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Balata
Rabbi Arik Ascherman
Rabbis for Human Rights

Last Wednesday (Shushan Purim) I recieved a call from one of our Palestinian contacts telling us that the previous 8 days of siege on the Balata refugee camp (Where the perpetrators of a recent terror attack were believed to have come from) were even worse than what was happening in other areas.  The stories which we have heard about such as the husband killed trying to get his wife in labor to the hospital (She and her father were also injured.  A healthy baby girl will never know her father), and the 100 people held as hostages and human shields in Shkhem were only the tip of the iceberg. (We didn't know how much worse it was about to get.)  We began looking for a date to bring a delegation from human rights organizations.  Our contact called me again that evening to say that the Israeli army was putting up a field hospital near Balata and thay the were afraid that the army was going into the camp.  I send out beepers to the press, but it is not clear how many people really believed that it would happen.  We woke up the next morning to find out that it had.

I spoke to other organizations and we debated up until we were on our way on Sunday whether any sane person would be willing to go to Shkhem given the situation.  We repeatedly asked our contact person, Noaf Tzuf, to check the matter out carefully.  We thought that we would not get into Balata, but could investigate the situation of refugees and the injured in Shkhem.  We only found out on Sunday morning that the army had left the camp and than it would be possible to go in.  I traveled with Jeff Halper from ICAHD, Susy Mordechai from ICAHD and MachsomWatch, Amnon Sadovski unofficially from Ta'ayush and a freelance videophotagrapher, Hila Shimrat.  We were among the first Israeli to enter Balata (Some journalists had been there the day before to see the camp from the army's point of view.  Of course, Ha'aretz's Amira Hass was already there.)
 

The trip to Shkhem was long and exhausting.  (We were Palestinians for a few hours)  We picked up Noaf and continued until the police stopped us because our drive had pulled over to the side of the road.  The police proceeded to follow us everywhere until we turned into a village along the way.  With the police no longer following us we arrived at one of the passages which
Palestinians must use to enter or exit from Shkhem.  We climbed up a large dirt mound and proceeded a mile or so on a dirt road along with businesspeople, workers, the elderly and families.  At each end were booths. For NIS 1.5 one could rend a mule and a wagon.  We made our way to the trade union building (Recently bombed), where we met with various notables.  I
tried to explain that, while our job as Israelis is to speak to our people, we needed their help to stop Palestinian extremism and terror.

We proceeded to the camp.  The roads had ditches dug across them and water was streaming from broken carriers.  The camp looked like it was from a different planted.  The overall destruction was unbelievable.  There was hardly a home that had not been damaged.  I am not a defense expert, but it is difficult to believe that, even from the army's standpoint, it is
possible to justify the overall chaos which was created.  It looked as if soldiers had overturned and gratuitously destroyed household items, beds, glass, etc.  As we proceeded from house to house, it was always to the accompaniment of the "crunch, crunch" of glass and other items beneath our feet.  As has been reported we saw the holes punched in the walls in order to travel from home to home without going into the alleys, burnt rooms, etc. Because of the enormous crowding in the camp, the explosion of a home damaged three or four homes around it.  Everywhere we went people begged us to see what had happened to their particular home, but hour hosts were worried for our safety and wanted to keep moving.  We saw a home which was demolished, damaging the homes around it, because it supposedly contained a weapons factory.  Maybe it did, but the 20 people living there didn't seem to think so.  We passed from the house through the hole ripped in the adjacent home and into that home's destroyed salon and kitchen.  We visited another home which was destroyed because the owner was allegedly a wanted terrorist.  Again, all the homes around it were damaged.    We then came to a home in which the ground floor had been exploded and heard testimony that the family had been rounded up and forced up to the second floor while the soldiers moved away and the first floor was demolished.  When the families protested they were told not to worry.  We traveled through surrealistic passages created by the homes in which the army broke down a section of wall in countless houses in order to pass from home to home.  Everything was overturned at best.  Usually everything was broken and in some cases burnt. (I had a sense of deja vu seeing the homes in Sderot damaged by Kassam missiles today) Written Hebrew instructions in black and Magen Davids in red were painted everywhere to guide the soldiers.  We heard testimony regarding children that had to beg soldiers not to beat their mother, people being used as human shields.  We saw buckets of spent cartridges and water heaters which had been shot up.  The army even damaged some graves in the cemetery. A host turned to me and said, "At least they don't feel anything."  I remembered how as children we were taught of the tremendous damage which the Jordanians did to graves on the Mt. of Olives.

We left the camp, the destruction in the streets, and the flowing water in the streets as the workers arrived to repair the electricity.  The truly surealistic moment was stopping in Shkhem afterwards to order a pizza (Hospitality to Guests) which we carried with us as we returned via the dirt path along with the businesspeople, the wagons, and the parents carrying their children.

Finally, a personal note not in the name of RHR.  RHR is a human rights organization and doesn't deal with borders and maps.  I also do not pretend to be a military expert capable of evaluating the value of the action (They apparently did not capture anybody, some 30 were killed.  What I can say is that if what I saw is the inevitable price for holding on to the Territories and protecting those Israelis living in the area, - killed and injured children, such terrible destruction inflicted on mostly innocent people, etc. This strengthens the argument of those who are more political who claim that we must leave.  We have no right to force ourselves on others and then justify these kinds of human rights abuses in order to protect our presence.
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Eulogy for Dr. Khalil Suleyman
by Susan Bertoni
Arab-American University of Jenin
 
  

A poster of Dr. Khalil Suleyman in Jenin Refugee Camp
I first met Dr. Khalil Suleyman one morning in the hallway of our university.  He was, as usual, on his way somewhere - to a demonstrative first-aid lesson - and was wearing a fluorescent orange EMT jacket.  I introduced myself and explained that I wanted to talk to him about emergency medical projects between the university and the Jenin Red Crescent Society, of which he was the head, sometime soon.  He nodded and grasped my forearm with surprising strength, reminding me of my grandfather.  "Come to my first aid lesson next Tuesday at 10.  You can see what we do."

I came late on Tuesday.  I almost didnít come at all: I had been writing a proposal with an approaching deadline, but decided I needed a break.  The anatomy lab glowed with orange light (from the protective window coverings) and resounded with the laughter and chatter of about twenty students.  Dr. Khalil was at the front of the classroom, waving one slightly gnarled sun-browned hand as he bandaged the head of a female student with especially silky long chestnut hair.  He was explaining in a bus-driver voice how to bandage a patient's eye so that she could have full movement of the head and neck.  The bandage kept falling off. "Your hair is too slippery," he scolded gently, his hands on either side of his modelís head.  "Go to your seat!"

He motioned for me to sit on the stool and switched into English. "Now for the shoulder injuries!"  As he worked on my shoulder, explaining the principles of easy movement and triangular wrapping, I sat and surveyed the students in various stages of bandage: bandaged heads, eyes, shoulders, arms, even torsos.  I hoped none of them would truly need such bandaging but knew it would be likely.  The scene was eerie and incongruous.  Most of the students were smiling or laughing: it was a new activity and it felt funny, handling one another as patients.  It was a funny situation, being bandaged and bandaging others.   My face reddened and I couldnít help laughing as Dr. Khalil snapped pictures of all of us.

Class ended; the students left in a flurry, leaving him and me to gather the heap of bandages strewn on the table and floor.  As he stuffed the bandages into plastic bags, he looked exerted but refreshed, his face slightly red and his soft, sparse gray hair sticking in spikes from his head.  "You know, I give classes like this all over villages in the Jenin areaÖanytime you need a class, I can do it.  You just give me your schedule and I will be there."

Minutes later, we sat down in my office and drank tea with my colleagues. I had points on a legal pad that I wanted to discuss with him about an upcoming proposal.  The discussion didnít go as planned.  He talked a lot, and I felt like he was oversimplifying things: I should learn more Arabic, he was available whenever we needed him, he has been traveling and giving demonstrations like this for over thirty years, the Palestinians need lots of help.  Yes, yes, but did he know which organizations were in the best positions to help us financially?  Could he help write an outline of a first-aid course?  His answer: "You have to keep pushing, keep trying," he advised me, his black eyes intense and his leathery hands clenching into fists as he spoke.

He had another lesson within the hour, so I walked him down to his car, an Ď80s compact model, which was filled with first-aid equipment, bandages, and instructional first-aid books which he had written and published himself, using his own time and money.  He gave me two of the books and refused to take money for them, promising to bring more when we met again.

Yesterday on Radio Falasteen (Palestine), Dr. Khalil called for all international aid groups to help the people in the Jenin refugee camps who had been injured by the recent barrage of Israeli military raids.  He announced that he was going to the camp to help the injured and dying people inside, though the Israeli forces surrounding the camp had forbid movements of any emergency medical aid vehicles or personnel in or out of the camp.

Today Dr. Khalil was shot and killed by Israeli tank fire as he tried to enter Jenin camp in his ambulance.  Israeli military authorities claim that the ambulance was suspected to have been full of explosives.  Another reason given for his death is that the driver of the ambulance had threatened one of the Israeli soldiers.  Dr. Khalil's death was neither quick nor painless.  Witnesses say that he was alive for an hour and a half after having been shot.  Because of the Israeli siege around the camp, he did not receive any medical attention.

The campus was upside down today.  Beyond noon, no students went to class.  They thronged in the hallway, spilling out onto the pavement in front of the main building.  I found a group of female students from Dr. Khalil's first-aid class clustered outside the anatomy lab classroom, huddled together and weeping.  My colleague and I did the same, pouring over the photographs in his CPR instruction book: pictures of proud students holding certificates and him, caught motionless for a moment, squinting in the sunlight with a toothy grin.

Last night on the phone, my father and I discussed the gravity of the situation here and the resilience that the Palestinians possess to keep a degree of normalcy amidst the violence and immobility imposed by the Israeli forces.  I told him that because of the routine of work and deadlines and the desire to retain some normalcy in life, I found it difficult to acknowledge that daily events are anything unusual.  I promised my father that I would give more time for reflection and that I would write more about life - and death - here.

Dr. Khalil's life - and death - poignantly exemplifies the same struggle my father and I discussed last night.  Dr. Khalil had no family of his own and was dedicated to saving the lives of his people.  He had seen countless injuries and deaths resulting from the violence of the Israeli occupation and the struggle against it, yet he never stopped moving or doing his job.  Though I received it with initial skepticism, his message to me and to everyone who would listen was simple: "You have to keep pushing, keep trying."  This is the essence of the struggle for a just peace.  It is the only message that will put an end to the bloodshed.  Let us remember it with reverence.

Susan Bertoni is an Ann Arbor, Michigan native who works as the Development Specialist at the Arab-American University in Jenin, in the northern West Bank.  Feedback on this piece can be sent to: susanjbertoni@yahoo.com.  For further information on the university, consult the webpage or phone 972-(0)4-251-0801 ext. 157.