And Darkness Covered the Land
Palestinians: No Way Out
Deep inside the occupied territories are Palestinian towns and villages where there is no nostalgia about the broken peace process, where the contacts with Israelis have produced only nightmares and memories of brutality. One such place is Huwara, a dusty village of 4,000 Palestinians near Nablus. I drove there one day with Laila Atshan and other members of Doctors of the World. It looked like a ghost town. In fact, it was under curfew. The streets were deserted; shops were closed. When we pulled up near an elementary school to park, there was an old wrinkled woman sitting in a doorway by the side of the road. "The only ones who remember God are the disadvantaged," she said. "If you're defeated and disadvantaged then you remember God. Otherwise no one cares."
Huwara, I was to learn, has the misfortune of being sandwiched between four radical, particularly nasty Israeli settlements. In November of 2000 a group of settlers stormed the village around 1:30 in the morning and torched the mosque. They broke a side window and threw in a Molotov cocktail. It hit the carpet and everything burned inside, including the Korans. "The fire was tremendous," said a villager named Ali who was surrounded by a group of his friends in the small community center. "In ten minutes the settlers managed to do their task and escape under the protection of the soldiers." The mosque was badly damaged. "We called the fire department in Nablus and the soldiers wouldn't let them come through," said one of Ali's friends. "It's only five minutes away, but they wouldn't let them come."
The villagers described a litany of horrors: Two months ago settlers tried to burn the local gas station and ended up burning a car and truck. They uprooted about 500 olive trees; they stole horses and mules; they poisoned a flock of sheep; they burned down the cornfields. "Just yesterday afternoon settlers were throwing rocks at villagers," said one of the men as he fondled his cell phone. "So the soldiers sit and watch until there is a reaction from us, and then they intervene. Often young men go to protect houses under attack, and soldiers start to shoot. They use live bullets."
Laila and I walked into an elementary school classroom next to a courtyard that was brightly painted with Mickey Mouse and other Hollywood cartoon characters. We were joined by a teacher, three mothers and a small group of children. It is very unusual for traditional village women to speak to a Western reporter. But they were articulate and angry. "Because of its location, on the way to Nablus, Huwara used to be a commercial center," said one woman. "Now it's dead because of the closures. Ninety percent of the men are unemployed. Since the intifada they've been doing absolutely nothing." Another woman complained that because their men feel helpless, they turn their rage against their wives, and there is a high incidence of domestic abuse. Some families go hungry, but the men are too proud to admit it. And children are in need of clothes and school supplies. Laila came to give therapy to a group of mothers who are stressed out by the intifada, but because the town was under curfew, they couldn't come. "We are very isolated," said another woman. "Honestly, everyone is destroyed psychologically. We are close to an explosion."
Karima, whose name means "generous," is 11. She has wavy hair worn in a braid, and strands keep falling into her face. She has a beautiful smile. Laila told us that after Karima's mother died of a heart attack, her father took his sons and moved to Hebron, leaving Karima to live with her grandmother.
"I feel angry when the Israelis don't let us go to school," Karima said, referring to the frequent curfews. "The soldiers are here because they are occupying all of Palestine. They are greedy."
Adham is in the eighth grade. He is thin and taller than his classmates, with a stern expression. "We feel that when they cut down the olive trees they are cutting our lives off," he said. "We have to keep fighting even if many are hurt. Our parents shouldn't hold us back from resisting. Parents try to keep us back, but we throw stones. We get a scolding."