Living in the Shoes of a Woman
Being a woman is one thing. One important thing of initially two things. However, living in a global patriarchal dominance makes one thing dominant of another. A lifetime struggle of women resilience for being the one thing they are Women.
All the resilience of being a woman is another ONE thing. For being a Muslim woman is another thing. Being a Muslim woman living in an Occupied Land is a totally another thing. What if you add divorce to this?
Being a Woman, a Moslem, a Palestinian and Divorced … makes the introduction to living in my shoes…
Living in a Shoe of a Woman.
LIVING IN THE SHOES OF A DIVORCED MOSLEM, ARAB, AND PALESTINIAN WOMAN
I have lived my life advocating who I am, defending the great values that Islam holds, indicating the invaluable culture the Arabs have, defending the just cause of the Palestinian people, and glorifying the preciousness of being a woman.
I thought that I was reflecting my identity, coping with all these things in a fine way. I figured I was demonstrating the example of being a good Moslem, Arab, and a Palestinian woman.
When I got divorced, I assumed life wouldn’t be as comfortable. Divorce is a bitter phase in any person’s life, and since I am a Moslem, Arab, and Palestinian, I expected it to be even more bitter. Even when it got more than a little bit bitter, I thought that only powerful people are blessed with the more arduous path, and the tougher it gets, the better the results will eventually be.
As days mutated into months, and the taste of bitterness altered into harsh bitterness, I was proud that in spite of the tremendous difficulties that I faced during those less than two years, I managed to stay as strong as I expected myself to be. I became comfortable with moving on with my life and keeping my four children in a stable environment. I thought that I thrived in stabilizing our lives in those complex days. I managed to survive with my children on all levels, fighting psychological problems that emerged as a result of divorce, handling a thirteen-year-old teenager, coping with a son who has ADD and learning difficulties, nurturing two girls, a six-year-old and four-year-old, who were both opening their eyes to a reality that diverged from the reality they naturally expected.
I found myself playing the role of both mother and father, taking responsibility for the two roles, while their father was out there being very vibrant. I thought I was handling my responsibilities towards my children in a satisfactory way. I managed to pay for their expensive lifestyle—their schools, activities, clothes, etc.—despite the financial difficulties that I was facing. I managed to survive with them because I didn’t want them to pay the price of suffering for something that they had nothing to do with. I couldn’t allow them to live less well while they were already suffering from being suddenly displaced from everything they just had a very short while ago.
As days passed, I even coped with the idea that I still didn’t get back my clothes or very personal belongings from those thirteen years of marriage. I didn’t get back my books, computer, bed, broidery, silver collection, or any of the thirteen years of memories that I built with every single breath I took.
Those memories faded away, and I beheld a stranger wearing my clothes while decrying my daughter borrowing my top from her cousin.
The memories of those days that I spent with the kids on mattresses when we had to live with absolutely nothing—no fridge, stove, or washing machine—those adventurous recollections in our life began to fade.
My son started telling everyone he saw and excitedly showing everyone who came to visit us, that we now had a fridge, his smile turning from a bitter one into just a smile.
I have so many feelings hovering in circles me, and I can’t even catch them in one place. So many things happened; I can’t even locate them all.
I felt like I was getting stuck in the middle of a tornado, holding so tight to what made me and my children survive, capturing every single moment of being able to take a breath, patiently waiting for the violent storm to calm down.
When I decided to get a divorce, I believed I had all the jurisprudent means that a free, respected Moslem has. One of those great values I believe in Islam is the respect demanded women. Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) entrusted his people to care for women in his last oration. All those religious books I was reading, all those Muslim heralds I was listening to, and all those religion classes I was attending addressed the rights of women in Islam and spoke about how Islam valued and respected women. God emphasized divine mercy and forgiveness. He is compassionate towards his creatures, enjoins justice and fair dealing, and calls for kindness among His creatures.
The deeper I penetrated and delved into my Islamic belief, the more thwarted and defeated I became. For years, I thought the more I endured the oppression of this man, the more rewards up in heaven would be awaiting me. But suddenly I felt ridiculous because I was only behaving against a basic rule of the Prophet’s (PBUH) course. I was hearing the divine utterance that says, “My people, I prohibited arbitrariness on Myself, and I made it forbidden amongst you.” I was awakened by the fact that the heaven I was seeking through my toleration would be nothing but hell, simply because I was not pious in a very significant issue. I shouldn’t succumb to injustice; that was submissiveness.
It was time for me to prove that I am a good Moslem. It took me so long to realize that what I considered giving in, evolving in a relationship, is considered nothing but submissiveness to someone who is only used to taking—someone who turned into an absolutist, a tyrant, a despot. I had to pay a fragmented rib to realize that. I had to see a man fraying the money that not only belonged to me but others because he took my generosity as weakness. I had to see myself locked in the house, forbidden even to reach the street because I was a woman who respected the couple’s right in knowing about each partner’s whereabouts, which he considered his right of possessiveness.
I suddenly found myself a possession. Even when I agreed to be on this dehumanizing level, I couldn’t find a way to go on.
I never treated my submissiveness as the status quo. I considered myself someone who was building a relationship. I considered giving in to create a life, which I hoped would make us reach each other more. But while I was trying to contact him, he was only trying to jump over me. I assumed that harvesting in a relationship that assumed me would only be for the best.
I always respected those social benefits that were granted to men, believing that they were meant to serve the more deep structure of the society. I never tried to put myself on the same level as men, because I believed we are both unique. Men and women were created to merge to make a life. I believed in the great values of being a woman. I thought that to reach my rights; I needed to know my obligations.
I reached there. I abide by all the commitments and obligations, and the moment I started demanding my rights, my rights were completely denied.
I was slammed with the reality that what I considered my rights, the society considered rebellion. My rights according to the societal norms were delineated in living in a real house, having furniture, clothes, and a car, and if I was so lucky a maid. What else would a woman need?
When my father asked me what it was that I wanted after requesting a divorce, I said, “I want devoutness, I want God-foreignness, and I want respect.”
To my surprise, the attack I anticipated from society never happened. The attack came from a place I never expected, from the place that was supposed to foster me, to hold me up.
The attack came under the direct guidance of my mother. My mom who raised me to stand up for my rights, who educated me so that I could shield myself in times of need, then blamed me for the years that I was submissive when I was merely compliant to satisfy those norms I highly revered.
I thought that the moment I told them that he broke my rib, they would break his head, but instead, I was executed and blamed because they believed I must have provoked him. The moment I told them how many times he deceived me, how many times I swathed him up to protect my family, I was censured and says I must not have been good enough. I thought that the moment I told them that he was locking me up, cursing at me, abusing me, that they would nurture me and open their shoulders for me. Instead my mother and family persecuted me.
What should I expect from a society where women who wail for their repression are the oppressing executors?
What should I say about a mother who prefers to see her daughter dying rather than leaving a repressing, domineering husband?
What is left for me to expect from a society where women are the first to be attacked, because daring to take such a step threatens their lives, threatens their deceased marriages?
A generation or two ago, women claimed that they accepted subjugation because they had no option, weren’t educated, and couldn’t support themselves.
They provoked us to fight, to rebel, but when it came to action, submissiveness and passiveness are the only solutions.
What should I say about a society that safeguards its oppressors?
What should I say when the oppressor’s shield is not just a woman but also a mother, and not just a mother, but my mother?
What should I expect from a society that deals with the only true sentiment in life, the instinctive emotion of motherhood, in a charlatan manner?
My mother is the manifestation of the state of affairs of this society.
Would it be any revelation after that to say that I left that marriage with a contract where I gave up my marital rights just to get a divorce? I gave up my rights to every single asset we built in those thirteen years; I gave up my share in the business that I made with him gradually.
In a society like mine, with the great values we hold, getting out of marriage shouldn’t mean paying with your life. In my case, I was lucky that they kept me alive, so I had to give up everything I earned. I live in a society where worshipping God is displaced by reference to societal interests.
It was time to declare my infidelity to the adoration of society, and I announced my revelation to God.
Despite all this, I managed to go on, getting sturdier with each step I took, until the day when my motherhood was judged in the most vicious way ever, and again by my mother. My children were taken away from me, for an indictment that I wasn’t even indicted in, and I was persecuted in a court without even a case. I was sentenced in the worse way ever. Taking my children was like removing my heart and seeing it pulsing right in front of me.
I felt like a lifeless human. I never thought I would be afflicted by such an unfair, unjust persecution. Again, it was my mother giving my ex-husband, my persecutor, all the tools to indict me.
I thought that there was nothing worse than taking my children away from me, but what happened that day was an even worse experience. I came face to face with my mother, and face to face with that society that insists on persecuting the innocent and rewarding the criminal.
Yesterday, I was invited to a dinner with a group from England, where I was supposed to represent the Palestinian side of the conflict. I was meant to highlight the facts and the difficulties of the cruelty of the occupation, and explain how hard the life of a Palestinian under occupation was.
I went with my thirteen-year-old daughter after picking her up from her friend’s house, because I couldn’t leave her there after her father started calling the friend’s parents, whom he never met in his life, and started interrogating them about who they were and how his daughter got there and where I was. What seemed to be a very reasonable thing—my daughter staying at her friend’s house nearby—became the most awkward thing. So I decided to take her with me to avoid undesired situations.
As usual, I informed my mother and father about my schedule and, as usual, I was received with rejection by my mom, who always seemed to have a problem with my children. This time, when I didn’t even need her for babysitting, since the rest of my kids, thanks to her, were with their father, she still had a problem.
As usual, my phone started ringing non-stop with my ex-husband insisting on knowing where I was and where his daughter was. He considered it his right to keep harassing me and making my life miserable as long as his daughter was with me.
From my experience with him, I knew what was about to happen, but I thought my mother, after talking to me for the first time in thirty days after my children were taken away from me, would at least not listen to him. But my mother had a permanent mission to make me go back to him under any circumstance and at any price. After more than an hour of his non-stop calls, my mother started to call me, and I didn’t answer any of their calls. Then my sister sent a text asking me to call them because they were looking for me.
I called my mother back, and she asked me where I was and where my daughter was. After giving the phone to my daughter so that my mother would believe that I wasn’t lying, she still wasn’t satisfied and demanded to know our location. After promising me that she wouldn’t tell my ex-husband where we were, I told her.
I thought, maybe coming and seeing me would make my mother feel at ease. She could go with my sister for a cup of coffee, feel embarrassed when she saw that I wasn’t prostituting, as my ex-husband had told her, and then let me go.
I was having dinner and deliberately speaking about my life, our patriarchal system, and how despite all this we manage to have decent lives. I was about to talk about the effect of occupation when I heard a male voice calling me.
I turned around, and there was my cousin, the new protector of the dignity of the family, who my mom had recently hired; mother; and my sister, the very intellectual, religious sister who had just finished her M.A. degree in architecture with merit, all standing at the entrance of the dining room.
I was fuming at them for having the guts to approach. I went and asked them if they made sure that I was there. The three of them told me to come with them quietly. My cousin said that he wanted to speak to me. I said that I would talk to him after I got home, but he insisted on talking to me at that very moment while asking me to leave and go with them. I rebuffed their advances and told them that I was so ashamed of them all. I turned back to my dinner. I tried to ignore all the eyes that were looking in shock, when my cousin came closer and started yelling and threatened that he was going to crush the place, and my mother approached the table telling me in a very blameful voice that I should come with them and that I should be spending this time with my children instead of being there. I stared at her and said, “My kids are not with me, remember? Thanks to you. Do you remember that too? And my daughter is here with me, so leave me alone.”
Sara, the moderator, told me that it would be better if I left with them to avoid problems. My sister, who remained in the rear, sheepishly said, “Well, if you heard what your ex-husband was saying about you would have done more?”
I asked Sara to come with me to the car because I was worried they would assault me if I refused to go with them. I wanted to make sure I got to my car with my daughter and left without them. As soon as we reached the car, my cousin started to become aggressive. My mother was, of course, aggravating him because I taunt to put them in that situation, and I dared to threaten to call the police. I unlocked the car, and my mother quickly took the front seat. I requested her to dodge of my car, and my cousin ordered me to get in the backseat with my daughter because he was willing to drive. Subterfuge
I was about to call the police when he grabbed my phone with such force that he broke it into two flat pieces. He shoved me hard, pushed me inside the car, and slotted his nails deep in my skin. He bolted the door so that I couldn’t open it and dart away. My daughter was weeping, pleading for them to stop. He grabbed the keys from me and tried to turn the engine on. I refused to give him the code, and he attempted to rupture the car, and put more force on me. My mother was trying to convince me to give him the code so that he wouldn’t smash the vehicle. I said that I wouldn’t allow them the code. He called his friend who was waiting in the car with my sister to come and grab my daughter out of the car after my mother told him to leave me and just take the girl. I told my daughter to wait for me and not to get out with any of them no matter what happened.
In the meantime, Sara ran to the hotel to call the police, because my cousin also assaulted her when she tried to call the police from her mobile, and he snatched the phone from her.
His friend, who happened to be my neighbor in the building where I live, came to my daughter’s seat and asked me to get out of the car saying there was no reason for this mess, and I told him that if he came closer, I would make sure that he goes to the police. He was trying to reason with me, while they were trying to get my daughter out of the car when Sara came back. The police sirens were heard, and they left.
The four of them, exactly like in the movies. The minute Sarah got in the car, I felt relieved and burst into riotous, uncontrolled tears with my daughter. We were holding each other in the backseat, howling stridently and painfully, each one of us trying to calm down the other.
I felt so appalled that my daughter had to go through this. I was weeping for being unable to protect her. I was lamenting being so helpless and was crying for having seen my daughter coerced in the same manner.
It was too late to circumvent anything; we were both in the backseat, victims in the eyes of all the police who surrounded us.
I was the disgraceful daughter who, without shame, permitted the cops to approach to her family. I was the dishonorable daughter who brought ignominy to the household the instant she determined to go on a path that didn’t suit their tribal and ethnic thinking. I was the reprehensible daughter who conducted herself against the norms of their trailer system.
As with my clothes that I couldn’t get back from my ex-husband, and the way I nag about them at every opportunity, like a child persisting in getting a toy, I was nagging about the car key. I was crying, telling the police officer that they threw my key away and that I wanted it back. The policewoman, like a big sister trying to help her baby sibling find her silly toy, looked for the key under the cars and between the bushes.
In the meantime, the hero of this movie came into sight. What a surprise. He got out from his vehicle, approached my child and me in a pretentious shock, treading through the police and roaring, “My daughter, my daughter, what happened to you, my darling?” His daughter turned her back to him, and I told the police with tears filling my eyes not to allow him to get close to us. He started arguing with the police, and still in the role he had been playing with my family for the last few hours, he continued his scene. Thankfully, for the first time, it didn’t work. Not only did the police keep him away, but they also arrested him for attempting to kidnap us.
My daughter, Sara, and I were taken to the police station in a squad car. It was an experience I never thought I would go through. Although I have been familiar with more than one police station, getting into a police car seemed completely out of the realm of possibility.
How much worse could it get? My daughter, crying, wailing inside a police car, and me crying so rigid I wasn’t aware of any of the surroundings. I even forgot that Sara was in the car with us. I thought that the driver was the only eyewitness to my whole state of obliteration. My daughter was trying to calm me down, entreating me not to be petrified.
The more I felt my daughter’s attendance, the more I howled, and the more subjugated, helpless and powerless I felt. Finally, we arrived at the police station, which was five minutes away, but the ride there seemed everlasting.
As we strode from one compound to another, and from one officer to another, I was composed. I saw my ex-husband positioned outside, and he called for my daughter when she passed by him. She eyed him in such a blameful way, mumbling while looking right into his eyes, “You did this.”
I was in such a thorny position; I was there to report against my mother and cousin who assailed me. By doing this, I was proclaiming an open confrontation with them. I was dissociating from everyone that belonged to my family. By doing this, I would be out of my apartment that I rented from my cousin who attacked me. I would be kicked out of the only place that provided me a living, the daycare that I was borrowing from my parents.
No one would mention anything about what happened and why; the only thing that would be discussed is what I had done to each person. If I didn’t report what happened, it meant that I would open channels for everyone who wanted to exercise his manhood on me. To my providence, my ex-husband was there, and the whole focus was on him. Even his conveying his attorney didn’t avoid arresting and jailing him.
I managed not to sue my cousin and mother, who were used as tools in this scheme, but I am sure they would be called for an investigation, and my mom would be condemning the day I was born because she would have to go to the police, and well she might stay there.
When the investigation finished at twelve o’clock, my daughter and I were free to leave; that was when I remembered my car keys. I was nagging again for my keys. I didn’t have my cousin’s number because he had broken my phone. I was so frightened to go home. I had no idea where I would go, and thought that maybe if I had my car keys, I would sleep with my daughter in the car. I didn’t have any place to think of, and even though Sara offered for me to stay at her home, she was worried that my family would know where she lives, and after what happened, she was right to worry. I was considering going to a shelter again, for the very first time in my life. Even in my wildest dreams, I wouldn’t have considered such an option, but at that moment it was a very viable choice.
I was trying to call my dad, who seemed to have disappeared. Finally, a police officer managed to talk to him and asked him to bring the key from my cousin. After waiting more than an hour, my father came, wearing a different face. The officer asked me if I agreed to go with him; they were worried about me. I decided to go with him because I knew that he was the only hope for me if I wanted to survive.
In a society that is controlled by men, my father was the only man who supported me. Although he had been submissive to the power of my mother, who in this society controls the well-being and continuation of the patriarchal system,
This is an organization that employs religion to sheathe its failures.
A society that uses norms to cover its submissiveness.
A society that loses all means of dignity, when it fights under the name of protecting pride and dignity.
A society that opposes tyranny, when its tyranny comes from within.
A nation that proclaims Islam through the vague structure, and forgot that Islam starts from within.
A society that refused occupation, when it is occupied from within.