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Dheisheh Underfire
S. Smith Patrick

At 4 A.M. I was woken by the sound of many, many tanks driving by. Many.

Every once in a while they would stop and shoot aimlessly into the camp. Tear gas and bullets.

At 10:30 am they were still coming around. Soldiers got out of their vehicles and came into the camp.

They just ran in and sometimes shot around, as if they’re practicing for something bigger.

There is a new fleet of tanks in addition to ones I'm used to seeing. They're bigger than any other vehicles I've ever seen. I don't know to what I may compare them, they are even bigger than trucks at construction sites. They take up more than the width of the road and tear up the curbside.

The Bethlehem area is now closed -- no one can get out or in, even the press.

I haven't experienced the curfew like this before, though I'm told that in February it was worse -- they were shooting into the Ibdaa Center even though they knew foreigners stay here.

The invasion is so de rigeur for the people, that even though there is military curfew under threat of death, people can be seen in small numbers on the streets.

Kids (mostly boys) still venture out into the alleyways to play. Adults move quickly as they go from one place to another. The overwhelming majority of the people do stay indoors, of course. Curtains are drawn. Doors that usually remain ajar are closed.

There is something surreal about going through the motions of a daily routine when there are tanks shelling outside. Bored of watching the tanks, I showered and handwashed clothes.

By mid-afternoon the bulk of the military parade had passed. I ventured out to the Al-Seifi home.

The Al-Seifi family is fortunate to have a courtyard that adjoins two homes of relatives. Between the two families there are 9 kids who move through the space. Most families spend the curfew indoors, in a very small living space.

Amal was making bread and had promised me I could videotape the process. The three girls were all home; the two older boys were out. I imagine they were with the other teenage boys at the camp entrance constructing a makeshift barricade out of scrap metal and junk. Some collect stones to use as artillery against the soldiers when they arrive at the camp’s main entrance.

The situation here has worsened as of today. The soldiers have come en masse to remain until the trenches are dug and the walls/razor wire fences are constructed around the entire West Bank. It stuns me that the free world allows this to happen. Millions of people will now live in a cage. Movement has been restricted by the use of checkpoints for quite some time, the fence now serves to physicalize and re-emphasize the mental state. Tell everyone you know.

In Gaza an airplane fired on a carload of people and singed all seven passengers. They were not suspected 'terrorists,' just civilians. The images are horrific.

Here in Dheisheh our injuries are two today. A man was shot in the neck and a boy in the chest by bullets ricocheting when soldiers shot aimlessly into the camp. They also shot tear gas canisters throughout the day. I'm becoming really sensitive to the smell. The mother of a 2-year old boy with asthma told me that the gas is horrible for the little boy. They live near the front of the camp, so the fumes are very strong. She says he immediately starts wheezing or coughing. His little system can't take it.

During the last invasion ("Operation Defense Shield" or some other similarly pro-nation Americanesque moniker), the Israeli word was that they were 'hunting down terror' in the camps. (Sounds familiar, yes?)

Although they knew exactly who they wanted in Dheisheh (two men were on the wanted list. One is now in a coma in the hospital, the other hasn't been heard from in the Israeli prison), the entire camp of 12,000 underwent curfew and over 1,000 boys and men were rounded up, harassed, some beaten, some detained in prison, etc. for no reason but being male people in an age range estimated to fit the “terrorist profile” (Age 16 to 45).

This time we are being held under curfew as part of the “new phase” of defense against terrorism (the wall and trenches).

Although I find the word “terrorist” to ring like a military campaign slogan, I don't mind it as long as it is used to describe activities on both sides. Both engage in terrorist activities, just as both call their own “freedom fighters.”

Throughout the day we heard tanks rumble by, shelling and shooting. There was something new going off today, much louder than anything I've heard before. It's a punctuation that freezes me in my tracks. If we hear a lot of shooting, we go indoors for a while.

I visited other friends. Maysa is the 27-year-old mother of two children. I asked her to be interviewed and speak in English (she is impressively fluent). She wears the traditional Muslim hajeb (headscarf and coat). I wanted to film a woman with this image whose intelligence is articulated through English. I try to choose some subjects who speak in their native Arabic, and some to speak in English to coax American viewers into seeing the Palestinians as similar to themselves.

Maysa studied Renaissance English in University and now teaches small kids. She showed me gunshot holes in the family's balcony. After a round of shooting her 2-year-old came in shouting “tach!” (shooting). Several parents tell me that “tach” and “debabab” (tank) are among the first words kids learn.

Night had fallen and I was still there, far from the Ibdaa Center and the Al-Seifi family home. Although the camp is just one square kilometer, it's maze-like alleys and hills give it the illusion of covering more space. Especially at night under curfew.

A neighbor told us that the Israelis had entered the camp again, and were within the neighborhood. They always park their jeeps and soldier-carrier vehicles in the front street and run in on foot. I went to the roof to look for them.

I didn't want to stay there for the night. I watched another fleet enter the camp much further down the road while I waited for the signal to leave. Every time I go out, the decision is grave. I felt confident that no soldiers were around, but also thought about how terrifying it would be to come across them, and how dangerous.

Maysa's brother Ahmed accompanied me. Once we walked a bit he said, “it must have been a rumor that the soldiers came in.” I told him about the ten that I saw enter down the street. We really never know.

Ahmed walked me to the mosque, around the corner from the Al-Seifi home. I sat for a while outside with the Amal and Wafa (the mothers of the kids) and the nine kids.

Khaled came out looking visibly distressed. “Everything is really worse,” he said to me. “In Gaza there are really problems.” I remember seeing a televised demonstration of tens of thousands of people shouting for food. They’re beginning to starve there. I wonder if this is reported on in the states.

I started clapping patterns for the kids to follow and it turned into a songfest. They all sang for quite some time. The rumbling of tanks continued as well.

There are many moments throughout the day during which I sense the sadness, the frustration, the many emotions born of the occupation. Somehow, there are still these times of joy.

“Keyan,” I whispered to my 16-year old friend in between songs, “aren’t you happy now?”

“Happy Smith? I am not happy.”

“But you are content, for the moment.”

“Yes, in this way I am happy. But in the next minute I will be bored and sad again.”

At 11 I decided to leave. "Why don't you sleep here," Amal asked. I explained that I like to be in the Ibdaa Center because its height and proximity to the street make it the perfect vantagepoint. I can count on the soldiers to do something early every morning.

"Hide your camera," she said. I left the tripod there. I am very aware that it looks like I am carrying a large gun.

As I snuck through the alleys I came across a group of five men sitting at their door eating. One stood and offered me his plate of cucumber slices. I took one, "Shooq-ran echtir," I said. Thank you very much.

"Join us," another said and held out a plate of watermelon. I could hear tanks.

"I must go," I said.

As I neared the Center I saw my French friend Ludowig pulling down his bedroom shade. "Ludo! Open the front door."

"Wait. There are tanks now. They will pass soon."

I stood by a wall until I heard the front door unlock.

From the second story window I watched the next fleet arrive, soldiers jump out, get in, drive on...

The next fleet has just gone by and the cycle will continue. They are making rounds and rotating through, each stopping and sometimes shooting to let us know they are there.