City of 14,000 Stories

The sun sets on the refugee camp from just down the road in the "rich" area of town, where Ziad Senan and his wife, Thowra, live. Ziad teaches architecture at a nearby university; his hour-long commute these days takes three. Israeli soldiers took over their apartment in April. He says they destroyed the dining-room furniture, ate all their food, and took the children's beds to cover the windows. Ziad's son Sultan brings out bands of spent bullet shells. He drapes them around his neck, and asks to have his picture taken. Ziad watches and asks without irony, "What do you think—should we continue to struggle for our rights, or sign on for another peace process?"

Gunfire erupts just down the street, and the cell phone rings. Israeli tanks have been spotted on top of the hill overlooking Jenin. Thowra turns down Independence Day, the movie on the satellite dish. "The Israelis fill our lives with sorrow," she says to everyone in the room, and turns up the volume in time for Bill Pullman's speech.

Governor Al-Manasreh seems more relaxed the next morning. We talk about the reasons for the Israeli attack. It seems impossible to justify the destruction unleashed in Jenin. But what about the Palestinian fighters? Don't they endanger Jenin's citizens? Are there members of Hamas, as the Israelis maintain, planning attacks from Jenin? At first he reacts angrily, clearly having fielded plenty of such questions lately.

If there is truth to be found, it may be in the flattened Hawashin neighborhood.
photo: Jehad Nga
If there is truth to be found, it may be in the flattened Hawashin neighborhood.

"Hamas is a political organization. They declare a political program, but they are opposition. But Sharon is the prime minister. See, there's a difference," he says. "Sharon did not destroy the infrastructure of Hamas. He destroyed the infrastructure of the Palestinian society." I ask about the bombings in Israel. "I am against the operations against civilians—not because the Israelis are against them, or the United States is against them—but because morally and politically, it doesn't fit with our struggle for freedom. I think in order to defeat the Israeli occupation, I have to be against racism, murder, and killing, the things the Israelis are guilty of. It is my right to defend my homeland and my people—but with legitimate means."

Adnan Sabah, the journalist, also worries about the growing influence of the Islamic groups, and the increasing association of "martyrs" with heroes. "But listen," he says. "You need to be clear on where this problem starts. It's the occupation of our people, the constant state of siege and insecurity." Amanda Melville, who has worked with children in Jenin for UNICEF, agrees.

"The children have seen horrible things. Some are becoming more aggressive, and more willing to take risks. They feel like they could die at any minute, and some wish they could. I've never seen anything like it."

"Did I say 14,000 stories?" Sabah asks me. "Walk around Palestine. There are 3 million stories here."

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