The men who lay in bed
The occupation is a complex and far reaching system of submission and control. While some victims fall in the streets, others wither away in the privacy of their homes. Among these are the men who lay in bed.
Abu Kamal lives in Jenin refugee camp. He is the father of four boys and two daughters. One day, during the second intifada, he disappeared off the streets of the camp. He was taken by the Israeli army and his family went without news for three weeks. When they finally found him he was staring with an empty gaze, he had a massive injury from a rifle butt on his head, and all his facial hair had been shaved off. Since then he has been unable to speak. We first met his family four years ago. Abu Kamal would spend his days pacing the living room, smoking cigarettes and grunting. Then he would lay down for a nap, rest for a few hours, and get up to pace some more. Two years later he had grown more tired. He would still pace and smoke but he spent more time sleeping in the living room. This year, four years after our first encounter, he is a very different man. He has lost most of his strength, he no longer can stand up, nor grunt. In fact he can’t even control his arms. His wife feeds him in bed and occasionally helps him smoke a cigarette. His arms have shriveled up, there is barely more than skin left on his bones. His wife took him to the hospital when he first lost his ability to stand up. The doctors simply gave him an IV drip and sent him home. She felt that the doctors didn’t care. They were at the public hospital, the only one they can afford, and his situation truly does seem hopeless, so can we really blame the doctors ? Kamal, the oldest son, recently had a boy. They named him Imad, after his grandfather. All three generations spend their days in the same room. Imad the grandfather lays in his bed while Imad the baby rocks back and forth in his car seat. Does the grandfather recognize his grandson, does he feel joy ? No one can penetrate his blank stare to extract an answer. One Imad grows as the other withers.
Abu Kamal was not a fighter, nor a political activist, he was simply guilty of being a man in a refugee camp, and for that he will die a martyr.
In contrast, Abu Hussein was politically active. He was part of the popular comittees that organized to distribute food supplies to the needy in his area. For this he spent most of the first intifada going in and out of prison. The Israelis would take him for six months then release him and rearrest him six months later. This went on for five years. His mother and one of his daughters passed away while he was in prison. Then during his next incarceration his youngest son was born.
I visit him in his house in the old city of Nablus. From his bed he calls me over and makes me run my fingers over his head so I can feel the dents in his skull. This is where the soldiers beat him, he tells me. From then his health issues began. He has suffered strokes that left him unable to walk. This is particularly difficult for him since he lives in a narrow house in the heart of the old city. Even the most able must exercise caution when climbing the stairs up to his room. When we met two years ago he would sit in the living room in his wheel chair and express his admiration for Charles de Gaulle and Brigitte Bardot. Now he stays in his bedroom. He spends most of the day laying down and manages to sit up for important visits. Once a skilled electrician and a pillar of his community, he would walk the streets of the old city and chat with his neighbors. Now he is stuck in his house. It would take several strong men much effort to lift him down to the street. Even then he would be unable to circulate, as the old city is not exactly wheel chair friendly. Three of his four sons have spent time in Israeli prisons. Today only one of them is still incarcerated. Sami has eleven years left on his twenty one year sentence. His mother, Um Hussein, visits as often as possible. Abu Hussein rarely makes the trip down to the Negev. It takes over five hours to drive to the prison and his health condition requires hiring an ambulance for the trip.
As the years pass and his health worsens, he keeps hoping that he will see his son in his house. Will he still have the strength to sit up and hold him in his arms, if or when that day arrives ?