In MER 146,1 wrote about Abu Jamal and his family. In mid-December, two weeks into the uprising, soldiers came to the house of Abu Jamal in the Old City of Ramallah. They arrested two of his teenage sons, Nasir and ‘Umar, and one of their cousins from across the street, and took them to the new prison camp in al-Dhahriyya which was opened specifically to house those arrested during the uprising. There they spent 12 days, along with hundreds of other boys, average age 16, packed together in tiny rooms, deprived of washing facilities and forced to use a trash can as a toilet, with few blankets and with little food.
They were released without being interrogated or charged. The family heaved a sigh of relief; they had been saved the extended anguish and steep lawyers‘ costs that usually accompany the arrest of one of their children. Two weeks later, the soldiers came and arrested one of Abu Jamal‘s other sons, Khalid, who did a similar ten-day stint in al-Dhahriyya and was then released, also without charges. By January this had become such a common phenomenon that the authorities were clearly hoping these short detentions would deter teenage boys known by the Shinbet as potential troublemakers.
The problem, as the army has since found out, is not just teenage boys. Everyone is involved in the uprising in one role or another. Girls participate in demonstrations, older women protect boys pursued by the army, often incurring injuries from clubs or from rubber bullets. On February 8, soldiers came to Harat al-Jiryis, where Abu Jamal and his family live, in response to demonstrations in the neighborhood. They told local residents to remove the barricades of stones, old metal and other scrap materials that local youths had erected. People refused, which led to an argument. In the melee, someone threw a rock at the soldiers who responded by spraying rubber bullets at the group of people that had amassed on the square near the mosque, and beat men, women and children at random, following them even into their homes. Abu Jamal’s youngest son, Ahmad, who is six, was wounded in his behind by rubber bullets. Abu Jamal’s daughter-in-law In&lquo;am, after a week could still not move her badly swollen arm. In‘am’s four-year-old daughter Amal was hurt, too. Both had been inside the home at the time of the incident, attacked by soldiers who forced their way inside.
Ramallah activists rushed medical aid to the quarter, treating all those who had been injured and handing out free medicine. Medical relief committees have been active in all areas of the West Bank and Gaza, often defying curfews to provide first aid. As in this case, they are alerted by one of the local women’s committees that had been courting the women in the neighborhood for over a year. Although the care is appreciated, the success of the women’s committees has been mixed. They are identified with the left in the national movement, and the men in the quarter, staunch Fatah supporters, have tried to block the committees’ access to their wives, sisters and daughters.
Few here in Harat al-Jiryis fear renewed confrontation with the army. With altercations taking place almost daily, people in the quarter are immeasurably proud of those among their children and siblings who are touched directly by the army’s “iron fist.” It is the settlers who instill real fear.
On Monday, March 14, I arrived in the quarter at 8:30 in the evening, expecting to find most people inside their homes as they usually are after nightfall in the winter. The whole neighborhood was out in the street, though, ready with rocks in their hands. They had heard that settlers were rampaging through neighboring al-Bira, and that six Palestinians had been injured. I left to check out the news and found out that in fact about 50 cars carrying settlers were at that moment driving through al-Bira, honking horns, chanting and waving Israeli flags. Al-Bira residents responded by throwing stones, whereupon the army intervened, injuring a three-year-old girl with a rubber bullet. The girl eventually lost her eye.
I confirmed the presence of settlers to the people in Harat al-Jiryis. Within minutes, people erected huge roadblocks throughout the old part of Ramallah, and later also in the rest of the town. Women handed axes and saws from windows to men in the street, who used these to cut materials for the barricades. Little children placed rocks in baskets and buckets which women lifted up to men standing on the roofs of the houses. The defense effort was coordinated by a middle-aged man who walked around calmly, issuing directives to the local youths. A distant gunshot or the sound of a car would send everyone rushing toward the barricades, and at one point a brief power cut caused a minor panic. In the end, quiet returned to the neighborhood as the settlers failed to appear and the army stayed near the central square to control the situation. By 10 pm, all had gone to bed.