Israeli army left the refugee camps of Azza (Beit Jibrin), Aida and Dheisheh today. However, although the tanks and soldiers are no longer inside of the camps, the troops, tanks, and snipers are still surrounding Dheisheh.
Most of the detainees from Dheisheh were released early this morning. Motesem and Ahmad brothers are back home safe, after 18 hours in detention. During his detention, Motasem told me, he challenged an Israeli officer why they were doing this to the people. He courageously declared to the officer that they would never give in, and that all soldiers, all Israelis and Sharon were afraid of Palestinian people.
Below is a message from a nurse friend of mine who is involved in the health project at Ibdaa Cultural Center in Dheisheh. It's a bit long, but her accounts are worthwhile reading. The original was written in Japanese and is translated with her permission.
March 10 Death of Nida
The funeral for Nida, who had died in a gunbattle in Beit Jibrin Camp on the 9th, took place at Manger Square in front of Nativity Church in Bethlehem. Many people from the camp attended the funeral, including the children from Wa'ad Center [Wa'ad means 'promise' and it's the only children's center in Beit Jibrin]. It pained me to see them in such a broken and sad look. I didn't know what words to offer. Nida was a cousin of Mirna [Mirna is an active member of Wa'ad Center]. The two of them, being in close ages, were good friends.
Nida's house faced the main street of the camp. She was standing by the front door when she was shot. Immdiately after that a gunbattle broke out, and Nida crawled into her house. Her family tried to take her out from the other side of the house, but the intensity of firing prevented them from bringing her to hospital right away.
Moutaz, Mirna's little brother, witnessed Nida's being shot and collapsing on the ground. Mirna went to pay condolences last night. As she kissed on Nida's cold cheeks she could not stop crying, she told me. Nida's mother told Mirna: "Nida will receive treatment at the hospital and will return home fine." She was taken over by the extreme shock and seemed unable to grasp the reality. It broke Mirna's heart.
After the prayers, everyone walked with the funeral procession to a cemetary in Beit Sahour. Amidst the chanting of demonstration, those who were truly close to Nida couldn't even get their voice out. We walked arm to arm, supporting each other. Suddenly, someone's gun brought for salutation exploded, and procession was thrown into chaos. Men rushed a child bleeding from head to the ambulance. Injured people were being carried in front of us. Mothers went to panic, trying to make sure that their children were safe. An old woman raised her hands and cried out: "Enough! Enough!" Mirna, who had been walking with me hand in hand, was shaken up with horror. I held her shoulders and continued to walk. All what I could do was to pray for Nida to rest in peace with God and that this kind of disaster would never be repeated. Four people were injured but only lightly, fortunately. After the speeches and prayers, Nida was buried.
Nida was a vibrant 14-year-old girl. She was one of our friends. There is no reason that she should be shot at. She was being shot and killed, just for standing in front of her door. Could living in a refugee camp mean that one would constantly face death? These people who fled as refugees 50 years ago do not even have a place of permanent residence. And now, even their younger generation is exposed to the horror of death.
The people from the camp did not raise their voice at the funeral. To me, it seemed that they were trying to keep calm at the best they could. A Palestinian woman once said: "Our survival, our existance itself is the strongest resistance." Even in the situation like this, there is no other way but to go on with life.
March 10 Free clinic for children with heart desease
Today, an American NGO was supposed to conduct a free clinic for children with heart desease. A specialist from Belgium would examine the children, and results might enable them to travel to Europe and U.S. for difficult surgery not available in Palestine, with all expenses covered. 11 children from Bethlehem area were to travel to a Ramallah hospital. Due to the tense situation, United Nations had offered to provide a bus for trasnporting the children.
However, Israeli army invaded Bethlehem on Friday, March 8, mobilizing tanks all around. The situation in Dheisheh refugee camp become particularly severe. Some suggested early on that the clinic should be called off under such circumstances. Yet, Suzanne, head nurse at UNRWA clinic in Dheisheh camp, insisted that the decision should be waited until the children's scheduled departure time, at 7:30AM on the 10th. "We should wait until the last minutes without giving up. We should go if Israelis withdraw, United Nations gets the bus, and all the children come, and the NGO decides for the clinic to be held." Suzanne said: "We have to weigh between death from shooting or death from not receiving the treatment. It's a tough choise, because we are in the war situation. But we have the flexiblity to respond to any possiblities."
In the morning of the 9th, the American NGO decided to change the location of clinic from Ramallah to Beit Sahour, a town next to Bethlehem. Four children from Dheisheh were supposed to be examined. But it was not clear if they could reach Beit Sahou when they were unable to even step out of their homes [under the curfew]. It was skeptical if the Belgian doctor could come to Beit Sahour either.
In the morning of the 10th, the decision was made. The free clinic was going to be held in Beit Sahour. At 9:30AM, the medical team arrived with an hour delay. Belgian consul himself brought the clinic team in a consular vehicle with diplomatic immunity. Ten children from Hebron area managed to travel on backroads and arrive in Beit Sahour. From Bethlehem area, four children from Bethlehem city and one from Artas village, behind Dheisheh, managed to come to the clinic. Two children from Al-Khader village, across from Dheisheh, came in ambulance.
However, under the curfew imposed by Israeli army, the four children from Dheisheh were not able to come. Belgian consul offered his consular vehicle to bring them from Dheisheh. He even offered to go in the ambulance, and so did director of the American NGO. The nurse, who knew the addresses of the children, was also prepared to go. Upon hearing that the camp was in a relative calm from a nurse living in Dheisheh, we decided to explore every possiblity and option to bring the children to the clinic.
Belgian consul did everything in his power to coordinate with Israeli military over the phone, in order to get a passage for ambulance to bring the children. A Palestinian coordinator came to the clinic for a meeting on the consul's request. We also contacted Israeli Physicians for Human Rights in order to explore options from the Israeli side, if ambulance would be allowed to travel through contacts from International Red Cross, medical NGOs, and Israeli army. A number of phone calls were made. However, at 11AM, the consul received the answer that there was no way to bring the children safely. At the same time, the nurse in Dheisheh called to notify that shooting had began in the camp. At this point, we decided that the safety of the children could not be guaranteed, and proceeded to cancel all the coordination. The consul said, "We did our best. I would like to tell the world what is happening here." True, we did our best, but we couldn't help but feeling powerless.
Hanna, who was supposed to be examine, is a 9-year-old living in Dheisheh. Her heart has a hole since she was born, a condition that requires an examination every six month. However, since the Intifada began, she had neither been examined nor seen by a doctor, for the father went unemployed and unable to aford the bill. Later, a local hospital agreed to cover half of her bills [with an help of Ibdaa's health workers]. With cooperation from other sources, the family was finally able to afford examination by paying a quarter of the whole expenses.
A day after the examination, Hanna's parents brought us the result of the exam, along with all her doctor's notes (some of them had turned brown) since she was born. Her father told us the entire story - it was not easy to operate on her since the hole was in a difficult place in her heart; they were told to take her overseas for surgery, an unaffordable option; when Intifada worsened they didn't even try to take her to exams for they couldn't do anything without money. So, we [a health team consisting of my friend, the above-mentioned Suzanne, and several other medical workers in Dheisheh] make an arrangement for her to be examined at this free clinic. To Hanna's parents this free clinic meant a hope for their daughter's survival.
We will not give up. The Belgian doctor read through Hanna's papers to identify type of exmination suited for her. The director of American NGO promised the treatment for Hanna. When the curfew has been lifted and Israeli army has withdrawn, we will start working for arranging Hanna's surgery.
Fahed, who came from Al-Khader on ambulance, will be operated in the United States. We will start preparing for it, starting today. Within many limitations, medical workers here are working to do what can be done each moment for the life of each patient. There is no time to be depressed.
The situation in Dheisheh
Did you see the report from Dheisheh on Japanese media? The situation has become horrific. Of course, we can't even get close to the camp either. Curfew has been imposed since Saturday. Today, Israeli army conducted door-to-door operation, taking all men between the ages of 15 and 50. They are blindfolded, handcuffed, and being interrogated (it was on BBC and CNN). I watched it on a local TV. So many faces I know. No words I can say.
However, since most [politically active] people have left the camp early on, I hope that these detainees would be released after the interrogation. There have been 3 deaths in the camp already - 1 assassinated, 2 killed by stray bullets. I have known all three of them. Water has been cut in the camp, and so are phone and electricity in many places. People continue to be confined in their homes. I pray that Israelis would leave as early as possible.
I heard that the detainees from Dheisheh was released at 2AM. The camp is quiet for now, but the curfew has not been lifted.
Dheisheh people are calm, intelligent, and tough. Many men, having predicted the developments of events, left the camp. They chose not to resist with arms. The women have been protecting the children and elderly under the curfew and in the continous sound of gunfire. Everyone awaits patiently for the situation to subside, under this indescribable level of stress.
Survival is an act of resistance, in seeking for freedom. To live is to testify these inhumane acts taking place here. Difficult situation continues. Please pray for Palestine.