By Gideon Levy (appeared in Ha'aretz, June 29, 2002)
All the trials and tribulations of the Palestinian experience are encapsulated in the life of this man, Jamal Z'beideh, and his family

On Sunday of this week, the soldiers came back again. Seven of them entered what was left of his house after the last round, took him and his children outside and told them to sit on the ground alongside the mounds of debris, next to a tank. Then his oldest son, 16, was taken along by the soldiers as they hacked their way through the walls from one neighbor's house to another's, and another's. Meanwhile he sat on the ground as instructed, watching silently. "We'll be here a long while yet before we find everything we're looking for," said a soldier. "You've been here for 30 years, so go ahead and be here another year," came the quiet reply. At midday, Jamal Z'beideh was released, as he had been three days earlier. His family has stopped being agitated when he is arrested, or released. "Jamal is outside sitting next to a tank," his wife said when people phoned, as if she were saying he'd gone up to Main Street to do errands.

The hole the bulldozers made when they rolled into his guest room the last time around makes him think of a whale with its mouth hanging open. He seems almost apologetic, with his sad, embarrassed smile: The coffee will have to be served in disposable plastic cups. All the dishes and utensils were destroyed in one or another of the searches. There's not even a cup in which to offer a guest coffee.

Jamal Z'beideh, 46 and a father of seven, was born in the Jenin refugee camp to refugees from the village of Wadi al Hawarith in the Hefer Valley. Family members killed almost outnumber the ones still alive. He's a member of the Emergency Committee of this camp, and the story of his life is not much different that those of many other people here. A few days ago, just before the re-invasion of the camp by the Israel Defense Forces, we visited him among the ruins of his house and this week we talked again for several hours by phone.

Z'beideh's spirit has not been crushed: "Tanks go by hour after hour. Soldiers come continually. We've gotten used to it. We've gotten used to searches and detentions. The soldiers said they would kill Abu `Amar [Yasser Arafat]. So let them. We can handle that, too."

One of his sons is named for a slain leader of the Red Eagles in Jenin, one daughter for the name of a city that was lost. And here are the names: Mudaffer-Anton, 16; Safed (like the city), 15; Na'im, 14; Rafah (like Rafiah, the city), 12; Yusef Abu Arab (like the commander who was killed in 1992), 10. Elham, a girl of six, and Mohammed, five, children of his old age, both born in 1996, the year of peace, round out the list. His family and that of his wife Sana'a, 37, born in a different refugee camp, Tul Karm, are both from the same village. Now it's only four ruined houses, and Kfar Haro'eh and Ge'ulei Teyman stand on his land.

Jamal grew up in the camp. After junior high school, he was sent to work. He was one of 12 children, of whom five died of various diseases; he, the eighth in line, was required to help feed the family. He began working in Israel in 1972 - in agriculture, in construction and even for six months in a cemetery. He was arrested six times and spent long periods in jail, but was never tried. By 1992, he was unable to get a permit to work in Israel. He had a job for two years in the offices of a workers' association in Jenin, then did whatever construction work was to be found in the refugee camp. He built an addition to a room here, a shed there. In the last two years, he worked a total of four months. There you have it: Jamal Z'beideh's curriculum vitae.

The last few months, he's been supervising the rehabilitation work in the camp as an employee at UNRWA. Since there's almost no rehabilitation, and the IDF goes on making incursions, there's also no work - maybe 10 days a month at most, NIS 70 a day, and things are getting worse and worse at home.

During the big invasion of the camp by the IDF, he was among the first to report reliably on the real dimensions of the killing. When Palestinians were talking about hundreds killed and the world was talking massacre, he was removing bodies from the ruins, one after another, and reported to a B'Tselem researcher, Raslan Mahajneh, that there were no more than 60 killed. Now a member of the camp's Emergency Committee, he gave an update this week: In the Jenin refugee camp, in the first incursion, there were 58 killed. Another three were missing. Since then, the number has risen to 74 killed.

Here is the list of casualties from his family: His sister's son, Nidal Abu Shadouf, 21, who carried out a suicide bombing last year at the Binyamina train station. Two Israelis were killed and 11 wounded. The suicide bomber's cousin was killed shortly before that together with four friends, policemen at the checkpoint at the entrance to Jenin, while preparing for an evening meal during Ramadan, after sundown. The neighbor's child who brought them the holiday dinner also died that day, shot by the IDF. Abu Shadouf, his nephew, swore then to avenge their blood. Z'beideh says he wasn't surprised at the murderous act by his nephew: "Today I wouldn't be surprised to hear it of any young man in the camp."

On March 3 of this year, his brother's wife was killed. Samira Z'beideh, 52, a mother of eight, six boys and two girls, was sitting at a neighbor's house when a bullet fired by an Israeli soldier shattered her head. She bled for an hour; they were unable to evacuate her. She bled to death.

The 22-year-old son of the deceased, Taha, was killed before the end of Islam's 40 days of mourning for his mother, on April 8. He was a Palestinian policeman in Ramallah, and was wanted by Israel for his part in the public lynching at the Ramallah police station. He was killed in the battle of Jenin.

Another nephew, Ziad `Amar, his sister Alia's son, was the Al-Aqsa Brigades commander in the camp. A 37-year-old father of four, he tried to prevent the IDF soldiers from entering the camp from the south, in the Al Jabriat area. `Amar killed an Israeli officer and wounded a soldier before being killed himself, after he tried to take the dead officer's gun. A friend of `Amar's, `Imad Masharkeh, tried to rescue him and was also killed. `Amar's house was razed by Israel back in 1988 and he was sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering a collaborator. He was released after the Oslo accords were signed. Until the current intifada broke out, he was an English teacher and thereafter an officer of the Preventive Security Services. Are there other casualties in the family? Zbeideh: "Who knows; maybe some are on the way."

There were 13 people at home on Saturday, April 6, when the Israelis invaded the camp. Three missiles hit the house. On Wednesday of last week, June 19, the tanks came again. At nine o'clock at night. One tank stopped right in front of the house, his half-of-a-house, with the number 156 still smeared on it from the previous invasion. Soldiers went inside to conduct a search. He says that they were more aggressive and violent this time. The following day, using a megaphone, the soldiers instructed all the men in the camp between the ages of 14 and 50 to come out of their homes and come to the UNRWA school. This was last Thursday at lunch time.

Z'beideh went to the school. He says that the camp was teeming with soldiers and tanks. Near the school gates, soldiers were telling all the men to take off their shirts. Inside the schoolyard, they were permitted to get dressed again. A preliminary selection: those to be arrested to the right side of the yard, everyone else to the left. The detainees on the right were sent to Sallem. Z'beideh was by now considered enough of an old man not to be arrested again, and was sent to the left. Until evening came, they remained there on the ground in the schoolyard: at his estimate, about 300 men all together over the age of 40. Then, with a Jeep in front of them and a Jeep behind them, the 300 men were commanded to walk in single file to Bourkin, about three kilometers away. Jenin's March of Pride. At Bourkin, they were told not to go home until the IDF had left Jenin.

It was already late in the evening by this time. Most of the men dispersed among the three mosques of Bourkin, looking for some shelter for the night. Z'beideh took six comrades and together they went to his sister's house, the Binyamina suicide bomber's mother. The next day, a committee was set up in Bourkin to give out mattresses and food to the new refugees. On Saturday, Z'beideh cut short his new refugee status, taking advantage of a procession of schoolchildren leaving the village for Jenin, with IDF permission, to take their matriculation examinations. Z'beideh joined the entourage and went home. There, everyone was gathered on the second floor because they were afraid of the tanks on the street.

On Sunday of this week, at 8:30 in the morning, another 50 soldiers arrived, broke up into groups and began taking the men out into the street and conducting searches in their homes. They said they were looking for someone: Abd al-Qarim Sa'adi. You won't find him in our neighborhood, Z'beideh told the soldiers; no one from the Sa'adi family lives here.

Gideon Levy