The Big Day is Here
Muna Muhaisen
March 22. 2000

From: muna@alquds.net (Muna Muhaisen)
Sender: Freedom_For_Palestine@ALQUDS.NET
To: Undisclosed-Recipient:@mailgw2.netvision.net.il;@rly-yg03.mx.aol.com;;;

Greetings from Dheisheh:

The big day is finally here. At 4 p.m. this afternoon, Pope John Paul II will be in our refugee camp.
The hustle and bustle in this place is endless. Schools are out today and many people aren't planning to go to work, primarily because the roads will be closed. The atmosphere is of one big holiday.
 
Starting at 5:30 a.m. this morning, a police car has been driving through the streets asking residents to remove their cars.

Until late last night, construction workers were laying stone tiles and stone steps around Dheisheh's Martyrs' Monument (located right next to the camp entrance that the Pope will drive through). All the dirt and debris near the monument has been removed.

Earlier in the day on Tuesday, municipal workers from Bethlehem installed traffic lights at the entrance. This was the highlight of the day for many camp residents. Several people, including children, have been hit by speeding cars (some even killed) and demands to install traffic lights have gone on for too long. OH! if the Pope would only come visit everyday.

The traffic lights don't work yet, of course but they will some day. they are at least installed.
 
But the main event on Tuesday definitely was the March of the Keys. Hundreds of Dheisheh school children and camp residents marched along part of the Jerusalem- Hebron Road, carrying the keys to  the homes they left behind in 1948. Those who didn't have their original house keys, carried pieces of cardboard cut in the shape of keys. Children carried placards bearing the names of their 1948 villages.

A lot of foreign and Arab press were there to cover the event.

Chanting slogans about the right of return, marchers then walked inside the camp and residents stood in their doorways and on their roofs to watch. As the marchers reached the eastern end of the camp, they could see a helicopter approaching to land (Arafat's helicopter pad in Bethlehem is built on the hill right next to Dheisheh). Thinking it was Arafat himself, hundreds of kids raced to the site, ignoring the pleas of their teachers to get back.

To their disappointment, it wasn't Arafat (he had arrived some hours earlier). Rather, the helicopter was merely practicing landing and taking off.......But the kids didn't really mind. The march coincided with  Mother's Day (21 March) and many of the kids had come to the march directly from school. Most had red roses in their hands and hand-made greeting cards. They all rushed home to their mothers.

The murals on the walls are ready. Palestinian and Vatican flags are up. The invitations to the official reception at the UNRWA school for Boys have been handed out -- those without an invitation cannot enter the school where security is expected to be very tight.

Everything is perfect except for the weather which suddenly turned from sunny and warm, to somewhat cold and drizzly. But come rain or shine, Dheisheh will be in the limelight today as millions of people around the world follow the Pope's visit to the camp. And although no one can predict what the Pope will say about the Palestinian refugee issue, the message of Dheisheh's refugees is already loud and clear: RIGHT OF RETURN, RIGHT OF RETURN, RIGHT OF RETURN............it is the loudest and clearest message visible in this place.

Muna Muhaisen