Under the Occupation 

Jenin: Palestinian watermelons vs Israeli tanks / International Solidarity Movement

Brian Wood in conversation with Cahoime Butterly

There is a significant measure of resistance creeping back into the people of Jenin. They say: “We cannot live under 24 hour curfew, constantly subject to the gunfire of the Israeli soldiers, having our homes and shops destroyed.” So, many people—old to young, women to children—have been throwing watermelons and tomatoes at the tanks as they roll through the streets. One young boy successfully stuffed a piece of watermelon in the barrel of a gun on a tank. The desire to live in freedom is outweighing their fears of death and so they resist with what they have.

One young boy told an international activist in the area: “The only thing I want in the world is to protect my watermelon stand. Please stay with me.” Many fruit and vegetable stands have been run over by tanks in recent weeks, taking away the very livelihood of the people who sell from them.

Local estimates say that only 20% of the inhabitants of Jenin Refugee Camp, only three months ago home to 14,000, have left the camp due to continued Israeli military operations there. Soldiers continue using dynamite to blow up homes in the camp at whim, causing fear to grow and expand and forcing people to seek shelter elsewhere. Men of all ages are continually arrested or detained, beaten, blindfolded, and handcuffed. For most of them, this is the second time in three months this has happened to them.

Those who remain in the camp are still trying to pick up the pieces of their homes that were willfully destroyed by soldiers when they entered the camp nearly three weeks ago. They went door to door, pillaging and destroying everything they came across. At the time the soldiers entered the camp, most people were still in the process of picking up their lives from the large invasion back in April. They have had to start from scratch again.

Some prisoners taken in April have been allowed visits from immediate family members. This includes some of those held in administrative detention, meaning they have not been charged with any crime but are generally being kept in prison for two three-month periods.

The Israeli military is still searching Jenin for two active resisters to their presence in the West Bank but is having trouble finding them. One of them comes from a very large family in the Jenin area. Many people, therefore, carry the same family name. One man with this family name, but a very, very distant relative of the wanted person, was arrested the 20th of June 2002 and is being given a four-month sentence because he belongs to this family.

Food trucks are often being hassled trying to enter Jenin. Some drivers have had to spend the night in their trucks—which are not fitted with sleeper compartments—due to the Israeli military holding them up. No reports of people starving have surfaced but in the last three months, there has often been a skimpy amount of food available in the city.

The presence of international activists attuned to cultural and situational sensitivities in Jenin and the Jenin Refugee Camp has been able to slow down “the most brutal soldiers in the West Bank” as they continue beating, killing, injuring and arresting the people of Jenin District. Due to one or two internationals continually standing between the Israeli soldiers and their targets—children—soldiers have largely changed their ammunition from live to rubber-coated steel bullets (which are still lethal at ranges under 100m). Tanks and APCs continue to fire live ammunition exclusively. International activists follow soldiers or tanks around as they move through the city or the camp, trying to provide a constant presence and intervene where possible. Physical intervention has been undertaken numerous times by them, lessening the severity of the beatings some Palestinians have received at the hands of the Israeli soldiers.

International activists have also been subject to beatings, verbal abuse, and one was drug on the ground recently. One Palestinian-Canadian was detained for several hours Friday the 12th of July with many other Palestinian men and later released. He witnessed 18-year old Israeli soldiers slapping a 70-year old Palestinian man in the face while in detention.

Resistance will continue to grow in the hearts of the people of Jenin and Jenin Refugee Camp due to the unsustainability of the living conditions imposed on them by the Israeli military. Operation “Determined Path” is planting seeds of hatred and despair in the hearts of Palestinian children through the destruction of their communities, homes, and families. The first stage of the Al-Aqsa intifadah may be over, but the next one is already being born.