The occupation and Jenin

I cannot really see or feel any evidence of the occupation in Jenin. One important reason for this is that Jenin is fully under Palestinian control. The main reason is undoubtedly that I’m a foreigner because, just as any other Palestinian, every citizen of Jenin has its own personal story about life under the occupation. Unlike Jenin, the occupation is evident in Palestinian cities such as Bethlehem and Hebron, especially the latter. This is mainly because of the visible presence of the Wall and various checkpoint and border crossings in and around those cities.

The Wall cannot be seen in Jenin and I didn’t come across any checkpoint between Ramallah and Jenin on my way here (although I was later told that there seem to be two or three, so I was lucky that day). Furthermore, some years ago a number of checkpoints had been removed due to an agreement. Israeli settlements cannot be seen either, although there are some in the surrounding area. You would need binoculars though to be able to see them from the city centre.

I must therefore rely on the stories of locals when it comes to the impact the occupation has on them. I have been told that many Palestinians experience difficulties when they try to visit relatives on the other side of the Wall and sometimes it’s even impossible. I also often hear stories about unemployment, even among highly educated young people. For example one of my students is a qualified psychologist and she had a job for some months but now she’s sitting at home, unemployed. She has no hope whatsoever that her situation will improve in the future. The shop assistant in the grocery where I often shop has a degree in business administration and many women with an academic degree become secretaries because there’s no other suitable work. I haven’t done any research on the question as to what extent the unemployment is caused by the occupation, but it’s generally accepted that there’s a strong relationship between unemployment and the occupation

And then there’s the water shortage. That shortage applies to the entire Middle-East and so for Palestine too. But from the point of view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the problem needs a more differentiated approach. In Palestine you don’t just have to be careful with the amount of water you use, but sometimes the Israelis just shut the water off. Now, even though it’s only April, you can see tractors with water tanks driving through the streets, pumping water up to the reservoirs on the rooftops. In a few months from now, in July and August, I’ve been told that these tractors will be a normal part of the everyday street scene. The Palestinians in Jenin have been cut off from some of the major water wells because of the Wall.  It’s all in great contrast to the presence of swimming pools and lush greenery in the Jewish settlements.

Yesterday, during the vocabulary exercise, the word “fence” was discussed. After I had given the meaning of the word “fence” one of the students spontaneously said: “there’s electricity on the fence near the Wall, if you touch it you’ll die!”. It was the start of a conversation in which my students did all the talking while I listened with bated breath.

I remarked in astonishment: “but are you sure you will die immediately, surely the electricity will only have a deterring effect?” “No”, they all shouted in unison, “touch it and you’ll die!” “That’s horrible”, I said. Then followed one story after the other about night-time arrests by the Israeli army. In the refugee camp “Jenin-camp” these arrests happen very often and always in the night to avoid attention. I asked: “but what’s the reason for the arrests?” The students started to laugh and said: “hahaha, the reason? Well, we’re Palestinian, that’s all the reason they need!”

When I continued asking for the reasons of the arrests they explained to me that if a person is politically active and critical about the Israeli regime, that person will be arrested. This applies to everybody who is negative in any way whatever about the Israeli regime. I said: “so the Palestinian rapper from Jenin who I talked to the other day and who writes critical raps should be careful too?” “Definitely”, they said, “He can appear on their list in no time!”

Not only adults must accept this. Teenagers are being arrested too, for example, if they have been throwing stones. My students were telling endlessly about their experiences: almost every family has had to deal with an arrest at least once. And if a family member is rounded up, you are in the dark as to what will happen to that person. He could be gone for two days, two months or even for years, you just don’t know.

A student was saying that her brother was politically active at the university some years ago and for that reason he got arrested in the middle of the night. “They just dragged him from of our house”, she said indignantly. “In the army truck he was beaten with rifle butts. It was horrible. In total he has been arrested two times and both times he was gone for two years. And sometimes Palestinian teenagers are thrown in a cell with adult criminals.”

Of course I had read more than once about such arrests. They take place all over the West Bank, but now five girls were sitting opposite of me and they were sharing their experiences with me. I found it hard to come up with a reaction to what they were telling. I said: “You must have been scared when that arrest took place that night.” “No way!”, they reacted immediately, “they don’t scare us; our little children are scared of course, but we won’t let them terrify us!”

We never got to the rest of the vocabulary exercise and I skipped the last exercise too! The lesson wasn’t any less interesting though! When they walked out of the classroom I thanked them for entrusting me with their personal stories. “Well Ruben”, they said, “we talk with each other about these happenings all day long. Not a day goes by without us talking about it.”

I fell completely silent.

Alright, alright, in Jenin there’s one thing that enables foreigners like me to – at least – hear the occupier……almost daily…..when the clear blue sky over Jenin is filled with the intimidating roaring and thundering sounds of Israeli jet fighters.

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