In the Shadows of Men: Horror of Murder


I lived this horror again after the murder and burning of a young man, Moḥammad Abu Khdeir, by radical Israeli settlers in a nearby neighborhood. The idea of death creeping closer is horrific and scary. As if Azrael, the angel of death, went out into the streets, randomly selecting whoever might appeal to him. Until that moment, I used to feel a certain sense of security. It was a Ramadan night, and the girls were gathering with their cousins and neighbors for Suhour, the predawn meal. I used to like these breaks in their life, perhaps because it reminded me of my own childhood with so many girls in our home and the neighbor girls as well. Life was simple and different, with no interference from the crowded city or the evil of human beings.

The social structure in neighborhoods has also changed, and we seem to be living in isolated boxes, barely knowing our neighbors.

The burning of Moḥammad Abu Khdeir, a fifteen-year-old, was traumatic. It stole from us the sense of security we had previously felt in our homes.

We live far from the lines of confrontation and points of friction. Our neighborhoods are safe. We are obedient Jerusalemites in an upper-class neighborhood, walking by the wall, as they say.

I used to enjoy seeing my daughters and my son socializing in the neighborhood, before the boy was kidnapped from the entrance of his home and murdered. I also do not deny that I was distancing myself. People’s eyes following me, trying to pick up potential material for gossip, while still believing their lifestyles and morals were in line with what Imam Shafi’i says: “Never mention the nakedness [insecurities] of a person. Because you are full of insecurities, and people have eyes.”

I remember an old friend of mine once came to visit me. I hadn’t heard from her in a long time; she came back because she was thinking of getting a divorce. Like many other divorcees, I became an appointed consultant for women who wanted a divorce or women who had already divorced and somehow lost their way. I didn’t understand why I had become a place of asylum, but I understood the feelings of a person in need. Those feelings kept me company, but also made me feel empty.

My friend told me that she had attended a certain breakfast gathering for women, and they started talking about me. Before my divorce, I had been invited to such events. They no longer asked me. But this did not concern me. I was well aware of what takes place in such settings. All of the women shop the day before, purchasing new shoes and full dress robes. The women then sit together and show off everything they purchased the day before. Sometimes you wonder if they’ve left the price tag on so that it might be seen. Each woman continues to move around the room until you compliment her: “How nice your dress is, your shoes, your bag…” And she quickly tells you the history of these extravagances—while her husband can barely afford the vegetables and the electricity bill.

I was apparently their topic of conversation that morning. The discussion went something like this: “Have you noticed? Ever since her divorce, she can’t leave the men alone. She’s slept with half the men in the city.” I couldn’t help but laugh when I heard this. How could this be? Assuming I did sleep with half of those men, or even one of them, and assuming these men were the husbands of these women, how would the wives get the news?

So, the husband comes home and tells his wife, “John slept with her yesterday.” Or, “I slept with her today.”

I told this story to my mother. She yelled at me, saying, “Stop being an idiot. We don’t need more scandals.”

I said, “What scandals? Why should I be silent about a scandal that never took place? Why do I have to hide something that shames them and not me? If I had slept with any of those men, I would understand. But how can people fill their mouths with lies and chew my flesh when they don’t even know what I look like? How can they mention me when most of them haven’t seen me in years? When my path never crosses theirs?”

This discussion took place in front of my boss at work. He was the president of the non-governmental organization where I worked. We were on good terms. We had a friendly relationship and enjoyed having intellectual discussions with one another. But our families did not have friendly ties. He was part of my ex-husband’s family. My boss responded with a mixture of encouragement and pressure. Part of him wanted to take my hand in support, and part of him wanted to oppress me. In the end, I rebelled against those considered elite in the family. In elite families, no one has the right to leave, so perhaps my boss felt guilty that the family was particularly harsh with me. Despite how much I appreciated him, how much I considered him a source of comfort at one point, he threw me into a deep, dark hole during those first few years after my divorce.


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