Author Norman Finkelstein once compared Palestinians to Native Americans. European settlers pushed them off their land, terrorized and killed their women and children and eradicated their means of livelihood. For defending themselves…
My day starts with the sweetest words my ears ever heard: “I wuv you, mommy,” says Natalie, my “almost four” year old, as I drop her off at preschool.The morning is busy. At midday, I take a few moments to sift through my emails before dashing off to lunch. The first is an article from The Guardian newspaper (London) about Israeli “preventive attacks” that destroyed 10 Palestinian homes. Details follow about the Korabi family, just settling in at 8:30 p.m. when tank shells pound their home “sending the family of 17 scurrying for safety.” Amidst the roar of tanks and screams of children, 18-year-old Osama didn’t make it and was buried beneath his newly demolished home. I’m almost certain the story will not make major U.S. media outlets.
Next is yet another press release from Defense of Children International. This one, “Is anyone Listening?” details an Israeli attack on a Palestinian school for blind girls. My stomach knots as I read on about the breaking windows, and the cowering of young blind girls. DCI uses phrases like “gross and systematic policy of child rights violations by the Israeli occupation.” “I wuv you, mommy,” comes back to me. I read on. There has to be some good news in these emails.Next is a statement from MADRE, a women’s human rights organization, that Israeli forces are targeting Palestinian children with gunfire. “This is a horrifying thought and we do not make the allegation lightly,” they said. But this is not news to me. How can people support this? Do they know?Is Natalie taking a nap or just lying on her mat during “quiet time” at school.
Then comes Amnesty International news. Elementary school children throwing rocks and one of them is shot in the head. From LAW, an affiliate of Paris-based Human Rights organizations, comes news of awful closures. An Israeli soldier raped a Palestinian woman in her home and the army later confirmed that “indecent acts” did take place. A Jewish settler gets community service and a fine for beating to death defenseless 11-year-old Hilmi Shusha. An Israeli soldier gets 49 days in jail for shooting a 12-year- old Palestinian boy walking home from school. It’s all too much and I have to get back to work.Tonight I’m going to grant Natalie’s nightly request to “read more books.” I never know if she really wants to read or just wants to delay going to sleep. It doesn’t matter.
Then a story closer to home: Since 7-year-old Hiam lost her right eye to a soldier’s bullet on her way back from school in December, she is afraid to go to school, will not play with other kids and doesn’t talk much anymore. She clings to her mother all day and wets her bed at night. Both of them are in Connecticut now staying with my friend, Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh, while Hiam gets fitted for an ocular prosthetic. I send an email to Mazin, the young Yale professor, humanitarian, and activist who runs on five hours of sleep. I often wonder why we have a leader like Arafat when we have people like Mazin among us. I know his big heart will nurture Hiam’s spirit and bring something good back to her young life. But the knots remain as I check major U.S. papers on the Internet. Our horrors are rarely told. A defenseless society that has endured 53 years of dispossession and 34 years of a cruel military occupation is rising up again with stones. In the process, another generation of us is physically and/or psychologically maimed.
Norman Finkelstein once compared Palestinians to Native Americans. European settlers pushed them off their land, terrorized and killed their women and children and eradicated their means of livelihood. For defending themselves, they were branded as “savages,” or, as Finkelstein puts it, “yesterday’s terrorists.” I leave work a bit early to surprise Natalie during “circle time.” Today I hug her a little tighter and a little longer. I could hold her like that forever but she is anxious to show me what she made and pulls out artwork from her cubby. I’m grateful to see the happy pictures she draws. I’ve seen what Palestinian children in the occupied territories draw and it isn’t pretty.
At home, I make Natalie’s favorite dinner, mac and cheese with chicken nuggets, and heat up leftovers for myself. We play for a while and watch Rug Rats. She gets water all over the bathroom while she takes a bath and runs around naked until I catch her to put on her jammies. We read before she falls off to sleep and I venture out in the cold to my front porch with a glass of wine. Grateful to walk out of my house without being shot at for breaking curfew, I remember Natalie’s advice some weeks ago after she heard my prayers. “Mommy, you should wish on a star to protect Palestinians.” “It works,” she assures and offers a new toy as proof.My own childhood and random thoughts begin to flash in bits and pieces in and out of my mind. The Israeli soldier who told me my face looked like the donkey on which I posed for a photo; the children who told me to leave a pool with a chorus chant, “dirty Arab get out”; my two cousins, walking me to their home from the orphanage where I lived in East Jerusalem, who were forced by a band of soldiers to spit in each other’s mouth’s before they would let us pass; hand washing my clothes on the flat roof of the orphanage with 50 other girls who were more like sisters; picking bugs out of our food and lice out of each other’s hair.
My experience of being strip-searched – women and girls lined up naked with the humiliated stares of modest Muslim women – a metal detector parting my legs at the Jordanian border when I was 10 years old; the desperation of my aunt who, after being expelled from East Jerusalem in 1967, sneaked back to her home alone with four children by hiking three days through the mountains to avoid detection by Israeli occupation forces; my father, my mother, my aunts and uncles – evicted; the Jewish family that now occupies my grandmother’s home.
My ancient family, shattered; my rich culture reduced to subhuman images of terrorism; the first intifada; my escape; culture shock in the United States; high School, college and graduate school; growing up and living without family; the aloneness of my life like a branch cut from an ancient olive tree and slung to far corners of the earth; my struggle, as the first to be born on foreign soil, to reclaim my history and roots; the seemingly endless Palestinian tragedy of death, checkpoints, settlements, occupation, dispossession, and indignity caught between death and a fierce determination to be free.
The knots finally and suddenly unravel into tears as I realize how easily I could be the mother of a terrorized little girl with one eye shot out. The thought of Natalie suffering like that is profoundly heavy. I selfishly thank whomever or whatever out there that spared my little girl a life under occupation. I scout the most promising star and make a wish for Hiam and her mother. Then, with a wine-induced power, I summon all the stars and counsel them to act on DCFs plea to protect the children. Natalie is sound asleep with the covers off. I cover her back up even though I know she’ll have them off in a few minutes. Sometimes I can’t believe my great fortune to be her mommy and deserve her love. I kiss her forehead and whisper “I love you, too. All is not well with the world, but my day ended as it began – with love.