Jenin’s Children Will Never Forget


Children look on as they sit on a staircase by the rubble and broken furniture of a destroyed flat in a building in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin on July 5, 2023, after the Israeli army declared the end of a two-day military operation in the area. (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES).

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, August/September 2023, pp. 12-13

Three Views—Israeli Forces Use Advanced Military Weaponry on Densely Populated Jenin

By Gideon Levy

A BOY OF ABOUT THREE left his house Wednesday morning, for the first time in two days, with his mother and grandmother—his mother’s hand in one hand, a toy gun in the other. The street was still mostly empty, only a few residents had dared to go out, and those who had seemed to be in shock. A terrible silence hung over the half-destroyed street, the silence that is always heard after the noise. The toddler cast a blank look at the pile of rubble at the side of what had been a paved road and was now a dirt track. He was silent, and so was his mother. This vignette aired Wednesday on Al Jazeera, which broadcast nonstop from the Jenin refugee camp.

One-time Israeli soldier Dubi Kurdi didn’t turn the camp into Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium with his bulldozer this time, as he bragged about the previous round in 2002. More than 500 homes were not destroyed, as they had been then, in Operation Defensive Shield, and the body count was also relatively low. But the child went out, into the street, holding his mother’s hand, and his face said it all. Perhaps he was the boy in the video filmed the previous day in one of the camp’s homes: In a horrific scene that could have come from a dark time in history, armed and armored soldiers invade a small house. Everyone is ordered to put their hands in the air. A soldier points his rifle at the women and children, and a scream of terror pierces the air. Cut. The video ends, but the children will not forget. They will never forget what they endured this week.

These children are already Arna’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren. When Juliano Mer-Khamis’s wonderful film “Arna’s Children,” about the children in the camp whom his mother raised in her theater project, was released, its maker was still alive. Juliano was murdered, but his movie remains. It must be shown before and after every Israeli military “operation” in the Jenin camp, before and after the unbearable deluge of praise that a legion of generals and analysts shower on the action—which is always different from, more surgical and successful than, all its predecessors.

Three boys starred in the documentary: Ala, Yousef and Ashraf. For about a decade, Mer followed the children his mother worked with. He filmed little Ala sitting, stunned, on the ruins of his home, his gaze moving here and there, as if seeking comfort and shelter. Ala al-Sabbagh later became the commander of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades in the camp. In November 2002, two weeks after his first son was born, Israeli soldiers killed him, and a photograph of his charred body is seen in the film.

Little Ashraf dreamed of playing Romeo. In the film, he is seen rummaging through the rubble of Ala’s home, in an effort to retrieve belongings that are still intact. In the movie, Ala relates the story of the killing of his friend Ashraf, a few weeks before he himself died in the battle for Jenin. The third boy, Yousef, was in class when an Israeli shell landed in the room. He carried out the body of one of the girls who died; as an adult, he carried out a terrorist shooting in the Israeli city of Hadera and was killed. Of Arna’s children, Zakaria Zubeidi is the only boy to survive. He has been incarcerated in Israel for many years.

On July 5, Arna’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren went out, into the ruined street. The Jenin camp is a refugee camp, and residents were forced to flee their homes this week without knowing when or if they would return, momentary refugees for the third or fourth time.


Palestinians inspect their destroyed property in Jenin refugee camp near the city of Jenin in the northern West Bank. (NASSER ISHTAYEH/SOPA IMAGES/LIGHTROCKET VIA GETTY IMAGES)

The group of military correspondents recognized by the IDF that the army brought to view its work saw no Palestinians in the alleys. In Israel they didn’t mention the camp’s 20,000 residents who endured unprecedented hardship caused by Israel, like their parents and grandparents before them. In Israel they did not say that the Jenin camp is home to tens of thousands of people whose just struggle cries out to the heavens, exactly as their suffering does. And once again, the IDF treated this home like a battlefield.

Here Arna’s children grew up and became freedom fighters (“terrorists” in the parlance of Israeli propaganda), and here Arna’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren will now grow up into the same future, the same fate.

Gideon Levy is an Israeli journalist and author. This article was first published in Haaretz, July 6, 2023. © Haaretz. Reprinted with permission.———–

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