Mustafa Staiti is twenty-five, tall, in black t-shirt and jeans, cool sunglasses perched in a mass of curly black hair. As he talks, now and then a smile starts on his face and plays there for a moment.
From the shaded courtyard of the Freedom Theatre, where Mustafa works, we walk out into his home-town, the Jenin refugee camp. With no gate or sign, it is just another a neighbourhood in Jenin city, though more densely packed and in some streets the pavement is more broken. Three generations of Palestinian refugees live here, some 18,000 people in less than half a square kilometre.
The sloping streets are almost empty due to midday heat and Ramadan, the Islamic holy month. People will come out later to walk, when the sun goes down and they’ve finished the meal that breaks the daily fast.
The streets in this part of the camp seem unusually wide for the old cities here. “It wasn’t like this before the invasion,” Mustafa explains. “These used to be alleys, but when they were rebuilt they made them wide enough for tanks to come through. If they made them narrow like before, the tanks would break the walls of houses again.”
This is Mustafa’s landscape, as familiar to him as forest and meadow are to me back home. Three boys in their early teens walk by, watching us. Mustafa greets them, “Salaam aleikum,” peace be with you. Two boys return the greeting with nods, but the third says, “Fuck you.” Mustafa smiles. “He thinks you are Jewish. Some people think any foreigner who comes here is Mossad (the Israeli spy agency) or CIA, the enemy.” Between 2000 and 2004, sixty-one children were killed in Jenin by Israeli forces, 676 in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and some 14,000 injured. Close to 5000 residents of Jenin saw their homes demolished by the occupying army.
Mustafa Staiti is a survivor, his life framed by occupation, resistance, and invasion. Born a refugee in 1986, he has witnessed both intifadas. In the second, which erupted in 2000, he wanted to be a fighter, but at seventeen he was considered too young.