Csíkszereda Musings

My life in and around Csíkszereda, also known as Miercurea Ciuc.

Law and Order

Posted by Andy Hockley on 8 May, 2003

Phase one of the “Roadmap” calls on both sides to halt violence. For their part, the Palestinians are asked to stamp out terrorist actions and to rein in the actions of the militant groups opposing the occupation. It seems, on the face of it, a fair enough request and condition for peace. In reality, however, it is hard to imagine how the Palestinians are supposed to actually accomplish this.

Police HQ
Jenin Police HQ

Today I visited the police headquarters of Jenin. The police headquarters of Jenin is a two story pile of rubble, and has been since Israeli F-16 jets bombed it into oblivion over a year ago. Nearby is a rock-strewn field where the jail once stood. A couple of blocks further away lie the ruins of the ministry of information and security. Most destruction happening from the air, finished off by shelling from tanks on the ground. Another building, the Jenin governorate offices, lies in a similar condition, official papers strewn around the rubble, the shells of computer terminals, a set of torn curtains blown into a tree by the force of the explosions when the air attack came. It is presumably through these mechanisms that the Palestinians are expected to weed out terrorists and bring them to justice.

Governorate Buildng
Jenin Governorate Offices

Yousuf, the former policeman who showed me around his old place of work and the other buildings, was at a loss to explain how this could possibly happen. There are no police now in Jenin – to be a policeman when the Palestinian Authority had control here, was to be respected, and, of course, armed – and to be armed once the soldiers moved in again was to be a target. Small wonder that the policemen who survived lay down their weapons and uniforms and took up other lines of work, whenever work was available. Not only are there no police, but there is no judicial system, no jails. As we drove around the city, I asked him whether there was a lot of crime now. Ever the cop, he shook his head mournfully and pointed out a car driving the wrong way down a one way street “Look there. You see there is crime”. I asked whether there were other kinds of crime – robbery, violent crime – as well as traffic violations. “We are not an angelic society you understand, but we are all suffering together. I think in such cases there is a kind of collective consciousness that prevents most crime on each other”

Ground Zero, Jenin camp
Ground Zero, Jenin Refugee Camp

Yousuf and Salah, his friend, took me into the Jenin refugee camp, made famous last year as the scene of the biggest battle of the current Intifada. Depending on who you talk to it was either a massacre, an operation to weed out terrorists, or a heroic moment of truth when Palestinian fighters fought back against the might of the Israeli army. Whatever the reality, it has carved a huge hole out of the camp and out of people’s lives. Deep in the heart of the mazy streets and narrow alleyways, there is suddenly a huge open space. 13 months ago the space was occupied by 400 houses, stores, workshops. 400 families scratching out a living in the midst of the longest running unsolved refugee crisis in the world. The camp stretches up the hillside, reminiscent of the favelas of Rio, and looks north towards the hills around Nazareth. Most of the families who live here fled the land that is visible to them from this vantage point when they were forced out of their homes in 1948. Now 400 of those families have been made refugees once again, displaced and split asunder, families who lived together in small spaces divided between uncles, brothers, grandmothers in other parts of the camp or the city itself.

A new road
A new tank-sized road in Jenin Refugee Camp

There are half-houses too. Corners of buildings ripped off as the tanks made themselves tank-sized roads through the camp. In some cases, gaping holes in buildings are covered by blankets, tied down but buffeting in the wind, covering living rooms and kitchens from the intensely public world of the overpopulated camp. We said our Salaams to Salah’s mother who has lost a third of her house to the tanks – rooms that are now open to the world, used no more, hanging out on to the newly formed streets, wires and pipes leading nowhere.

They took me to the “martyr’s cemetery” where the dead from the incursion were laid to rest. Two of Salah’s nephews, twins, lay side by side, born on the same day as each other and killed on the same day as each other. One grave is of a nine-year old girl whose body was never identified. In another graveyard nearby, lie others who have been killed by the Israeli army. One of Salah’s brothers, killed at 20 in the first intifada, and near the entrance, a 17 year old boy who was killed just last week, the latest “martyr” in a long and seemingly never ending line.

Iain Hook's office
Iain Hook’s office and small memorial to him

At the United Nations compound a few hundred metres from the cemetaries, a small memorial has been constructed to another martyr of the occupation, Iain Hook, a British engineer who was in charge of the UN’s rebuilding efforts after last year’s events. He was picked off by an Israeli sniper hiding in a nearby building as he stood outside his makeshift office, the two bullets entering his back and exiting his abdomen. After his shooting, the IDF refused to allow an ambulance in, so his colleagues spent an hour creating a hole in the wall behind one of the huts so they could smuggle his body out for medical attention. They were too late.

Escape route
The hole in the wall

Since I have been here Jenin has been closed down more than it has been open. An ever-present curfew that even when it is lifted can be reimposed at any time. Today it was open, people going about their business uncertain of when the next shutdown will start. It has been open now for two whole weeks, and the people of Jenin are starting to hope that things are slowly getting back to what passes for normality. As yet, there are no restaurants open in Jenin – cooking large quantities of food is just too much of a gamble – only falafel stands remain in operation. Another of Salah’s brothers owns one such restaurant, but a tank has been parked outside it for months now at an impromptu checkpoint. He doesn’t know when he will get to even visit it again.

As we drove back into the centre of the town, we witnessed a number of traffic violations in this policeless place. Yousuf tutted from time to time, holding back his grief at the breakdown in societal norms. For the roadmap to survive the inevitable Israeli calls for its scrapping, it is now up to Abu Mazen to somehow stop the terrorists. Yasser Arafat has already been discredited in the eyes of the world for his inability to stop the attacks, despite the obviously abundant security resources at his disposal. It’s hard to see how the new prime minister will have any better luck at preventing this roadmap going anywhere but the wrong way down a one way street.

[Published in The Brattleboro Reformer]

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