I still looked at men with admiration. I idealized the men I liked the most, hoping to find one whose shadow could give me shade. My employer was like a godfather to me. He may have even been present for my engagement. I considered him a role model. I respected him and valued him as an intellectual political figure, someone almost unrivaled in the Palestinian political sphere. After the traumas of the first few years of my divorce, I considered him one of the few miracles I had been blessed with. He not only asked about me and consoled me and apologized for what my ex-husband had done in the name of their glorified family, but he also offered me a job in the organization.
It felt like a dream back then, at a time when I was desperately searching for a job. I would enter an office and find my ex-husband in front of the window, sometimes like a ghost and sometimes like a monster. I would present a resume that documented my life’s dilemmas and tragedies, but I knew I could never have a job. No employer wanted to deal with an obsessed, annoying ex-husband constantly tracking the wife who’d left him. Nobody wanted to get involved in someone else’s problems. It was as though I was constantly carrying an ember in my hands. I became accustomed to being burnt. No one would dare come close and take the ember from me. I could feel people distancing themselves from me and my stories and my problems. Everywhere I went, my problems preceded me, and this made me want to avoid almost everyone.
That man, who was a great man in my eyes, gave me a life-saving opportunity: He asked me to organize the gender department, and he offered me a position where I could use my language and communication skills. His offer was like a dream. I was confident he was the only man my ex-husband would not dare confront. He was the most powerful man in that family, and he didn’t need their resources or approval. I received my offer letter two days later. A friend told me then, “You are lucky. This organization has never hired anyone so quickly.”
That was on a Saturday. On Tuesday, he called while I was busy filing. I was eager to tell him what was going on, but before I could open my mouth, he said, “I think we need to hold off for a little while.” I didn’t understand. I was still waiting to give him an update on my work. He went on to say that my ex-husband’s mother had called his mother, sister, and brother. “They went to my wife,” he said. “He is calling everyone. I think he loves you.” At that moment, all the warm feelings I had for that man evaporated. I was in shock. This man who claimed to support women was talking about how my ex-husband loved me? He was making excuses and involving his mother. Why?
Tears filled my eyes. My daughter and I had just spent a night in the police station after being sabotaged and confronted publicly by my cousin, my mother, and my sister.
I was giving a lecture to an international group about Muslim women’s rights in Jerusalem. I blamed the occupation for increased restrictions on Muslim women’s rights, and I spoke about freedom while my daughter sat next to me.
My cousin entered the room while talking on the phone. “The whore is with me,” he said as he pushed me. My ex-husband had called my mother, claiming I was out working as a prostitute. To try and prove him wrong, she gathered my cousin, my neighbor, and my sister to come out and find me, to prove my immorality or innocence. Either way, I was incriminated.
They wanted to take my daughter to my ex-husband. My mother insisted I give him “his” children. They had fallen under his spell. Several days earlier, my father and cousin had come to the house in the middle of the night to take my three children. “He wants his children,” they yelled at me. They forced me to wake the children up. I told myself it was only a few days until the court decision, and things would be over soon. But the court order affirming my competency as a mother came ten months later. That night they came to the house, my eldest refused to go with them. She was thirteen, and old enough to make her own decision. She stood in front of my uncle and said, “If you try to take me, I will go to the police.” They left her.