As we continued talking, we couldn't help but share political views. Dheisheh was known to be a hub of political activism among the Palestinian people so the Israeli authorities encircled it with barbed-wire fencing in 1982, closing off its 14 entrances and forcing all residents to go through one main gate. Only in recent years were the barriers removed, but the skeleton of the main gate still has a forbidding air about it.
"We reject the idea that we are making progress with the current peace process; what's happening is we are being sold out. You see, the Israeli government wants Dheisheh to become part of Bethlehem. Things are bad here, but we will not accept this. No camp, no problem, right?" Jamal's view was not surprising. We asked about the recent agreement to build a safe passage between Gaza and the West Bank—what did he think about this?
Jamal's answer was plain. "I don't want to go to Gaza. I've been there once in my life. It's depressing. I want to go to Jerusalem—its only fifteen kilometes away and you can go as tourists from America, but I can't go, not even to see my family's land. We still have land in Jerusalem."
I remembered another passage in the Shipler book, 'Arab and Jew', in which he distinguishes between the different Palestinian perspectives on the issue of the creation of a Palestinian state on the land that is currently the West Bank and Gaza. Most who are able to accept such a state are likely natives of the West Bank or Gaza, not refugees of 1948 who were forced off their land and left in a 'temporary' stateless existence within the refugee camps. Jamal was talking about this when he claimed such a Palestinian State is not acceptable. "We don't want some other piece of land that is not ours; we want our land, the land rightfully due to us, and to have this, the Israeli state as it exists today cannot be."
We moved onto the subject of the Internet and its implications. Gregg mentioned that to him, bringing the Internet to the camp upon which the Israeli government had previously imposed a great deal of censorship, seemed to be a profound thing. All of a sudden, you have uncensored access to information and ideas... for example, to the writings of people like Edward Said. It's incredibly empowering."
"Yes, the Internet is a great thing, but you see, it takes time for people to recognize the potential of something new like the Internet." Jamal had a point. He told us of two friends from Dheisheh he turned onto the Internet—one a painter, the other a plumber. The painter was amazed to be able to find information on how to improve his techniques. The plumber, too, was amazed at what he saw when they pulled up pages on fancy jacuzzis faucets. "Edward Said? Well, most young people here don't know about him, they were raised throwing stones in school—they learned about fighting back with stones, not the works of intellectuals."
Jamal went on to talk about what it was like during the years of the Intifada from 1987-1993. He described what Israeli soldiers would do to the residents at Dheisheh; shoot them, break their leg, they even buried some alive. "You know, I was tied to a tree for three days. For three days, under the burning sun, they gave me water—twice." As Jamal told even such a small part of his story, of being jailed several times—the earliest at age 15—I had a hard time imagining how drastic the change must have been when he moved to Portland. He did not speak so much bitterly as with conviction. Two of his nephews came in and he apologized to us for the interruption, speaking briefly to them in Arabic, then kissing the youngest lovingly on the forehead. "My sister's child, this one. I don't have kids yet."