Greetings from Palestine
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  Dheisheh Journal

Dheisheh, West Bank
S. Smith Patrick

One of sixty refugee camps throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Dheisheh has a population of over 12,000 residents encompassing three generations of Palestinian refugees. The camp is one square kilometer of concrete structures ranging from the original UN homes built in the early 1950s, barely 9 x 9 meters, to the three story apartments built over time. The main entrance to the camp is wide enough for only one car and it splits off in two directions. The walking paths are narrow and maze-like. There are a few junctions in which kids have room to kick semi-deflated soccer balls.

Upon the creation of Israel in 1948, Palestinians fled their homes under threat of violence. They took their house keys with them, confident that they would return. The fleeing Palestinians sought shelter as they could off the land, until the Red Cross provided tents as temporary shelter. In the early 1950s, the United Nations built concrete structures for each family, the 9 by 9 structures. There were two outdoor toilets per 100 people: one for males and one for females. There were often eight or nine people living in these small rooms. Many families live in the same homes today, or have since added on to them. The residences are nearly always in close proximity to the villages from which they were expelled.

The relentless struggle that permeates Palestinian lives is over the right to return to their homeland and to live with basic human rights. Today, the key to the house is passed down from generation to generation, accompanied by a deep hope to return home.

Day 1: The Curfew Begins

6:30 A.M. A knock at my bedroom door wakes me up: "Tanks are outside, it is best if we go downstairs." I forego a shower and run my head under the faucet. What to wear for an invasion? I bring my camera equipment and a notebook.

In the dining room of the guest house, I am told that at 3:30 in the morning Israeli soldiers entered the refugee camp and announced we were under curfew. Anyone in the street could be shot.

There are about a dozen people in the guest house, Palestinian locals and internationals. People are on cell phones and the Internet. We make coffee and tea, and someone shares a box of cookies.

8:30 A.M. News comes that Zied Hamash, an Ibdaa dancer, and his father are among those blindfolded and detained in the center of the camp. Possibly taken away.

The Ibdaa Cultural Center is a unique institution with a dance troupe that uses traditional debke dance to express the history and the struggle of the Palestinian people in a creative and non-violent way. Zied is one of its dancers.

9 A.M. I go up to the restaurant (which has been closed since last winter, when the camp was under an earlier military curfew), on the top floor of the building. Jihad, the spokesperson for the center and another dancer, is looking through his video camera out onto Hebron Road, the main artery connecting Jerusalem and Hebron and bordering the front of the camp. His camera is wedged between the window sill and a metal shade, pulled down to create a slit the size of the camera. I set up my tripod beside his.

The entire room is lined with windows. I walk back and forth across the room to follow the action as the tanks pass back and forth. A tank drives to one end of the camp, stops, turns its gun around, waits. It then drives back. It is pacing, back and forth. People look out windows and edge onto balconies; when the tanks drive by, they step back. A few women do laundry by hand on their porches. Two F-16 airplanes fly overheard.

10:30 A.M. Two shattering sounds! I’m told they are sound bombs meant to scare people. The tanks roar as they drive around the camp. They are so big that they tower above the concrete homes.

When I go to my room to recharge a battery, I wash clothes out by hand. I wonder if I am wasting water needed for the future, and how long my one bottle of drinking water will last.

11:30 A.M. Barbara Lubin, a tireless activist for Palestine for 15 years and a key fund raiser for Ibdaa today, phones KPFA radio in the San Francisco Bay Area for an interview. Then she contacts other news organizations. Osha and Rachel put information on a website ( Some of the boys slumber. Most of the internationals are online. We are not surprised to read headlines stating "Troops look for Palestinian Militants." Will a headline ever read "Civilian population of 11,000 under siege?" Helicopters fly overhead.

1:00 It has been quiet for some time, except for a few children playing outside. I phone Khaled, a founder of the Ibdaa Dance Troupe in 1994 and participant today, by walkie-talkie and ask him if I can go out. He said it is up to me, but that he thinks it is still dangerous. I tell him I’ll wait.

1:30. A tank rolls into the camp. There are shots. Five minutes later, a man runs down the street carrying a wounded child. A dozen young boys run behind him. He screams to the UN ambulatory that waits for such emergencies. They are ready. As the ambulance pulls out, I wonder if the two Israeli tanks down the street will let it pass. The ambulance drives off.

2:00 I lay down on a couch to rest. Jihad calls: "Get on the floor! Snipers are on the roof.." Barbara and I move across the floor and go down to the first floor.

2:05 Jihad receives a phone call from Khaled, we are invited to his house for lunch. "That’s ridiculous," Osha says. Remarkable that Khaled thinks of our well-being during such time. We’re going to Khaled’s house in 10 minutes.

2:35 Five Israeli transport vehicles pull up in front of the Ibdaa Center, they congregate at the camp’s entrance. We can not leave for Khaled’s house. Hungry, we investigate the kitchen. There are cans of sardines, eggs, a few pieces of pita bread, coffee and tea, among other leftovers. Osha has power bars

3:30 A tank moves through the entrance and parks next to the building. It points its large gun straight at us. My understanding is that they know internationals stay in this building.

4:00 I hear tanks outside. Doors close and soldiers speak to each other and to others through walkie-talkies. A group starts to play cards. Barbara is on the phone doing another interview. I hide my camera upstairs in case they come in. We all have our passports on us. Barbara finishes her conversation with Amy Goodman of Pacifica Radio. "It was only two minutes. Amy said she’d phone tomorrow."

4:30 I climb up onto a chair and look through a crack in the drawn curtains. There are two tanks adjacent to the building. They are so close I can see the faces of the soldiers sticking their heads out of the tank. One soldier yells at some children nearby; I am careful not to move the curtain.

5:00 We read on the Internet and hear via the phone that this incursion is suppose to last two or three days. From the top floor, I look directly down on a tank with a soldier perched atop. Each time he turns his body, he moves the enormous gun with him. It points where he is facing.

6:45 From Barbara¹s second floor bedroom, I look out the window directly above the soldiers and down into the blue eyes of one of them -- I quickly step back. "He saw me," I tell Barbara. After waiting a few moments, I go to the window again. He is still looking. I look back.

"How are you," he says in English.

"Ma’nish ma," I reply in Hebrew.

"Medaberah Ivrit?" he asks.

"K’tsat Ivrit." I reply.

"You speak English?" he asks.

"Ken," I reply in the Hebrew affirmative.

"Don’t talk to him," Barbara snaps.

"We want him to be friendly --"

"They are oppressing these people, we don’t want anything from him."

It’s true.

7:00 Rachel and Safa, two American activists, make eggs and rice. A can of corn is opened and yogurt is laid out. I am so hungry.

8:00 It is dusk and I go to the top floor, the fourth floor. The breeze is deliciously cool, though the smell of garbage is difficult to take. I fall asleep. Rachel wakes me. It is dark and everyone must stay downstairs. I look into the compound, the two tanks are still parked next to the Center and more maintain a presence in front of the center.

9:30 I hear that a bomber struck near Tel Aviv. Three were killed.

9:45 From the distance an enormous rumbling. It becomes deafening. Eight tanks drive by, one after another. There is an enormous spotlight. I imagine it lights up the entire inside of apartments. The tanks are so loud, surely no one can sleep.

10:00. The streets are dark. It is unnerving not being able to see what is out there. A full moon shines on Dheisheh. And I fall off to sleep.

Day 2: Another Day

6:00 A.M. Barbara wakes me. We go to the top floor and look down on the camp, in different directions. Fifteen soldiers are gathered against a wall on a sloping street. There is a jeep and a dog. The soldiers are focusing on a home. One calls through a megaphone, his tone is coaxing. Another points his long gun in the direction, clearly ready to shoot. The other soldiers are attentive and ready for action.

Ahmed tells me the soldier said, "Come out now and we won’t kill you."

There is one Palestinian man standing with the soldiers, I imagine he is a collaborator by force. A dozen soldiers move into and against the house. Up the hill and behind an Israeli military jeep, three Palestinian men sit on a storefront step. In close proximity several children play. There are several women as well; I imagine that they are so used to the situation that they are not intimidated to stay indoors. I’m told the soldiers are searching for a man in the house.

11:30 A.M. We have our first summit meeting among the 10 internationals and Dheisheh residents stranded in the Ibdaa Cultural Center. There is concern about procedure in case we are called upon by the soldiers, and the need to avoid movement near the windows. The curtains are to be kept drawn and when we look out we do so with our heads low or to the side of the frame. Barbara brings up the point that if we go out, and if one of us gets arrested, then the energy becomes about getting an American out of jail (and could take days), as opposed to the focus staying on the Palestinian struggle.

There was an offer to go to Khaled’s house for lunch. We decide that it is better to stay here -- good for some internationals to be present with the Palestinians here in this building, and also good not to call attention to the space by having too much movement.

6:30 Because I know the way, I go to Khaled’s to get bread. Rachel comes too. We move quickly through the streets and stay close to walls. Khaled, his wife Amal, and their six children are all there. We have tea and Khaled says there will be a time tomorrow during when the curfew will be lifted so that people can stock up on food and supplies. This means the curfew will continue. We catch glimpses of military figures passing by the windows. Sometimes we hear Hebrew.

As it grows dark, it becomes more risky for us to leave the house. There is talk about whether or not we should remain there. It is decided that we will leave only if we are sure it is safe.

9:00 Amal makes bread in a metal cooking apparatus on the kitchen floor. The bread is a large round flat circle with oil and zatar, a mixture of spices. She bequeaths to us six pieces to bring back to Ibdaa.

10:00 Khaled phones by walkie-talkie to the Ibdaa Center. There are no military vehicles around the center, but we know that there are soldiers on foot in the camp. Rachel and I and one of their sons, Issar, set off for the center.

We walk tightly against the wall. We go to a neighbor’s house and climb into a window. Walking through the home, I see an older woman praying. At the front door I tell Issar to turn back, since we are nearly at the center. We walk quietly down the street, straining to hear any sounds. We pause against the wall, then enter the clearing around the center.