The Murder of Arafat Jaradat

Car window shot out by Israeli soldiers near Ofer Prison, West Bank.

Our revenge will be the laughter of our children: 24hrs after the murder of Arafat Jaradat

Smiles. One wouldn’t expect them, given the circumstances.

Saturday was a rough day for the West Bank. In Qusara, Jewish settlers fired on Palestinians, hitting one above the eye with a non-lethal round, and another in the chest with live ammunition. Both underwent surgery; one is in a coma. Around the same time this news hit social media, word began circulating that a young Palestinian father by the name of Arafat Jaradat had died in the Israeli Megiddo Prison, where he’d been held without charge for three months. Allegedly, he’d been involved in stone-throwing. Family claimed he was perfectly healthy when he was taken into custody, and all that’s come out of the initial autopsy is that heart attack was not the cause of death, contrary to the claims of the Prison Spokesperson. Al-Haq tweeted a laundry list of injuries that suggest torture, though I’ve yet to see anything conclusive from a medical examiner. Sources on the ground here say Megiddo is notorious for interrogations and torture and, indeed, Jaradat was interrogated Thursday – during which multiple medical evaluations occurred (the number I’ve heard is four). Why an interrogation would necessitate multiple medical examinations is anyone’s guess. No one here, however, appears to be guessing.

As the the Palestinian twitterverse exploded with the news Satruday night, a conspicuous phrase scrolled onto my laptop screen: Our revenge will be the laughter of our children. I’d heard it before, but it landed with a certain acuity in this instance. Arafat Jaradat was a father of two. His widow is pregnant. The prospects and survival of generations is a core feature in how this tragedy appears to be metabolizing. As the crowd assembled in Al-Manara Square in Ramallah Sunday afternoon to mark his death in protest, anger was far less palpable than a fiercely joyful resilience. It laid bare the eagerness of claims (made rather widely, even within Palestine) that a Third Intifada looms. Setting aside the material obstacles (not least of which being the Palestinian Authority itself, having collaborated with Israeli forces in shutting down a protest in Hebron two days ago), the fixation on an impending Intifada dissolves the human weight and texture of the events currently setting off protests and clashes, across the West Bank.

A group of Palestinian “revolutionary youth” had put out a call Saturday night for businesses in Ramallah to close at 1pm on Sunday, in support of a march and demonstration outside nearby Ofer Prison. As we wound through the city’s main corridor, circling back via the square dedicated to Yasser Arafat, colloquially known as “Clock Square”, metal shudders were pulled across storefronts, one after the other. The chants stopped, and the march shifted to a sort of stroll up to a lot where group-taxis met us, to ferry us out to Ofer. Mine had seven seats and ten passengers.

The main drag through the area neighboring Ofer Prison was already shrouded in plumes of black smoke from tires set aflame at its far end, before we’d even arrived. The crack of Israeli rifles and the sound of air perforating around us was so consistent that our driver peeled out before his door had fully closed. Young men pulled large rocks out into the street to impeded any swift vehicular movement. Smiling. They dragged rusty dumpsters down from the side streets and wheeled them, crouching, up the main street toward the prison, forming barricades roughly thirty yards from the soldiers. Smiling. Slings were pulled from pockets and armed with rocks, hurled from alleys and small patches of field toward the soldiers, often with a self-aware amateur clumsiness. Gentle mockery and self-directed laughter.

I found both plastic-coated bullets, and .22 calibre casings in the street. Two young men –one of them a minor– were transported to emergency rooms after being hit with the latter. I found another young man prone, surrounded by medics after taking a plastic-coated bullet to the mouth. More than once, upon recovering a bit, he waved off the medics, chuckling. Even amidst a rather lopsided, low-scale warfare, smiles – and a keen tenderness toward the wounded. No tears. No rage. This was not a mobilization of gut responses. It seemed, even in its most confrontational dimensions, an insistence on and a foregrounding of dignity; an almost playful refusal of people to be dissolved into convenient, predictable narratives.

To the extent the repetition of the now ritualized dance of West Bank clashes can be considered a sort of vengeance for Arafat Jaradat (and to be sure, it’s a reach; the provocations are manifold), it comes with a considerable dose of tenderness, to be sure. With or without the physical contest, there is a discreet refusal of despair evident on the ground; one likely far more instructive than reductive speculations about an Intifada.

Joshua Stephens


Author’s note: I wrote this immediately upon returning from Ofer, yesterday (24/2/2013). I’d hoped to get it published somewhere with some readership, but no one bit, and events are unfolding here on the ground such that it would no longer be timely if it waited any longer. So, I’ll have to count on all of you to pass it around. Watching social media discussions of “rage” and acts of “anger” across the West Bank, at the news of Jaradat’s murder, I was struck by how little of that was evident at the Ramallah demo, and even at the Ofer clashes. I saw something else, entirely. And I wondered if, perhaps, all this chatter was less description, more presumption — or the shoehorning of events into a pre-existing narrative digestible for a foreign audience. What assumptions drive this process of selection? And what representations result? Are we incapable of understanding struggle as springing from anything but base impulses? Or are we just incapable when it comes to Palestinians?

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