It’s difficult revisiting those memories.
A friend who worked for the organization told me, “Write down what happened and circulate it.” I was active in the Coalition of Women for Peace back then. Sending the message I wrote after that dark, hollow night gave me a sense of liberation. Writing had empowered me.
The image of my mother and cousin rushing into that presentation hall has never left me. It’s like a nightmare that stays with me. I imagined myself the way they saw me, as if in a movie scene where they catch a woman committing prostitution or adultery. Whatever. Any woman is seen as a whore when society insists on perfection.
How the female among us is considered both sacred and inviolable. Heavens lay under her feet. As the holy hadith says, “Paradise waits beneath the feet of the mother.” Yet she herself is the burning coal of hell. The female is depicted in so many conflicting portraits; she can be moved and changed in accordance with the desires of society, left to the whims of the patriarchy she helps to maintain.
Life took me down twisted but important paths. Among the many paradoxes were my encounters with Israelis. Israeli women, in particular. My involvement with the women’s movement opened possibilities that allowed me to think and make new discoveries. At the time, I didn’t know what I wanted. I felt a sense of panic any time someone asked me, “What do you want? What are your goals?” These questions still make me feel uneasy, yet I find myself responding the same way each time: “I’m just trying to live. I don’t even have the ability to dream. How can I have ambitions?” I started asking myself about ambition, even though I was still afraid to dream. I knew there was a dream of some kind buried inside me, a dream I wished to fulfill, a dream I’m still not sure I understand. I was ready for it to appear at any moment.
The Israeli women I knew were supportive in a way that defied the confines of the occupation. It was as if, to them, I was a miserable product of the occupation, in need of their support and compassion. And I was.
They’re minorities, excluded to a great extent within Israeli society. Within that minority are those who swing between a Zionist identity, which must deny the Palestinian equal rights, and humanist leanings, which allow them to see Palestinians as people not unlike themselves. I’m not sure I could blame them for their views. In general, the left in Israel faces this conundrum. They’re like miserable married couples. They’re fully aware the marriage isn’t working, yet it provides enough stability and comfort to prevent them from leaving.
I am a product of an occupation that is upheld by soldiers and surrounded by a wall and its many checkpoints. Inside lives a patriarchal machine that is systematically restricting me, monitoring my every move, counting every breath.
The Israeli women were trying to pull me out of my hiding place, out from behind walls and fences. Their attempts were unsuccessful, but I felt their compassion, which is something I needed so desperately. Their support gave me a new energy and a sense of possibility. They pulled me towards a place of empowerment. They insisted I was far more capable, stronger, and tougher than I believed. They also realized how much I needed the support of others—the support that comes with a word, a look, even a simple sigh of understanding. At that time, even the smallest things could pull me from the darkness of my slumber. I was searching for a light to lead me out of the darkness that had swallowed me. I was like a young child lost in a dark tunnel, searching for light, sensing it but unable to see it.
I needed to be reminded that I existed, that I had value. After a long period of collapse after collapse, with destruction raining down on top of me, I needed to be reminded of my worth.
When I saw the president of the organization again, perhaps three years had passed since he had revoked my job offer. It could have been more time, or less—I had stopped counting. In that period of my life, I no longer thought about days or weeks or months. I could only live from one breath to another. I knew if I was still breathing, I was at least alive.
By the time I met him again, I had become more mature and had developed greater political and social awareness. In the interim, I had worked on a human rights, anti-occupation project with a man. I saw in him the hope of peace, and decided to join in the fight for Palestine.
As I continued thinking about men and their shadows and the false shade they provide, I began to assign each man’s shadow a shape. This man I worked with, he had a circular shadow, which made me laugh; I chose a circle because he wasn’t very tall. Jack was more of a Santa Claus. He had the characteristics of a father, a mentor. He was God-like.
But, like other human gods, he believed he was deserving of a throne. He believed he possessed an authority beyond his influence in the fight for the liberation of Palestine. I followed him like a shadow. I repeated his holy words. He was supportive, caring, and loving. Until one day, when we were discussing the issue with a Palestinian supporter and I dared to speak.
He silenced me.
He said, “You are not supposed to talk.” I was puzzled by his attitude and sudden gloominess. That pleasant Santa face.
“Why should I not talk?” I asked.
That was our last discussion. I told him, “I will always be grateful to you for shaping my Palestinian identity, but you seem to not realize that there is a difference between shaping an identity and creating one. You want a Palestinian that you yourself have molded. But I am here with an identity that needs shaping, not creating. We both want to end occupation; our paths are parallel, not crossed. You will not liberate Palestine. And you should not. You need to be liberated by the liberation of Palestine.”
He replied, “If you are such a nationalist, why don’t you invest your energy in Palestinian institutions?” He was right.
So I left.
And I heard the sound of a shattered God.