On the fourth day of the Voices Beyond Walls workshop I’m helping out with in Al Aroub camp, we closed the windows during our morning facilitators’ meeting to block out the stinging fumes of tear gas that Israeli soldiers were shooting into an adjacent field. The soldiers were still roaming the streets of the camp that afternoon when the workshop ended, so we kept the kids in the center late. After all, a group of teenagers with the potential to taunt or throw rocks would provide the standard excuse for the soldiers to shoot more gas or worse, “rubber bullets,” which everyone knows are actually rubber-coated steel bullets.
Like at other camps, an Israeli watch tower looms large and ugly 50 meters outside the Al Aroub on highway 60. But I hadn’t heard about soldiers entering other camps in daylight since the second intifada. In places like Askar and Balata in Nablus, the army waits till nightfall to raid homes and arrest men. When I asked the director of the Al Aroub youth center how often the soldiers enter the camp, she said ‘adee, which means normal. I hear this word frequently, usually comes accompanied by a shrug of the shoulders, a gesture of indifference. “Sometimes they come every day, sometimes not at all,” Sujood told me.
The second week of the workshop was one where the soldiers came to the camp every day. On Monday afternoon, walking along the camp’s main street to leave, I heard someone shout “jaish” (army) and halted in my tracks. The two other volunteers with me were lagging behind, and I turned to tell them what/who lay ahead of our path. Omar, a Palestinian from Qalandia camp, suggested we continue and take a detour through the field if necessary.
As we moved forward, we discovered about five far-from-inconspicuous soldiers dressed for battle, walking in a stealth manner. Sometimes they crouched behind concrete blocks, slowly scanning their field of vision, always with their guns poised. Omar inferred that they were practicing how to move through the terrain in Al Aroub, which is smaller and quieter than most camps, as preparation for the battles that take place in bigger camps, known as centers of resistance. Some residents watched the practicing soldiers from the doorways of their homes and shops while other folks, like ourselves, continued their work or walk with only a slight detour around the pointed weapons…‘adee.