Friday, January 8, 2010

Memories from Jenin

In the past year we have heard and argued so much about what happened in Gaza, about the killing of civilians and the Goldstone Report and what this report has done to Israel's standing in the international community. Who could find time and energy left to remember civilians being killed at the Jenin Refugee Camp in April 2002? Courtesy of the Attorney General of the State of Israel, we have all gotten a reminder that also before Gaza, the Israeli Defense Forces did all kinds of highly controversial things.

On this occasion it might be worthwhile to give some recognition to one of the unsung heroes of Jenin 2002, who for a single moment blazed into limelight in an extensive interview to Tzadok Yehezkeli of Yediot Aharonot, only to sink back into obscurity, with his heroism forgotten by an uncaring country. The Jerusalemite Moshe Nissim, better known by his nickname "Dubi Kurdi", was at the time 40 years old, a very staunch supporter of the Betar Jerusalem Football Team and a veteran employee of the Jerusalem Municipality's Enforcement Department – the department known for its diligence in destroying Palestinian homes in the Eastern part of Jerusalem, the eternally unified capital of Israel. However, exactly in January 2002, he lost his job upon being investigated on charges of taking bribes from merchants and business people.

Not all was lost, however. Less than three months passed, and lo and behold! Our glorious army set out on the offensive operation called "Defensive Shield". Dubi Kurdi hurried to join his military reserve unit, and got in time to Jenin where he got the assignment of his dreams, tailor-made to fit his inclinations and aspirations: to get aboard a D-9 bulldozer and embark on destroying the Jenin Refugee Camp. He hoisted the flag of the Betar Jerusalem Football Team on his bulldozer and got to work. In his own words:
"Was it difficult to demolish houses? Are you kidding, what kind of stupid question is that! I wanted to erase everything, everything! I was begging the officers on the radio to let me smash everything, top to bottom. When they told me to destroy a [particular] house, I took the opportunity to destroy several more, all around. Believe me, we destroyed too little. (…)

For three days I destroyed and destroyed. The whole area. Every house from which there was shooting I would smash down, and on the way I would smash several more. On the loudspeakers they were warned to get out before I come in, but I gave nobody a chance. I did not wait. I would give the house a big blow, to let it fall down as quickly as possible. Others perhaps restrained themselves. At least they said they had restrained themselves, let them stop telling stories. There were a lot of people inside the houses which we started to destroy. I did not see living people on whom the house fell down. If there were, I would not care in the least. I am sure people died inside these houses, but it was difficult to see, there was very much dust in the air and much of our work was at night. I had great pleasure from every house which was taken out. I knew that these people don’t care about death, but losing a home is more painful. If I regret something it is that we did not totally raze the entire camp.(…)

I had a lot of satisfaction, I enjoyed myself enormously. I could not stop. I wanted to go on working, on and on. I drove the Golani Brigade liaison officer crazy. After the fighting was over, we got the order to remove our D-9's. The army did not want the journalists and photographers to see us working. I quarreled with them, I wanted to destroy more. I had a lot of satisfaction in Jenin. A lot of satisfaction. Eighteen years I was called to reserve service every year, and I did nothing all these years, nothing. And than I got the chance to squeeze all these eighteen years into three days, to make up for the lost time. The soldiers came to me and said "Thank you, Kurdi, thank you!"(…)

For the full translated Yediot article see:

About two months after Dubi Kurdi was there, film director Muhammad Bakri arrived in Jenin, spoke with inhabitants of the refugee camp, heard and recorded their testimonies. For example, the story of the man in a wheelchair who did not succeed to get out of his home in time and his family and neighbors saw him being smashed to death.

Bakri included the testimonies in the film "Jenin Jenin" which was shown in cinemateques and aroused a great controversy. Extreme right thugs rampaged outside the screening halls, and the film censorship board banned the film, charging it with "incitement". The court removed the ban, but a group of soldiers who had fought in Jenin presented a libel suit against Bakri, accusing him of having defamed them. The judges rejected their suit, asserting that the film did not mention any soldier by name. The Palestinians who fled their demolished homes did not know the exact name of the bulldozer driver (and it is not sure that they were especially interested).

But the soldiers from Jenin did not give up the campaign against Bakri and his film, and presented an appeal to the Supreme Court. They feel very insulted and hurt because they recall how humane and considerate they had been during the war in Jenin, and consider Bakri's film to be nothing but a pack of propaganda lies. They also convinced Attorney General Menny Mazuz tp join them in their suit, so as "to defend the army's good name".

And so, in about two months – at the time when the UN Assembly General would convene to discuss again the Goldstone Report and ask Israel all kinds of delicate questions about what happened in Gaza – there will come, out of the halls of the court in Jerusalem, also a reminder of the events of Jenin 2002.

Perhaps Dubi Kudri should also be invited to testify and have a reunion with the appellant soldiers. They are, after all, his comrades in arms.