Center's rooms have chairs, a cabinet with copies
of the Qur'an, and floors full of dust. The Army appropriated
the computers that had been donated for the advancement
of the Refugee Camp community. Still the ladies come
to learn, to consider new ideas, compare interpretations,
and especially to address issues relating to martyrdom,
remarriage of young widows, visiting graves, handling
grief, ! and pondering heaven.
take my turn with an infant who is energetically doing
calisthenics on my lap, and I comment on his strength.
"That's because he is from the Camp," beams
his mother, articulating the resiliency of Camp identity.
At home, the Qur'an teacher laughs as a sock attacks
us when a coil of wire it is caught in springs out
of reach. "Sharon doesn't want us to go visiting
on the holiday/eid; he just wants us to work at home."
Later, neighbors chide me for not visiting during
the three-day holiday of Eid al-Fitr, but how could
I abandon my friend whose house was raided as soldiers
searched for a "wanted" family member? Instead
of holiday baking, we face oil in the salt and sugar,
and the pantry's many treasures mixed with pots, pans,
lamps and implements. The kitchen is picture-perfect
compared with the bedrooms knee deep in clothes, clothespins,
dismembered notebook pages, shoes, jewelry, framed
pictures, manicure sets, and artificial flowers all
swirled together in heaps!
concentrate on the kitchen, with her daughter Maryam
expelling us to do the final clean sweep, swooshing
plenty of water with a fan-shaped hand-held broom.
Sweeping is part of the rhythm of home life. After
a meal you gather the fragments of bread, just as
Jesus' disciples did following the post-sermon meal
on the hillside, and then you sweep up the crumbs.
Dry sweeping, wet sweeping, inside sweeping, outside
sweeping seem almost like reflexes, and assure a constant
orderliness in the home and on the street. The Israeli
soldiers are acquainted with the manners and methods
of the people whose lands they occupy. The incredible
messes they so frequently produce, for no security
reason, seem to be a physical and spiritual attack
on hearth and home. But sometimes they too fall into
the rhythm of local order and orderliness. A family
in Jenin city tells that when soldiers left a building
they had been occupying, they disposed of their garbage
and then swept all of the apartments in the building.
that period, one of the homeowners had passed by an
alley after the evening/maghrib call to prayer, and
saw an Ethiopian soldier in uniform clearing the ground
to pray. He confided to the local Jenin resident,
"Shhh, I am Muslim. Don't tell." One day
on an ambulance mission, we yield as a house-toppling
Caterpillar bulldozer passes through the Saha area
near the Camp's entrance. It is escorted by a tank
in front, and an armored personnel carrier behind.
The flat top of the last vehicle is littered with
stones, with an empty cola bottle where you would
expect a headlight. And there, tucked into a crevice
on top, is a handle-less broom. To clean up after
the destruction? This little reminder of home economics
looks so foreign in the heaving parade of metallic
hardware, and so innocent with its blue, yellow, and
red fringes. It is quickly lost in the black smoke
spewed out to mask the vehicle and cause confusion.
day brings more tanks on a street nearby. Amidst the
detritus the tank has sucked into the street is a
broom which has become part of the clutter it might
clear away. I restore its mission, walking toward
the tank and sweeping the street with ritual, rather
than practical, motions. This has little effect on
the rubble in the steet, but delights the children
who cheer this gentle defiance of the tank's bullying.
I hope that the tank's soldiers will not burst a bullet
hole in my bubble of whimsy, but there is no guarantee
of their sense of humor. Very soon the boys, who have
been fearlessly lobbing stones and trash at the tanks,
call me back with uncharacteristic urgency. They report
excitedly that an international friend has been wounded.
I think they are joking but they insist that some
of the boys carried her to safety on a home-made!
stretcher. She was getting a few small children off
a street when a tank sniper shot her. A local journalist
confirms the news, and we find her in the Emergency
Room at the hospital. Minutes later, another foreigner
is wheeled in, and we learn that UNRWA's Jenin Refugee
Camp director, Iain Hook, has been killed.
escalation of violence calls for heightened security
measures, so I go back into the street where tanks
are facing off with children, and walk toward the
lead tank. The hatch is open, and I call out to the
soldier, "Don't shoot! They are children!"
Am I expecting him to read my lips? The noise of the
tank is deafening, and behind it a mega-machine is
idling with a bass roar. It is the first time I have
encountered a monster-size tank. The soldier in the
hatch waves me aside, but I remain like a fly on the
windshield. The monsters lurch forward and I take
a few steps back, still facing them, then pick up
my pace, jogging backward. With both tanks coming
toward me in high gear, I take refuge against the
wall of a house. I realize it was a poor strategy
to come close to the tanks and leave the children
behind. The tanks brush by, churning up! more mud
in a dirty sweep.
sweeps and holiness are related in Semitic tongues.
In Arabic, a church is called "kanisa/swept place,"
just as a Jewish holy place is called in Hebrew, "bayt
kaneset." The same word is found, with modified
transliteration, in the familiar name for theIsraeli
Parliament, the Knesset. The morning prayer on the
Eid al-Fitr holiday closing the month of Ramadan was
held on the barren ground of the former Hawashin neighborhood,
alarmingly obliterated in the April invasion. When
I heard of the prayer plans, I realized that the boys
I had seen collecting stones were not resupplying
their munitions, but making a clean-swept place for
this holy day. The image of Sharon sweeping an Islamic
center in a Refugee Camp is still comical. But elections
are coming up. Perhaps the Knesset could use sweeping.
C. Higgins specializes in Arabic and Islamic studies,
and is currently doing research in Jenin, Occupied
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