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The smell of death

by Bob of the New York Solidarity Delegation

It is Friday. I am writing from inside the Deheisha refugee camp. My body is sore – less from the sun or the walking, or the lack of water but from holding this truth that I see and feel and hear.

It smells here. If you were in New York mid-September you remember it smelled pretty foul. On the 2 train, the first time they opened the stations below Brooklyn Bridge, those of us from Brooklyn rode into Manhattan with a nervous silence. Most of us were pretending to read our books, papers, morning prayers… it was still in that amorphous time when New Yorkers were crossing their previously un-crossable lines and it seemed like maybe the change was still to come. The doors opened at Wall Street or Park Place and we were completely quiet. Waiting, waiting, and then it hit.

The stench. Some of us retched. I made eye contact with a woman across the way. Me in my big headphones, her in her head wrap, and we knew and we said it out loud although it came out like a moan, it came out like a whisper. Death smells like burnt plastic, like stale smoke, like moldy water, like smoldering paper, like burning hair, like excrement, like flesh, like mortar, like bones.

I walked through the camp with a guy about my age. He generously explained life in Deheishe to me. Perhaps because I might be the one who will tell the story loud enough, to the right person, to the wrong person, to no one. The adults nod salaam and the kids holler hello! or shyly wave.

The outer walls of homes serve as corridors through the camp. The homes which house over 14000 people, the homes on top of each other, like precarious bricks, never meant to be permanent residences.

They were tents in ’48 when they came mostly from Zacharia, Betateb and J’rash. They built nothing, waiting to go home. Then the UN built these structures in the 1950’s maybe 8 feet tall (generous) maybe 20 feet X 10 feet (generous still) – one room with kitchen and bath for families under 6, two rooms for more, indicating the wait might be less then temporary, their towns renamed K’far Zk’harria, Bet Shiamish, Jrosh.

14,000 people live within the 750 sq. meters of the camp. 55% of them are under the age of 15. There is 24-hour curfew so technically no one should be outside at all. Ever. When you get caught by a tank, a jeep, a helicopter, you get shot or jailed. Young men, probably my brother’s age walking around missing hands or legs.

Pictures of martyrs line the walls, alongside arrows spray painted by the Israeli military so they know how to get out when they come in.

I will write more in a minute. I need to walk away.