Response to an interview with Shraon
Is this an example of "the best and most humane way" Israel can find to fight "terrorism"?
By Gideon Levy
A visit to the refugee camp one year after the IDF incursion.
A small arrow pierces a heart. Hassan and Manar. The names of the lovers are written in Hebrew and they are misspelled. The handwriting is awkward. Hassan is embarrassed when we discover the small drawing on the gate of his house. Maybe the Hebrew was to prevent others from understanding. Manar married someone else.
A year after Israeli soldiers shot and killed his father - two bullets in the kidneys and one in the head - and his body lay here in the yard for nine days and nights without anyone being able to evacuate or bury him, Hassan Mukaskas wants to learn Hebrew. He has enrolled at the Abu Jihad Institute in Jenin, where Abdullah teaches the language of the occupier three times a week.
Hassan Mukaskas is 25. His father, Ali, he says, was a greengrocer of 52 who went out to the yard to wash his hands and face before the noon prayers and to bring water to his children. There is no tap in the house, only in the yard. The incident happened on April 6 last year, when the Israel Defense Forces entered the refugee camp. Mukaskas fell bleeding on the threshold of his house and died.
There were IDF snipers everywhere and it was impossible to remove or bury the body. His nine children were in the house and for nine days the young ones were kept from looking out the window, so they would not have to see the rotting corpse of their father. On the ninth day, a Red Crescent ambulance arrived and removed the dead man. Ali Mukaskas was buried in the new cemetery that was prepared in the refugee camp for the victims of the invasion, which the Israelis call "Operation Defensive Shield."
The heart of the camp is now an empty lot. All the ruins have been cleared by UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. What began as a dense jumble of houses and then became a huge heap of rubble is now a wasteland. Only one house remains of the dozens of homes and alleyways, the house of Abu al Ruz. He is an elderly man who sits at the entrance to his home and watches the workers who are repairing his staircase.
The blood of those who were killed, 53 Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers in one week, seeped deep into the yellow earth and the world moved on to take an interest in the coming sites of destruction and killing. The journalists and the non-inquiring commissions of inquiry vanished, leaving behind some 15,000 residents of this squalid place, including about 4,000 made newly homeless, refugees for the second or third time in their lives, their homes brought down on top of them in the war that raged here for 11 days in April, the cruelest month, one year ago.
Zero Zone: That's what they call the center of the camp, which was utterly devastated, their Ground Zero. After four days of fighting, the IDF decided on demolition. For seven days, the bulldozers took down one dwelling after another. According to the camp's emergency committee, a total of 478 apartments were totally demolished and 1,600 were damaged. The Gulf emirates, the Palestinian Authority and Iraq (until six months ago) are paying the rent for the homeless people whom the municipality moved out, and UNRWA is renovating what can be renovated. Iraq also promised an allowance of $10,000 for the family of every person killed in the camp, twice what it paid the families in other parts of the territories. But Baghdad managed to pay only a small fraction of the families before it was compelled to busy itself with other matters. The hills of debris were removed by UNRWA to a landfill near Yamoun. For weeks, one could still see the homeless people digging in the ruins of their former homes in search of their savings, their memories and the remains of their property. Now two Israeli tanks on the hilltop observe the empty field and generate terror.
The tanks come down to the lot almost every day. The last operation was called "Lights Out." In the period since the incursion, 64 people have been killed in the camp, on top of the 53 killed in April. In addition, there are 217 detainees, 250 were wounded, 17 permanently disabled. The city of the suicide bombers. As one walks through the camp, there seem to be more wheelchairs than cars. Here is Suleiman Aamar, 25, who was wounded five months ago, being pushed in his wheelchair by friends along the sand paths. It was his third wound.
The rebuilding of the demolished houses is scheduled to begin on May 1. A bitter argument is raging between the residents and their representatives on the emergency committee. First they decided to build and not leave the place in ruins as a memorial site, as some people wanted. Then they thought they would rebuild the dwellings as they had been: meager places, fit for refugees, broadcasting a sense of the temporary until the return. But UNRWA wanted to build more spacious dwellings, with convenient access roads. There were some residents who were afraid that wide roads would make it easier for the tanks to enter. The building was delayed and delayed again. On top of that, the IDF occasionally imposed curfew. The director of UNRWA, Iain Hook, who wanted to accelerate the start of the building, was accidentally killed by the IDF. People in the camp are convinced it was done to further delay the process. The current director of UNRWA returned to Britain because of the war in Iraq, and the homeless remained in that state.
One member of the committee, Jamal Zabeida, four of whose relatives were killed in the incursion and whose house was half demolished, thinks the former character of the camp should be retained. "Sharon was the engineer of the refugee camps in Gaza in the 1970s and wanted to make them permanent homes," he says. "I don't want him to become the engineer of the camp here, too. This is a refugee camp that is awaiting a solution. For us, this is sacred ground and a symbol of a determined stand. But UNRWA does what the Americans and the Israelis want - (UN Secretary General) Kofi Annan does what Bush tells him. I tried to come out against it, also because of the people who were killed here. For me, it is a sacred place and my position was to rebuild what was here before and remember those who fell. I am not against comfortable homes, but this is a political position, it is a principle. That is my view, but it was not accepted."
A year ago, Zabeida buried his sister and seven of his friends and neighbors with his own hands in a temporary grave. He did not leave the camp for an instant during the fighting and he was one of the first who declared there had not been a massacre. Now he finds himself in a minority on the emergency committee. The inhabitants, who want to go back to their homes at long last, agreed to improved dwellings, as UNRWA wanted - two stories in each building and a new neighborhood for the residents of the former third floors, which will be built next to the cemetery.
Ibrahim Farihath approaches. A year ago, the 52-year-old was used by the soldiers as a human shield. For seven days and seven nights he was tied up at night, risking his life by day. His memories: "They took me to knock on the door, to enter and see if there was a bomb inside. Four or five times, I was afraid I was going to die. Soldiers here, soldiers there, and me in the middle. At night, they would tie me up and lash me to the door where they were and tell me to sleep. Sometimes they gave me food. I have nine children. I tell the soldiers that I want to go to them, they don't know what became of me, and the soldiers say soon, a bit longer. Once at night they put a sack over my head, `Now I will kill you,' stripped all my clothes off and searched for a mobile phone on me. They thought I phoned someone. They didn't find anything. Then they tied me up and told me to go to sleep. How can I sleep, I was afraid. After six days they went, at three in the morning they left me by myself. `What will I do,' I asked, and they said I should go. There were tanks outside and I was afraid, so I stayed alone. Then they knocked down half a building with me inside. I thought they would bring down the whole house on me. I went from house to house, scared, until I got home. At home, they didn't know what happened to me. They thought I ran away or I was dead." (www.haaretz.com)
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