Ali Samoudi (Edited)
Could you explain to us how the situation in Palestine, and in Jenin in particular, has changed over the last three years of the intifada?
During the past three years, the politics of destruction have been more prevalent, more ugly, than the thirty years preceding them. Throughout Israel's occupation, Jenin has been destroyed on many fronts; the destruction has been economic, social, intellectual, structural, environmental and humanitarian. Israel has practiced all manner of inhumanity and terrorism, pressuring and squeezing the Palestinian people to the extent where the situation in Jenin can only be described as utter humiliation and degradation.
Jenin is a country with 64 towns and villages, and three refugee camps. It is now divided into three cantons, and each town and village is cut off from the rest. Somebody in the city of Jenin cannot go to Yamoun or Burqin even though they are extremely close. Israel is using a policy of closures and siege, which has turned Jenin into a prison.
Jenin depends on a few different things for its lifeblood and the income of its residents: work inside Israel, agriculture, trade, and Palestinians with Israeli citizenship.
We can immediately dismiss work within Israel, given that closures and sieges have prohibited Palestinians from working in Israel since the beginning of the intifada. As for agriculture, Israel has used the confiscation of land as a vessel for destroying the Palestinian people. There has been confiscation for settlement; confiscation for security reasons; and confiscation to build the separation wall. What is left is closed off, and the owners of the land can't cultivate it. As such, agriculture has been destroyed. In terms of trade and economic well-being, Jenin depends primarily on Palestinian and Arab residents of Israel. This group of people used to shop in Jenin, and the people of Jenin used to sell goods to the people inside Israel. Since the intifada, Israel has forbidden them entry into the Occupied Territories, which has taken away a fundamental pillar of economic sustenance. This has led to increased poverty, unemployment and hardship to the extent that Jenin is utterly devastated.
This reality is reflected in all facets of life. Israel uses a policy of thoroughly destroying every aspect of life important to Palestinians in Jenin; the entire infrastructure and foundation of civil society have been destroyed. With regards to education, the Israelis have subjected the education system to fierce attempts to destroy it en masse. Schools have been closed, put under siege and destroyed. Professors, teachers and students have been also been arrested. There are currently more than two thousand students in detention. The roads are destroyed. The water pipes are destroyed. As a result, 90% of the homes in Jenin do not have access to running water. The electrical grid is always under attack. In addition to this, there are the house demolitions. During the Jenin Massacre1 of April 2002, Israel completely demolished 455 homes in the Jenin refugee camp alone, and partially demolished about 500 more. In the city, another 30 homes were demolished.
The situation under occupation is grave, and arduous. Palestinian suffering is indescribable. People struggle to get enough to eat, they struggle to get to the mosque, to get to their schools, to get to a hospital. Every aspect of life has become an unbearable struggle. In Jenin alone, 400 people have fallen in the intifada, many of whom are children. In the past year alone, more than a thousand people have been arrested.
You were here in the Jenin camp at a time when foreign journalists were blocked entry. Could you describe what you saw as one of the only journalists who were there?
In April, Israel attacked the Jenin refugee camp. The Jenin refugee camp consists of a miniscule speck, for which Israel brought out thirty tanks, numerous airplanes, bulldozers and hundreds of soldiers.
At the very beginning of the invasion, Israel attacked the water, electricity and telephone infrastructures, which paralyzed the services most essential to human survival. The media were banned entry into the camp. The only way we received any information was from telephone communication with those inside the camp. Mobile phones. But with time, the batteries started to run out, so the reports became more infrequent. Curfew was imposed, the refugee camp was surrounded, and the attacks began. In the first day, four or five Palestinians were killed, one of whom was a child who was on the street named Mar Hawashil [CHECK NAME]. He was shot in the head by a sniper. So Israel's atrocities in the Jenin refugee camp began on the very first day.
There was a battle in the Jenin camp, and the Palestinians fought steadfastly to defend the refugee camp. In response, Israel exercised against this miniscule speck some of the most hideous forms of atrocity and war. There were constant bombardments, especially at night. I remember once counting 102 missiles in one night. Israel's goal was absolute destruction of the refugee camp. They tried to cut it off and alienate it from the rest of the world. The planes bombed constantly, the tanks shelled, and the soldiers were monstrous in their dealings.
I remember the story of Umm Ramzi, who told me how she was in her home with her children when they suddenly felt it shaking, about to be demolished. She jumped out of the window along with her husband and children. Had they not, they would have died. The escape of Umm Ramzi's family was remarkable and miraculous, whereas Sheikh Jamal el-Fayid was not so lucky.
Jamal al-Fayid was a young Palestinian man who was both physically and mentally handicapped. He was truly UNPRIVILEGED. When a bulldozer started to destroy his family's home, Jamal's mother said to the bulldozer driver: My son is sleeping inside. Please let me get him out - he's handicapped. The soldiers refused, and brought the house down on top of him. Until this day, his body has not been found. Jamal el-Fayid was not a terrorist, and he was killed inside his own home.
Yisra abu Khuruj was also handicapped. She was sitting in her home when she was killed by a rocket. After they killed her, they expelled her family from her house, and wouldn't let them bury her body. Her body rotted in its place.
Jamal al-Sabbagh was arrested by the Israeli army in the Jenin refugee camp. He was sitting with the arrestees when he was asked to take off his jacket. He was taking off his jacket when soldiers opened fire on him, killing him. His body was then thrown in the road, where tanks drove over it.
Let me also tell you about Rufaida al-Jammal, the first woman killed in the camp. When the Israelis entered the refugee camp, she put on her nursing clothes and left her home - she wanted to go to the hospital to help. An army sniper killed her while she was wearing the humanitarian white cloth that warns all around against killing its wearer, and tells them that this person is ready to step forward and help any human being. They killed her and wounded her sister, who barely survived and still walks with a cane.
Faaf al-Dammaj, an old woman, was killed when soldiers knocked on her door and blew it up when she went to open it.
Attia abu Rumeily was killed in his home, where his body stayed rotting for fourteen days in front of his kids until the battle ended.
The sights - the devastating and heartbreaking sights caused by Israel in the Jenin refugee camp, were all hidden from the eyes of the world.
Ambulances were forbidden from entering the camp. Even the ambulances! The Red Cross and the United Nations were also forbidden entry. The camp was isolated, and they gained complete control of it. Gaining complete control of the camp should have been the end of my story, but they hadn't come to control it. They had come to raze it.
They brought large bulldozers that flattened the camp. Many bodies were found under the rubble, buried by the bulldozers, such as those of Shadi al-Noubani and Jabber Jabir. It was possible for the Israeli forces to enter without committing such a massacre, but they came in with heavy armoured tanks and APCs and razed the refugee camp. The airplanes constantly bombarded the camp, never differentiating between man, woman or child. The killing was indiscriminate.
While the soldiers demolished the camp, people were treated with absolute inhumanity. They would call out on their loud speakers for everybody to come out from their homes, and when they did, they would strip the men and force them to walk in the streets in front of the women.
Behind the Jenin hospital they lined up about 30 prisoners face down on the street, and then made like they would run them over with a tank. Jum'a abu Khalifah was shot and lay bleeding for three days. Wael abu Sibaa was wounded and lay bleeding for nine days. When they finally got him to a hospital, the Israelis arrested him and took him to Afula where they tortured him, focusing on his wound.
All of those arrested were treated with the utmost cruelty: they were beaten; they were stripped; they were forced to walk from Jenin to the Ahrash al-Saada region.
Of course they were also using Palestinians as human shields, and more than a few were shot while they were being used in this way, many of them by the soldiers themselves.
At around this time, they started arresting all males - old and young. The women and children were separated and isolated. Some of them were sent to Salem, some to Rummanah, some to Burqin, and some to Jenin city.
One scene I'll never forget: I was standing in Jenin city filming, when I saw women and children walking toward me carrying white flags. I was profoundly saddened as I thought about the Nakba of 1948, which I didn't personally witness. I remembered how the Palestinians were expelled from their lands in '48. There was only one question on the minds of those who saw what I saw: "Are these the same people who were devastated by 1948, which brought them to the Jenin refugee camp? Where will they and their children go now?" The women and their children were kicked out of their homes, which were then destroyed. They weren't allowed to take any of their belongings. Some of the women were forced to leave without their head-scarves, and as you know, we're a Muslim people and so the women just don't go out without their heads covered. But that's just what happened - the women were forced out without their head-scarves, they left barefoot, they left without anything for their kids. They couldn't take out any of their gold, money, papers or anything to prove that they existed. All of it lay under the rubble of their demolished homes.
Men, women and children found themselves scattered everywhere, fathers not knowing where their sons were. For example, a father could have been in the mosque, a son in the eastern district, his daughters in the western district, and another son in jail.
Those who were arrested were taken to Salem. Once the Israelis finished interrogating them, they were prohibited from going back to the camp, and were forced to stay in the surrounding villages with their ID cards stolen. All of this was after they were transported in the most horrendous way.
On the ninth day, several journalists decided to sneak into the Jenin refugee camp, and we succeeded in what I would honestly call the toughest trek of my life. We went from street to street, house to house, wall to wall, nook to nook, and cranny to cranny until we got to the camp. I, a son of Jenin who knows the camp like the back of my hand, was lost because of all of the destruction.
I heard many stories from people along the way. When I heard these incredible stories coming out, I drew a surreal scene of the camp in my mind. But when I found myself standing there, I was gazing upon a scene even more surreal than I had imagined. I couldn't believe this was the camp I remembered. Had an earthquake hit it? Was it a volcano? Was it the wrath of God?
The picturesque houses, the roads that had witnessed so much of history, the pleasant people who were here before... there was nothing and nobody. They had destroyed it all. 455 homes were destroyed under the guise of fighting terrorism.
I remember Umm Maher al-Zar'eeni when we finally got to the camp. She was stuck in her home, which the army had destroyed, an old woman who wasn't able to make it out in time. She stayed stuck there for ten days without food or drink until people finally came into the refugee camp and got her out.
I remember also the corpses of the dead which were burnt like coal, missing this piece or that. Even the birds were dead. Even the cats were killed. Anything that could have resembled the trappings of a normal human existence was either dead or destroyed... They even killed the chickens!
Words cannot describe those moments in the camp. I would never have imagined that one day I might see these things happen. All of this reflects the reality of this occupation - this occupation is the antithesis of decency, the antithesis of law. This occupation is the antithesis of all of the foundations of human dignity and respect. I think Israel did not commit a massacre in Jenin; Israel committed a large number of massacres. To the people who say "but only 50 or 53 Palestinians were killed," I say that massacres are not counted by the number of people they claim victim, but in the fundamental human and infrastructural destruction that they cause. Israel committed 4500 massacres in Jenin - the number of families that were displaced from their homes; the number of families that lost all of their belongings and remain displaced and forbidden from returning to the camp.
In the Jenin refugee camp, Israel mounted a ... is there a word more grave than massacre? It isn't about the number of dead, the number of people we've lost. Those who are dead might be forgotten - khalas - but the suffering continues for those who are displaced until this very moment.
Have you seen a change in the people of Jenin since the destruction of the camp and the horrors that they witnessed?
There have been lots of changes. An earthquake changes lots of things, and a catastrophe of this magnitude is no different. Of course it changed things. It destroyed people's lives. It set them back. If I - with my home and car and everything - feel unhappy, what of the person who has lost his home, his mattress, the spoon with which to eat... And that's not even to mention his dead children. There isn't a single person in the refugee camp who hasn't in some way suffered - and still continues to suffer - from the occupation.
The massacre destroyed the lives of many. The children who lost their parents miss them every day, whether at school or celebrating a holiday. The women who lost their children - Umm Jamal al-Faydah still asks where her son's body is, but nobody knows.
At the same time, some people have become stronger. [finger pounding on desk] Politically, you can say that the massacre of Jenin has not affected the convictions and core beliefs of the people of Jenin. They still steadfastly stick to their right of return, their right to struggle, and their right to resist.
[finger still pounding]
The massacre has resulted in a stronger reaction against Israel. Israel used to say that Jenin was the martyrdom capital - the hornet's nest - and that it was going to destroy the camp. The only thing that Israel managed to destroy, though, were the [brick and mortar] homes in the camp; they couldn't manage to destroy the will to struggle and the spirit of resistance, nor could they shake the faith of the Palestinian inhabitants of the Jenin refugee camp. On the contrary, more attacks are being launched from the camp. The camp is still an active resistance. The camp still has Palestinians who struggle against the occupation. In the camp, until today, Israel doesn't dare enter except with tanks under heavy military guard. Israel succeeded in destroying buildings and homes, but failed in jading the resistance or the will to continue.
The people are strong. They have a dream - a base narrative - and they will never forget or surrender it so long as there is oppression and occupation. If somebody came to my office - never mind the [Israelis] - if anybody came into my office and sat here [thumping on desk] against my will, I wouldn't rest until I kicked him out. It's the same with the Palestinians: they want their rights, not more. They want their dignity, not occupation.