Two Paradises, Two Cemeteries
Ibrahim Haleifa went out to work in the morning, riding on his donkey. The soldiers opened fire from the armored vehicle at the edge of the village. They were strictly enforcing the curfew, even in this remote village, even against this mentally impaired youth.
3 May 2002
Ibrahim Haleifa after the operation: Shot for violating the curfew.
(Photo: Miki Krats)
The As'ad family home: A well in the living room.
On Sunday, at the small hospital in Tul Karm, they performed open-heart surgery. They don't really know how to do such an operation - they have neither the right doctors nor the equipment, and they had only tried it once before - but the roads to Ramallah and Nablus were blocked by tanks and the wounded person was about to die. They had no other choice.
By their count, this was the 3,001st wounded person in the Tul Karm district, and when we visited him a short time after the seven-hour operation, he was in critical condition. He had been shot by soldiers. He didn't know that the night before, the curfew had been reinstated in his village (it had already lasted 26 days) and that this morning, two hours after he was injured, it was removed again. His relatives, at his bedside, say he is mentally impaired.
Ibrahim Haleifa went out to work in the morning, riding on his donkey. The soldiers opened fire from the armored vehicle at the edge of the village. They were strictly enforcing the curfew, even in this remote village, even against this stray youth. The neighbors say that it took half an hour before they could get the bleeding young man off the street and into the house, because the soldiers fired at anyone who tried to approach him. It took another hour to reach the hospital.
The Israel Defense Forces spokesman: "The IDF has opened an investigation to clarify the details of the incident. At this stage, the identity of the shooters is still unknown (if they were soldiers or Palestinians), as is the reason for the shooting."
Haleifa will be 18 this summer, but he is still in school, having failed several grades. Sometimes he also works in the small food factory in his village.
Now his face is yellow, his breathing is labored. The bullet entered through his shoulder, struck his lungs and stopped near his heart. He is lying on the simple hospital bed - there's no intensive-care unit here - covered by a coarse wool blanket. Only the handwritten sign warning visitors not to try to speak with the patient gives any indication of his condition. Nurse Adnan Sarhan, who took care of him right after the operation, said he may or may not live. All he wanted to do was get to work, this youth with a budding beard, who may never grow up.
But no one cried over Haleifa this week. His town, Dir al-Rusun, was too preoccupied with the lifting of the curfew after 26 days, blinking as it emerged again into the light, very hesitant after all that time. Its narrow alleys were not filled with people, the stores were not bursting with customers, no great joy was evident. Some of the residents were afraid to leave the house. The army vehicles could return at any moment and open fire. Others had no reason to go out - they didn't have any money to buy anything. The few who did venture out stayed close to the walls, looking scared, tired and poor.
Destruction of a symbol
The streets of nearby Tul Karm were also practically empty. This is how the cities of the West Bank look now that the IDF has partially withdrawn from them: battered, scarred, exhausted, half-deserted. The tanks come in nearly every night, says the governor. The school at the edge of the city is scarred from the numerous tank shells that fell there. The mounds of debris in the middle of town have not been cleared yet.
The last time we were here, after the previous IDF "withdrawal" exactly five months ago, they still bothered to pick up the pieces. Now they either feel it's pointless, or simply lack the energy. Nowhere else was such a clear symbol of Palestinian sovereignty as the big, old Mukata of Tul Karm destroyed. But the small post office and tiny park in Dir al-Rusun also came under fire. All the computers in the post office were confiscated. In the local council office, someone drew a mustache and glasses on the poster of Yasser Arafat and added an Israeli flag to the portrait.
This week, the ghost towns partially came back to life. Baka al-Sharqiyeh, Atil, Zeita, Ikhtaba, Tzeida, Dir al-Rusun. On Sunday, only one other village was still under curfew, but the signs of the prolonged imprisonment were evident everywhere. At Ahed Ghanem's pharmacy in Dir al-Rusun, there are no boxes of infant formula left. The pain medications also ran out a long time ago. Practically the only thing on the shelves are bottles of cheap Israeli shampoo, but no one has the money to buy them.
Fayed Hairi, the village poet, at the pharmacy: "Tell [Prime Minister] Sharon to let the two peoples make two states here, two paradises instead of two cemeteries." There is no water in town. Jamil Abu Ali, the head of the local council, says that the pump, in the council building, which was in the IDF's hands, is broken. An expert from Ramle is due to come in the afternoon. Abu Ali has already obtained a car from a local resident who is married to an Israeli. The car has yellow Israeli license plates. It will be waiting for the expert at the checkpoint. After the man figures out what the problem is, maybe he'll fix it tomorrow.
The crops in the fields have gone bad - deformed cucumbers and squash that were not picked in time - and the farmers have no other source of income to replace them. There is no starvation in the town, but there are shortages and malnutrition. There is a gaping hole in the center of the As'ad family's living room. A rope hangs down into the hole. The family uses it to pull up buckets of water. Bucket after bucket of rainwater is drawn in the living room. The mother filters the water through a cloth before her nine children drink from it.
Mohammed Abu Ali, the father of the family, once worked in a sewing workshop, sewing the Israeli "Rosh Indiani" brand of clothes. But he was laid off two years ago and has been unemployed ever since. For a while, he tried to keep sewing at home, using the old machines he has there, but that work didn't go anywhere. How does a family with nine children manage to survive in these conditions? The council head says: Everyone helps out. A little food from Israeli Arabs, a little from generous people in the village, a little from the council. But it's still unclear how this family of 11, plus a grandmother and aunt, manage.
There is hardly anything in the house, apart from the many mattresses that are piled up during the day and spread out at night on the floors of the two rooms. The grandmother, aunt and older children sleep in one room. The younger children and the parents sleep in the other room. And how do you keep nine children, ranging in age from four months to 16 years, stuck in the house during a month of curfew, with nothing to keep them occupied? Ten-year-old Malak says they play soccer. Where? In the house. Where in the house? In the living room. Where in the living room? Between the well and the old sewing machines.
Malak's shirt is torn. The rusty refrigerator contains bottles of water, bags of pita, three tomatoes, two heads of cauliflower and two cucumbers. That's it. The bathroom is tiny. Black buckets lie all about. Thirteen people are living like this - less than an hour from the upscale Ramat Aviv Gimmel neighborhood.
Skeletons of stolen cars
A professor of history and philosophy at Bir Zeit, who lives in the village, stops us, overwrought. He says that this morning, the soldiers humiliated the women who were trying to get to work in the fields. The vegetable seller Murshid Abu Sa'a has a long list of his customer's debts. Today he has fresh vegetables, but no one to sell them to.
Farial and Falah Abu Zeitun have six children. Falah is not at home. He went to Nablus this morning for dialysis treatment. The curfew was very hard on him. When it started, he made his way to Jerusalem through Baka al-Gharbiyeh to be hooked up to the dialysis machine twice a week at Augusta Victoria Hospital. He stayed in Jerusalem for two weeks and returned last Thursday. This morning, he tried to get to Nablus. His face was already swollen and his body filling with toxins, but the soldiers sent him home. Farial says they also kicked him.
Two hours later, the curfew was lifted and the Red Crescent called to tell him to come. His wife went with him to Tul Karm. From there, he was taken by ambulance to Nablus. Then she returned home to her six children, who haven't been able to attend school for the last month, and she had no idea when her sick husband would return. The television is tuned to Al Jazeera, which is broadcasting from Jenin. They spent 10 years building their house. Every year, during the holy month of Ramadan, people gave them money and they gradually added another wall, another room. They finished building it a year and a half ago. The monthly welfare payment of NIS 400, their only source of income, hasn't been arriving since January.
Soldiers stand amid the olive trees, in the middle of nowhere, near the entrance to another tiny and remote village. Two reservists, behind a row of small stones they have placed in the middle of the goat path in the olive grove, to mark it as a checkpoint on the dirt path that serves as an alternative route from Dir al-Rusun to Tul Karm, via Ikhtaba. How did they get there? And where are we? They amiably point out to us the path that circumvents their checkpoint, that circumvents the main road that is blocked to traffic by a tank. "That's the way they all go," they say, smiling.
Ikhtaba is littered with the skeletons of cars, a remnant of the activity that went on here until recently - pieces of fashionable jeeps that were stolen in Israel now stand silent, lined up in rows. What's left of Troopers, Pajaros and Cherokees.
Evening is approaching and Tul Karm is swathed in a yellowish glow that only highlights its wretchedness. We once visited the school at the edge of town to document the first day of school at an institution for refugee children. Now the school is empty and a wall is broken.
Much more heavily damaged is the Abdel Majid Ta'iya boys' school; heavy shelling has destroyed several floors. The basketball court is full of rocks and broken glass; the children's colorful paintings on the walls of the schoolyard are now shattered with cracks. One picture shows a student crossing the street at a crosswalk, and the caption reads: "The street is for cars and the sidewalk is for pedestrians." A soldier wrote his name at the bottom of a picture showing a Palestinian child facing a tank.
`I want to be a Jew'
Pictures of Dr. Thabet Thabet, who was assassinated by Israel, are everywhere. Abu Nidal's hummus restaurant, where Thabet's nephew killed two Israeli restaurateurs in revenge, is closed. The owner's 16-year-old son was arrested two weeks ago by the IDF. The local orphanage was also hit in the shelling.
"I want to be a Jew," sighs Izzadin a-Sharif, Abu Ziyad, in his home. An armed Palestinian guard stands watch. He is the governor of the Tul Karm district and has been partially paralyzed since being struck by a Syrian sniper's bullet in 1983. In 1996, his eldest son was shot to death by an Israeli soldier. When we visited him five months ago, he was sitting in his crowded office in the Mukata and talking about peace; not anymore. Twenty or 30 dunams of rubble is all that's left of his governmental compound. Now he doesn't go anywhere. He sits in the shade of a tree and waits.
A veteran Fatah man, this isn't the same Abu Ziyad we met just a few months ago. Now he seems exhausted, desperate and defeated. The soldiers just entered his house and left a little while ago, showing him some respect. He remembers the days when he hosted their commanders here. Now he's busy trying to obtain permits to transfer two trucks full of supplies to his town; they've been held up at the Allenby Bridge after the soldiers there discovered that the blankets on board were manufactured in Iran. Seven schools in his district have been damaged. It will cost $5 million to repair them. Also, 632 people have been arrested, 96 have been killed and 3,000 have been injured. "The future is very bleak," he says.