Friday, July 04, 2008
The narrative of a young woman: her eyes, life and hope under occupation- Manar Wahhab
The narrative of a young woman: her eyes, life and hope under occupation
04.07.08 - 15:15
Bethlehem / Manar Wahhab - I will begin with the story of leaving in 1948 with the words of my grandmother. “Before the British left in May 1948, they humiliated the Arabs.
We used to think that they sold petrol for only five dinars but when we opened the bottles we discovered that they sold us water!”
She continued, “I want to tell you what had happened to me and my family when we lived in Al-Ramlah [a village the Israelis took in 1948]…my six children and I sat at home [one of her children is my father]. Two men knocked on the door. When we opened the door, they told us to leave the house because there would be clashes. We didn’t believe them. I was cooking for my children. Then we suddenly heard shelling and bombing. I took my children and went to the Catholic convent to hide. There we met a lot of people, both Christians and Muslims. The children were afraid and cried because of the sounds they heard. There was no food or water anymore. So we were obliged to bring what we had in our houses. The Israeli soldiers told the boys and men to visit a specific place if they wanted to get permission to be in the streets, but the Israelis were lying: when the men went to the place they all were taken to prison. The Israeli airplanes shelled most of the houses. The snipers killed many boys, men, women, and children, even dogs and cats in the street.”
My grandmother went on. “After a few days my brother who lived in Bethlehem came to Al-Ramlah to take me and my sons with him, my husband didn’t come but he followed us after that. Many families in Al-Ramlah left their houses and went to other places. Some of them went to Nablus, Bethlehem, Hebron, Jordan, and even some immigrated to America. The Jews took a lot of gold and jewelry from the women. They sold it and bought weapons with the money. After they won, they were happy; they drank wine and whiskey. Threw the bottles in the air and broke them on the streets.”
Starting a new life in Bethlehem for my father and his family wasn’t so easy and of course for the other refugees because they had to adapt for the new environment, find jobs and places to live. For my father and his family, and some other people, they were lucky because they have relatives in Bethlehem, but others had to build tents and that what we now call refugee camps.
People thought that they will just stay for a while and go back home, but unfortunately they did not realize what the days held for them so they waited and waited. Eventually after so much time passed they decided to build homes. Refugees used to take food and medical help from the UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) and until this day we have the refuge card with which we can take food from the UNRWA. My grandfather found a job in Bethlehem working in a café, and after that he dug artesian wells. So life continued and my dad grew up, married my mom, and they had my two sisters and me. I grew up hearing about how we are refugees and sometimes my grandmother told stories. Until now I ask and want to know more and more.
I will always keep asking for our rights. I will always tell and teach young people about the Palestinian story so as to pass the torch to every new generation to continue the march for freedom.
The following is a story that happened in 1967 in Bethlehem, this is also coming from my grandmother’s words. She stayed in Bethlehem and didn’t go back to Al-Ramlah. “I was with my son [who is my dad now] going to the market to buy some vegetables and fruits. While we were walking, we saw airplanes in the sky. At first we thought that they were Jordanian. A car came and a man shouted from the window at the people and urged them to go home because these airplanes are Israeli and would shell the area. We all went quickly to our houses. I held my son under my arms and ran home. They kept shelling every night. Then the Israelis soldiers entered Bethlehem. They used to walk in the streets without any fear. They felt safe and secure. We looked at them from the windows without making noise so as not to be seen. The war ended after only six days.”
She added, “On the morning of 5 June 1967, while we sat at home, we heard bombing and shelling. We went quickly to a nearby cave to hide. Nearly 60 persons were hiding in the cave. During the nights nothing happened, we used to go out and to look at the places that had been shelled in the early morning. At one point we saw many Israeli airplanes; initially we thought that they belonged to Iraq and that there is still war out there but unfortunately the war ended in six days and because of that they also call this war ‘The Six Day War.’ After this war the Israelis entered the West Bank. After many years when the first Intifada began in 1987 the Israeli government began to require permission for people to come and go between the West Bank and inside the Israeli boundaries. Life continued up until now but with more hurt more pain, less land, unclear dreams and hope.”
My father lived his life in Bethlehem because he was still a kid when his family was forced to flee from their city. He cannot remember much. When I ask my dad about Al-Ramlah he does not say much but he always tells to me “go to your grandmother she knows everything” and I do go to her and ask her about the life there. She always tells me more things that I didn’t know. My mother is not a refugee. She lived in Bethlehem all her life. She met my father in Bethlehem and they stayed in Bethlehem. My dad took me, my sisters and my mom to Al-Ramlah once when I was a kid but this was the last time and I can’t remember anything. In my dad’s house there is now a Jewish family living in it. I remember once I asked my grandmother about if she and my grandfather went to see their house. She said, “Yes, we did go but we were shocked because a Jewish family was living in it and this Jewish family didn’t allow us to go in and visit the house. It was all very hurtful and difficult. So we can’t think about doing something in this place because it is not our choice.”
Having a refugee status for me is like a reminder for all of us to remember that there is a right that we should keep asking and insisting for until we get it. It reminds us that still there is occupation, it reminds us of the pain that people feel everyday, it reminds us of the dear land which we can’t reach, it reminds us of many things and especially that we have to continue and handle the pain so as to reach the day that peace and justice will be prevail.
My name is Manar Ghaleb Jaleel Wahhab. I'm 22 years old. I live with my family: My father Ghaleb, my mother Ivette, and my two sisters, Dima who is 24 and Rawan who is 21. I'm a refugee from Al-Ramlah city. It was taken by the Israelis in 1948. I graduated from Bethlehem University with a B.A in Business Administration as my Major, with a Minor in Marketing. I live in Bethlehem city near Al Azzeh Refugee Camp. I live in a Christian - Muslim environment. I went to St. Joseph School for Girls. Also I'm an old and active member in the St. Joseph Girl Scout’s. I’m engaged to an Armenian Palestinian young man. His name is Milad Vosgueritchian.
I like swimming, football, drawing, music (especially I like violin). I'm learning how to play on this musical instrument with the help of my teacher who is my father in law. He is also a musician. I have a talent to play on musical instruments without knowing the notes. Beside that I have the talent to write (poets and other things).
I have a sociable personality that reaches towards that of comedians. When I'm with my friends I try to handle their pain by entertaining them. I have a strong personality, with self-confidence, and I like to help people.
I speak Arabic (of course), English, French, and Hebrew. I learned Hebrew by watching Israeli programs on TV.
My dream is to live one day with my husband in a small house and feel safety and stability. Also I dream that one day I will have a horse and ride it freely on my land, which leads to the biggest dream of all: which is to see Palestine free one day. I hope so.
Living in Palestine is a matter of fighting for living instead of dying: fighting for success instead of dying with shame, waiting for hopes and dreams, and looking to the future in a positive way.
Living in Palestine is like being in a big prison. You can feel that you are turning around yourself; you feel sometimes that you can't develop or improve…why? Because of the depressions that we go through because the Israeli government in its procedures is always succeeded in making the Palestinian people ill psychologically. For example geographically we are actually living on 54 percent of West Bank and especially with the Wall being here, it's really awful, ugly, dividing and it makes me feel really sad, bad, but it gives me more of a challenge to keep going and fighting for my rights especially to live freely without any fear or problems. That is the main secret or thing that Israel couldn’t kill: the dream, the hope, the smile, and especially the insistence and the steadfastness that the Palestinian people have to regain their occupied land. For example, my fiancé, Milad, must go through an Israeli checkpoint daily and let the solders see his identity card so as to let him pass to his home. Also I have to pass through this checkpoint every day to reach my work … This checkpoint is humiliating. You never know how much time you need to reach your place because it depends on the mood of the soldiers....is it fair?????
The movement between the Palestinian cities and villages is really hard because of the large number of checkpoints and the tough procedures on the checkpoints. There is no freedom and this is what we, and all the people all over the world, need. The familial relationships are really negatively affected because of the checkpoints and the Wall which divide families from each other. They weaken and lessen the relationships.
We have a depression in our economy, lack of jobs, and increase in the number of the population. This is really a dangerous problem and it became more dangerous when they built the Wall. Israel took all the good land; the agricultural land, the water sources. Actually Israel took all the good land and put us in a closed hopeless place. (That also you will see on the map). People don't know what to do, where to work, how to bring money. It is absolutely not easy. Our economy is going down. Families are not able to pay the fees for school and university studying and because of that a big slice of the nation has left their studies and work to get money to live. And lots of young kids are working now to help there families. The siege raised and doubled this problem.
On the other hand I can say that the problem is not in searching for food or drink and having fun. It is a nation’s pain, hurt and unheard voices that are represented in the daily suffering and difficulties that the people face. We are distracted by watching our occupied country become worse as we still wait for freedom.
The positive side is that in spite of this hard situation still we have hope. We can see the light of the candle that pushes us to continue our march toward our freedom. We still have the smile and hope because Palestinian people are still longing for their freedom. We have hope because our land is very valuable to us. It is something that we feel belongs to us. We feel the pain of our land and we belong to it. The Palestinians will always be hopeful, generation after generation.
I also find hope through my grandmother’s stories of Palestine and the original place that we belong to.
It is also important for me to know about the situation, such as that the Israeli government continues to demolish the houses of the Palestinian people. …Why? Because they are guilty of having a house on their own land (Palestinians)?!!!! The Israel government wants just to take land so as to expand the size of Israel. Israeli report: A demolition of 18,000 (eighteen thousand) houses in the West Bank since 1967. Also the International Solidarity Foundation for Human Rights announced that the Israeli occupation forces killed during the month of January 96 citizens, 87 of whom died in the Gaza Strip, and 71 citizens were killed in assassination operations, and there where 10 kids among those killed. The Israeli occupation forces increased the prison population as well. They arrested over 540 citizens, including more than 50 children under the age of eighteen years old, and three women and many, many other Palestinian people. The arrests included numbers of children and women, in addition to dozens of workers who have been arrested for entering Israel without having permits to enter. Israel has arrested a quarter of the Palestinian population since it began its occupation. Most of them are taken for illogical and unjust reasons. The people in the prisons are affected psychologically and physically from treatment and torture in prisons and there is abundant evidence of that. One of the smallest and newest examples of this is that there is a prisoner from Jerusalem who has lost 90 percent of his eyesight. He is in Administrative Detention: that means he was never charged or tried. The Prison Service did not to treat him despite repeated requests. Every morning we see the numbers, more people killed, how many were arrested, what is the solution, and many other topics.
My fiancé Milad and I are trying really hard to save money you cannot imagine the really hard conditions in which we are living. We have to build ourselves from the beginning. Our families cannot help us because they too do not have enough money even to live normally. This is the situation of almost all the Palestinians. I'm not saying that there are no rich people; there are rich families. But the middle class has become the poor class and the poor have become even more impoverished. Because of that it's a struggle of surviving. For example I said before that I finished a B.A in Business. Me and my sisters all had scholarships from the Catholic Patriarch and from a American institution because there was no money to pay. The same happened for my fiancé.
We are a nation that no Wall, no checkpoints, no demolishing of houses, nor persecutions, can destroy us. We keep insisting on our freedom …we are the powerful nation.
Jerusalem is less than half an hour from Bethlehem but I cannot go there more than two times a year: Christmas and Easter. You have to request permission from the Israelis to enter our churches to pray. Some people don’t get the permission. They are denied, forbidden to enter Jerusalem their entire lives. Imagine if someone forbade you to move within your own country. It is easier for me to go around the world than it is to go to Jerusalem.
I'm a member of the Arab Educational Institute (AEI- Open Windows) whose mission stands for nonviolence, peace, justice, and human rights. It works through community building such as schools, principals, teachers, students, youth, women, and parents through four programs.
In the Arab Educational Institute they do RRCA which stands for (Read, Reflect, Communicate and Act). They read from the holy books like the bible and the Qur’an or from nonviolence books about people like Gandhi. They read the subject, reflect upon it and then every one explains his belief. They all then communicate the results together and they also try to act upon what they read. They also celebrate things like the United Nations Day for Peace, communicate with schools, conduct sit-ins and protests against the occupation, all done in a nonviolent and spiritual manner.
Now I am working as a public relations officer and projects coordinator in our new small center which was established by my fiancé and his brother (Milad and Noubar Vosgueritchian). Establishing this center in the midst of a population that is diverse was challenging for them.
The center seeks and aims to help society, particularly the kids and youth that are gifted with a variety of talents and abilities; because these are the pillars on which a healthy society should stand. Guiding, directing, and channeling these groups’ abilities promotes the process of evolvement of opportunities towards the acquisition of culture, literature and the various forms of arts. Moreover the vision of the center looks for strengthening the Palestinian youth by raising their awareness regarding teaching new concepts and terms such as learning other cultures, including that of Palestine, human rights, nonviolence, peace and justice.
“Don’t react violently but relax and take it easy.” That is what I believe.
We as Palestinians are fed up with violence and believe in the path of nonviolence which resonates for effectively throughout the world.
Some German non-violence communication teachers (those who follow Marshall Rosenberg) gave us as Palestinian Muslim and Christian youth in the AEI a course about NVC (nonviolent communication). It went so well and we benefited from this experience. For me I learned that I should not blame the other (sister, friend, neighbors, even Israelis). I should always think and ask about the reason and background of the things, and I should have deep insight into the problem, and also search for the truth before making any decision.
If I did the PR for Palestine I would do my best to reach people in the world, people who see in life things more than eating, sleeping and just having fun all the time while at the same time there are people in other parts of the world fighting for their survival. If I did the PR for Palestine I would talk to every foreigner who come to this Holy Land and let him/her see and feel the truth in our eyes, in our lives, in our facts…I would speak with tourists and go with them to different places to let them see with their own eyes what is happening so as not just to depend on the eye of the camera ( what they see on TV) which is controlled by Zionist lobby… because if the western world wants to know the whole truth they should stop depending on what they see on TV and start searching for other ways to reach the real truth. If I did the PR for Palestine I would distribute books to the foreigners; books that are written by Palestinian people and refugees, books for Palestine, and books talking about the Palestinian pain. Also I will use every technological way like websites and make use of my Internet access to also spread the word of truth.
In the end, pressure leads to explosions. That explains what happened in the Gaza Strip. The breakthrough in the Gaza Strip for me and for all people who understand what it means to be blocked in without water, without food, without basic needs, and who understand what it means to be in a bird cage, can understand what happens in the Gaza Strip. People there did this not just because they want food and other needs, people there wanted to feel free. They are under such tremendous pressure really. Please if you want to feel a small part of what it is like being locked in your city, do this: enter your room don't take food and water. Turn off the electricity and lock the door. What would you do? Ask yourself really. For me I know this feeling because I used to live under curfews and closures, especially the 40 days of curfew in Bethlehem. During curfew no one can go out of their home, no matter what is his need. If the soldiers saw someone in the street they would shoot him or throw gas at him, or they would take him to prison. I watched this many times through the windows, and it even happened to me. What I'm trying to say is that we must break through. We are fed-up. We are finished living like this. We want freedom and dignity like anyone else in the world. At this moment I will like I will explode. But I am grateful to have a pen and a piece of paper to write this on, to write down my pain, my fear, my desire for freedom and my hope that we will achieve it.
Shots, bombs, tanks, bullets, jeeps, military helicopters, F-16s, I got used to these things. In the beginning when I for the first time heard and saw tanks and military jeeps I was frightened especially when there was shooting in the night where the Israelis turn off the electricity in the area. That also means that they will attack there. I am used to this now. So now if during the day when I hear shooting or I see military jeeps I don't feel so afraid because they are coming in these days to Bethlehem to arrest people or to pass through, to remind us that they are in control. I used to collect bullet shells. Now I don’t find as many. But the numbers of prisoners, killed, handicapped, and emotionally destroyed by the Israeli occupiers are too high.
I believe in nonviolence and that education is the most important tool we have. We have a 90 percent rate of educated people in Palestine. But now that number is going down because of the Wall, the land confiscation, the siege and the economic collapse due to those. There are also families leaving, and if not entire families, the young people are leaving in droves when they get any opportunity.
My message is one of hope: we want justice and freedom. And we want you to come here and see the reality.
We are people of life, not people for death.
Written by: Manar G. Jaleel Wahhab
Arab Palestinian Christian refugee