Revolutionary Worker #1146, April 14, 2002, posted at http://rwor.org
Dheisheh is a Palestinian refugee camp in Bethlehem. On March 8, the Israeli Army entered Bethlehem and the next day Israeli troops began invading the densely crowded camp of over 11,000 inhabitants.
According to the Middle East Children's Alliance (MECA), Israeli troops destroyed a children's computer center and library in the Ibdaa Cultural Center in Dheisheh, a project supported by MECA. Ibdaa, now used as a watchtower for IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) snipers, was the only social and cultural service available to the children in the camp. Israeli troops also detained 400 men between the ages of 14 and 40 in Dheisheh.
A report from MECA tells more about the situation in Dheisheh in early March: "The entire community has been terrorized by tanks, apache helicopters and snipers that have been attacking civilian homes and population. At least five people have been killed by missiles from helicopter gunship and tank shell, and four small children have been critically wounded by sniper fire. At least six houses belonging to martyrs of Intifada have been blown up, while hundreds of homes have been severely damaged during IDF's [Israeli Defense Forces] house-to-house raids. Many residents have reported that while ransacking through houses IDF soldiers are appropriating money, jewelry and gold from families. Curfew has been imposed, and telephone and electricity has been shut off. All the roads leading to Dheisheh have been destroyed by IDF bulldozers, thus preventing medical vehicles and food supplies from reaching the camp. Dheisheh is completely isolated from the rest of the world, while a large scale military operation is taking place against unarmed civilians. Children of Dheisheh are among 3 million Palestinians who are going through this gross human rights violation. Dheisheh is among hundreds of communities in the occupied territories subjected to this brutality."
TheRevolutionary Worker had the opportunity to talk with Sanabel Al-Fararja and Kayan Al-Seifa, two 16-year-old young women from the Dheisheh camp, who spoke at a recent demonstration in San Francisco against the Israeli occupation. Both Sanabel and Kayan are part of a Palestinian dance group in the camp. Sanabel is one of the children featured in the documentary, Promises, which was nominated for an Academy Award this year as best documentary and the two had been brought to the U.S. to attend the Academy Awards ceremony. Promises explores the conflict through the eyes of seven Israeli and Palestinian children living in Jerusalem. It is currently being shown on some PBS stations.
Sanabel and Kayan spoke to the RW in Arabic through a translator. The following interview excerpts also include some material from an interview with Sanabel and Kayan on Flashpoints, a daily investigative news radio show. Our thanks to Flashpoints for making this material available.
RW: Could you talk some about what it is like growing up in a refugee camp in Palestine?
Sanabel: It's incredibly difficult and it's gotten even more difficult especially after the recent aggression and onslaught on the Palestinian people. In the refugee camps specifically, the water and the electricity is shut off at night every single night. The telephone lines are down. We can't even go outside and walk around, not even in the refugee camps, let alone in the rest of Israel. What's really dangerous and what's really sad is that they've demolished so many homes, especially the martyrs' homes. They've demolished 10 martyrs' homes completely and 75 more homes partially. It's difficult because there is no place for us to just relax, have a good time and be children.
I bet you if American kids knew about this, if they knew about the way that we live, they would demand that their government, the United States, demand the end of the occupation. If every government that supports Israel knew then they too would stop supporting Israel. We too are human beings. Like everyone else we deserve to live in peace. We deserve to have a life.
Kayan: I am also from Dheisheh refugee camp. I am 16 years old. My original town is near Jerusalem, it is now under Israeli occupation.
RW: How did your family end up in a refugee camp?
Sanabel: When I was born my father was deported. Not only that but he was imprisoned so I never met him when I was born. My father's whole life has been resistance, struggle and fighting back. He has been in prison 13 times and this is our reality. I met my father by visiting him in prison and that's how I became familiar with the rest of Palestine. When I would visit him in prison I would get to see the rest of Palestinian lands and it was very beautiful.
My father was driving with friends to Ramallah when he was stopped at a checkpoint and he was arrested. There was no reason given for his arrest, he was just taken.
It was very hard for me growing up with my father in prison. When I am with friends, and they say they did things with their fathers, went places, I feel jealous, deprived, missing something which is the dearest to my heart.
RW: We see pictures of the young people in Palestine fighting back, going up with stones against Israeli soldiers. Could you speak to the resistance that is going on, especially among the youth.
Sanabel: When people are right and they know that they are right then they are not afraid of anything. And the main point is that we live this way. Whether we battle with out bodies or battle with our spirits or our minds, we will fight for this.
When you see the situation overall you realize how difficult it is. What we do is we create our weapons from the rocks that we find. Really makeshift, simple weapons that we are willing to fight with and we will keep fighting. And all the people who call us terrorist, we don't care because our main point is to get our land back.
Kayan: The suffering that we endure and the hardship that we endure creates a resistance within us. It creates a force in us that fights back. So it is right to fight back and this land is our right so we will keep fighting for the land, for our right to return to our homes, all of our homes, including the villages occupied in 1948. We are going to return.
Flashpoints: Why are the kids so angry, why are they willing to throw rocks at soldiers, even blow themselves up?
Kayan: The stones are the only tool that we have to defend ourselves and assert our aspirations. The stones were used in the first Intifada when we had no weapons whatsoever. The stones are our friends. We use it to defend ourselves, to fight oppression. It is a tool of defense.
Sanabel: We have nothing to lose. We have nothing; we have only our souls to give. You will notice that most of the suicide bombers come from refugee camps. And I'll tell you that the children in refugee camps, just like all children in the world, they love life and they celebrate life. But in the conditions that they are living under they have no alternative but to do the ultimate sacrifice.
FP: Do the children talk about this a lot?
Sanabel: The stones are our favorite topic. It's our favorite topic to write about in school. But when it comes to the issue of suicide bombing it is a more personal thing. It is something that someone feels inside, a rage and then expresses it. It is an expression that we are suppressed. We the children, when we sit together we are in a state of oppression, and when we discuss things we always find we are always discussing politics. We discuss who is going to be the first to sacrifice themselves for Palestine. That's what we talk about because we are living under a state of siege, we are bombarded every day by the Israeli military and the only topic that comes from all of this is who is going to sacrifice themselves and who is going to be the first to give that sacrifice.
FP: Do you consider that suicide bombing doesn't just kill soldiers, but everyday family people?
Kayan: The suicide bombers are a relatively new thing, they started only about 10 years ago. The media highlights the suicide bombings but there is no mention that even before these suicide bombings happened we were oppressed. For 53 years we have been dispossessed of our land, displaced from our homes, yet the media chooses to highlight the suicide bombings and ignore our plight for 53 years. As a human being, I am going to be better than the Israelis, who are killing our children and our elderly. If I were to become a suicide bomber, I would go in an operation against an army target.
RW: Have any of your friends been injured in the fighting by Israeli troops?
Kayan: We have a schoolmate, Feda Alazza, who was murdered. A bullet entered her stomach. Her face looked normal but she went to her mom and said, "Mom, I've been hit by a bullet." Her mom took her to the hospital and she died, she was martyred. Her sister was in shock, shaking her and saying, "No, no, she has to wake up. She has to come with me to school tomorrow, I'm not going alone."
Many of our other friends have also been injured and victimized.
RW: Sanabel, you were in the movie Promises and went to the Academy Awards ceremony. What was that like?
Sanabel: Honestly, I planted a seed of hope to win. We really hoped to win for the movie... But even if we didn't win, it's not about winning. It's about delivering our message as Palestinians, about telling people of the suffering that we are enduring. And that's the main point, we want you to understand, we want you to demand also, that Israel end its occupation and leave.