The city of Nablus has been under curfew for two months now, but that has not stopped me and the other volunteers from going to Azkar refugee camp to work with the kids at the community centre there. They count on us to be at the camp at least five times a week, so we try to find a brave driver to take us, otherwise we walk.
We have now started a support group for boys 12-15 years old, and a similar one for girls 13-15. The world of these teenagers is filled with sadness and despair, and they look to us in building their hopes for a more promising future. Yet many of them believe they don’t have a future. When we meet with the support groups, however, we have such a great time — the world outside seems to disappear for those two hours we spend in dancing, laughing, and talking.
It has been five days since I have seen the kids, but it seems like five years. The city is crawling with over 150 Israeli tanks, military cars, and bulldozers. They have been destroying it day and night. Ten homes were knocked down, leaving many men, women, and children homeless. Over 50 shops and businesses also have been destroyed, for no apparent reason. This is Israel’s new policy of collective punishment, which states that the home of any Palestinian bomber, or suspected bomber, will be destroyed. Collective punishment goes against the Geneva Convention on war crimes, but it seems that Israel considers itself above the law, and makes up the rules as it goes along.
Most families are unaware that there is a bomber in their family, and they hear about it on the news just like everyone else. My aunt’s home is on the “left mountain” of Nablus, so I can see the entire city. I watched as the homes in the old city were blown up and set on fire. I watched as men and women were tied up, blindfolded, and taken away by the bus load. I watched as the enormous tanks drove up and down our street, tearing up the concrete underneath them. When I stand on the second floor of the house and look out the window I can see the sharp- shooter, who sits on top of the tank, eye to eye. The house shakes and rattles and you can’t help but hold your breath. Now you can understand why I have not seen “my” kids for five days. It is much too dangerous to try and travel to Azkar.
It breaks my heart to think that the hope and positive attitude we worked so hard to create has been all but destroyed in the last few days. It’s as though I am trying to pull the kids out of a hole and the Israeli government is shoving them back in. The Israeli military doesn’t understand that our volunteer work helps prevent the creation of terrorist suicide bombers, and their work only feeds it. And it is always the children who suffer most.
Due to the curfew, it has been difficult to buy bread, eggs, milk, vegetables, and fruit. There is well-founded fear that malnutrition, illness and disease will overwhelm our city. The children near my home play in the cemetery across the street, so that they can run and hide as quickly as possible when the Israeli soldiers drive by. Our four- year-old neighbour’s child refuses to go outside at all now; he screams the word “dababi” (tank) over and over if you try to get him to leave the house. Meanwhile, U.S. President George Bush talks about putting an end to terror.
If this is not terror, I don’t know what is.