I am back in Dheisheh camp for the summer.
Since my last visit 6 months ago, the Bethlehem area has repeatedly been invaded by the Israeli army. Although some rebuilding efforts have taken place, physical degradation is seen everywhere in the area - pavement damaged by tanks, mangled traffic lights, bullet-riddled store signs, deserted shops with shattered windows, and destroyed sidewalks. The most visible change is the disappearance of the Palestinian police - gone with Muqata, the security compound that was completely flattened by the F-16 raids. Weaving through a congested intersection, with neither traffic lights nor police officers controlling, a friend of mine sighed: "See a society without law, without orders?"
Traffic becomes particularly chaotic right before curfew begins. As curfew is lifted so irregularly and unpredictably, sometimes a couple of days in a row and other times without lifting for days, and 4-5 hours at a time, everyone rushes to get things done in a narrow window of opportunity. Streets are crowded with people out for grocery shopping, errands, and visiting friends before Israeli tanks and APCs (armored personnel carriers) begin rolling down on the main road, announcing the beginning of curfew from blaring loudspeakers, accompanied by siren, teargas, and sound bombs. As tanks roar down on streets, soldiers frighten onlookers at doorsteps by aiming guns directly at them. In front of Dheisheh camp, shots of rubber-coated metal bullets ring in the air as children throw a rock or two from the main road, littered with uncollected garbage.
"If the center was open, no children would go throw rocks," say parents in Dheisheh. They refer to Ibdaa Cultural Center, where social and cultural programs such as computer, arts, music, dance, sports and library are offered to hundreds of children in the camp and where I volunteer. Social institutions like Ibdaa throughout the West Bank face a dilemma - while the needs for their services are greater than ever, they cannot risk holding activities when their communities are besieged by the army. Who would be able to protect and evacuate a large number of children when a shooting begins or soldiers enter the building? - It could happen anytime of the day. Curfew has brought a new limitation to the already-restricting life under t he occupation. If the seizure of Palestinian land, the closure of communities and expansion of settlements have been limiting their physical space and mobility - where to work, study, attend social gatherings - the curfew severely limits people's freedom to control time and day. In addition to the physical space, the time in Palestine is now confined, shrunken, and besieged.
In Dheisheh, most adults have been unemployed for months, and children are now out of school for the summer. With nowhere to go and nothing to do, days pass dully, punctuated by occasional gunshots and smell of teargas flowing in the wind. Everything in the society comes to a desperate standstill. Unlike air strikes or shelling by tanks, the quiet and slow killing of life does not get media attentions nor international outcry.
Yet in Dheisheh, people are resiliently going on with life. While stepping outside of the camp is dangerous with unpredictable passing of tanks in the complete darkness (street lights have been destroyed), people venture out within the camp, visiting family and friends, to chat over coffee, play cards, or for simple pleasure of seeing loved-ones. Plans are made for coming day s just like anywhere else in the world - what to cook for a dinner, when to go to a clinic or bank. But nothing is sure for a next day in Palestine. "Depending on curfew" - we say and wait for an announcement on TV or someone to bring news.
Tomorrow, there will be no lifting of curfew in the Bethlehem area.