I was walking from the house at the top of the hill,
occupied from beginning to end of the sixteen-day
invasion of Jenin Refugee Camp in October/November,
schoolboys on the road asked me this question. It
is a refrain that punctuates my comings and goings,
and it is one that leaves me tongue-tied.
question is not, "Do you talk to them?"
because anybody can do that. What matters is if they
respond with words rather than gunfire. The nature
of the soldiers response is a source of curiosity
for people who are always in danger of being shot
rather than spoken to. The initial question is often
followed by "What do they say?"
had just come from the Abul-Hayja house, delivering
fresh vegetables to the family. As I approached, I
called out to let the hidden snipers know this was
a humanitarian visit, and that I was not someone to
fear and shoot at. They did not talk to me immediately,
but after a short wait two armed guards appeared on
the balcony. One asked me where I came from, and then
said that his mother also lives in America, in New
York. I told him I could have my mother call his mother
to converse. The idea rattled him slightly and then
found a responsive chord. Another armed guard opened
the door and escorted me past another two guards before
reaching the single room where the family was confined,
whereupon the officer supervised my five-minute conversation
from the threshold.
I visited the house before Ramadan, I asked an officer
how long the Army would be here, until the start of
Ramadan? He replied, Way beyond that. Venturing a
little humor, I asked, Will you be fasting for Ramadan?
Instantly he arched the brows over his bright blue
eyes and clicked his tongue in the Arabic _expression
for no. But he also caught the humor and smiled, though
he would not even consider my constant request to
permit the thirteen family members fifteen minutes
of fresh air per week.
day during a brief lull from the tanks shooting at
children in the middle of downtown, I walked by a
passageway between limestone buildings in the Old
City. A group of soldiers in new uniforms were at
the other end in an inner courtyard, and the officer
called to me, motioning me to come inside, I just
want to talk to you. I thanked him, but went my way.
I was wary since an international had been confined
by soldiers for hours until escaping the night before.
Afterwards I wished I had talked with him, but the
closed space had made me uncomfortable.
that day I accompanied a man whose family had been
expelled from their home by occupying soldiers. They
had taken refuge with relatives, but he wanted to
get clothes and food from the house. He approached
first, feeling quite confident because of his Hebrew.
The soldier at the window refused and had no interest
in negotiating. I walked up the few stone steps to
the porch and spoke with the soldiers at the front
door. The spokesman refused in a soft-spoken way,
but said to come back after 4:00, in about two hours.
I knew that transport would be impossible: We came
in an ambulance because the householders car had been
turned back. I pressed the soldier again and he agreed,
but said that only I could come in. I persevered and
got him to let the homeowner go in by himself. He
returned with armfuls of meat from the freezer, clothes,
and valuables as the soldiers are well-known for their
looting. The soldier I spoke with helped carry things,
even though the troops were eating lunch.
is a familiar pattern. When the soldiers give an absolute
refusal, it is often because they are eating a meal,
or getting ready to change shifts which leaves them
day I volunteered to accompany a water-tank truck
past a recalcitrant tank full of soldiers. I summoned
a soldier to the hatch and he appeared just so I could
see his glasses, but he was adamant that we could
not pass until after 4:00 p.m. He ignored my continued
questions and disappeared inside the tank, snapping
the hatch shut.
I was waiting for the truck, some boys asked me to
help them across the street. The danger was that the
tank would open fire on them for the crime of returning
home after visiting relatives. I walked across the
street and turned the corner with them, calling out
to a crowd of boys to stop throwing stones at the
tank As I came into the intersection, a transport
vehicle disgorged a contingent of foot soldiers who
were now aiming huge rifles at the boys and firing
shots in our direction. The boys surrounding me, as
I provided international accompaniment, called out,
Tahani, do you want to go to heaven? referring to
the destination gained by anyone killed by the Army.
I considered the question as I walked forward, a smile
as my shield. I kept telling the other boys to stop
throwing stones, and one that I was escorting seconded
my motion, We just want to cross the street. They
did and went their way. I had come around two sides
of the block, and now turned to complete another leg
of it. As I approached the intersection, a tank came
roaring through. As it passed, some of the boys ran
close behind with their David-style weapons and called
out in Arabic, I love you. There was no verbal response
from the soldiers.
refusing to serve in the Occupied Palestinian Territories
tell how they are trained to make the children fear
them, for otherwise they will not dominate the population.
With all its murderous successes, the Israeli Army
has failed to a large extent in this. Children follow
tanks, jump up on the back, steal the loudspeaker,
sling a rope around and skid behind. There are certainly
people who fear the Army: She has been timid ever
since the April invasion, explains a grandmother of
a pretty little girl whose name means light-filled/Nouran.
But her shyness is an exception.
to the intersection in full sight of the parked tank,
I am still urging the boys to stop throwing stones
and to stay back, while I motion to the blank window
of the tank not to shoot and I call out to this effect,
though from a distance. The water truck arrives and
parks. We have over an hour to wait. I am in the intersection
with the boys over the drivers objection to leave
them to their peril: Where are their parents? The
boys back off a bit though they are still present.
The soldiers shoot less though they are still in evidence.
As I climb into the cab of the truck, several of the
boys give me the greatest compliment, You are good/malih!
an honor bestowed with enthusiastic approval.
use the time to make another water delivery and return
see the tank ascending the hill. We follow behind
as it is nearly 4:00. However soldiers insist that
we back up, and my appeals to quench the thirst of
neighbors are in vain. After we return to the intersection,
I see why. There was an armored personnel carrier
behind us, and they did not want us in the middle
of the convoy as they changed shifts.
course, others talk with the soldiers but it is usually
when ordered to answer questions. When the Army went
in force to turn a house upside down looking for a
wanted man, one of the thirty soldiers saw a liquor
bottle that the resourceful housewife had retrieved
from the rubbish for preserving olives. It contained
some of the yellowish olive-preserving water and the
soldier asked her, Is this whiskey, unlikely in the
home of observant Muslims. With perfect English and
perfect irony, she replied, Yes. Her young sister-in-laws
house was searched also, but by a single soldier.
When he saw a blanketed bundle, he asked her, Baby?
She had the same answer, Yes. Ohhhh, he said, urging
his comrades outside to hush their voices to a low
tells me of the time they were looking for Iyad Sawalha,
and asked about his whereabouts. He said he had only
heard his name. The officer told him that Iyad was
a mukharrib, which does not translate exactly to the
English word, terrorist, but they use it thus. When
Samih saw that the officer was reasonable -- many
of them are democratic -- he told him that before
they look for a wanted man, they need to look for
the reasons that he is involved in resistance against
the occupier: What is happening every day throughout
Palestinian lands? He also told the officer that Sharon
and Arafat had become sweethearts. The officer laughed.
But Samih said that if a soldier looks angry and determined,
he doesnt try to talk with him.
think of the soldier who ran up to the body of young
Fuad Abu Ghali. His murderous confusion had boiled
into one concern as he shouted, Where is the weapon?
the imaginary reason that impelled him to kill his
contemporary. As he held a rifle to the ambulance
drivers head, it didnt occur to me to discuss democratic
processes. I sought only to calm his rage.
another occasion, a soldier asked me quizzically,
Where did you come from, pointing his gun from behind
the heavy blanket covering the window. I had called
out to inform him that I was nearing the occupied
house, but I had surprised him by coming from a door
in a wall at the side of the path. It was explained
later that a sentry at the top of the hill communicates
via a headset in his helmet, to alert his fellow lookout
down the hill of any movement from above. I had not
come from above. I appeared without warning. Hence
his query, Where did you come from?
the Occupation soldiers talk to me? Sometimes. Sometimes
they ask where I come from. As they make bristling
armaments of homes and orchards and intersections,
I have the same question for them: Where do you come
No conversations but the language of firepower last
night and this morning [14-15 January 2003] as Israeli
Army forces pummelled a section of the Saniiyya District
in east Jenin from the air in their pursuit of Palestinians.
Meeting resistance from the ground, it took the Army
from 7:30 p.m. to 3:30 a.m. to capture four Palestinian
men. Refugee Camp residents said it sounded like the
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