In the Shadows of Men: Justice Under Occupation

JUSTICE UNDER OCCUPATION

 

Arabs living in Israeli territory can choose to take legal matters to the Israeli courts, which are more liberal, or to the Islamic courts. But an Arab woman using the more “impartial” and progressive Israeli courts is likely to feel just as oppressed and neglected as she would in her own Arabic sphere of law.

When going to the Shari’ah courts, she knows what to expect. We don’t like the Shari’ah family court that is, in our view, unjust to women, but we know exactly where we are and what the consequences will be. Our expectations of that system are limited, but familiar.

In Israeli family law, there is a separation that is not official, and the discrimination is not necessarily intended, but there is the assumption that we are inferior, and there is an absence of knowledge about Palestinian society. For them, the Palestinian family is conventional. The woman is veiled and hides behind a dominating man who can violate and abuse her. The Israeli woman, however, in the view of the judicial system, is a natural consequence of a modern democratic state. The Muslim woman is, at best, lucky that she can use the Israeli judicial system.

The judge in my case was a woman. She was moderate in her views and her words. It was difficult to read her. She listened to me and understood my words as a woman, maybe, or as a human. Until the Israeli lawyer spoke and argued that, as a woman, in both words and actions, I was not in line with Palestinian society. How can a Palestinian woman send her children to tennis and swimming lessons, and other such activities? How can an Arab woman raise a cat and take care to return home to feed it? Arabs barely feed their children. They barely send their children to schools, so why the international schools, in this case?

During one court hearing, he screamed in my face, “How can you read Schopenhauer and have time to raise children? Reading requires a lot of time. How do you balance between reading and time with your children?” This kind of dialogue affected the judge, who agreed with his views about Palestinian society, that Arab women are uneducated and obedient. I was the exception to her generalization about Palestinian life.

She did not even take into account the tears of my children. My children and their tears didn’t affect her. Perhaps she also saw them as eccentric, odd children who were dangerous to Israeli society.

They claim a liberty they do not grant us, like in marriage. We live in a patriarchal structure within a patriarchal structure. A woman is always there, maintaining the dominance of man. She insists on it.

And I, the woman, the mother in this case, am nothing but an incubator. I hosted in my uterus a child and breastfed him for some months or years. I watched over him night after night and raised him. In the end, the system and the society and the universe come and take him. He carries his father’s name, and he cannot put his mother’s name next to his.

I carry a name I don’t know how to retrieve or keep. When I tried to recover my family name, the employee told me I needed to get written proof that my family would allow me to have that name back. A woman in my situation loses her family name when she gets married and cannot get it back except through a written approval. And the name of the husband remains with her. She cannot get rid of it. How can I get rid of it? And my children carry it as if I did not give birth to them, as if I did not raise them. As if I were merely a nanny, a babysitter.

I was lost in the labyrinth of names for many years, and I felt so foolish when I finally decided to keep the marital name on all official documents. Perhaps I gave in and gave up. I said to myself, “It is the name of my children. They cannot change their names, so I will keep mine with theirs.”

 

 

(40) The end

 

Her talk suddenly came to a halt. She was exhausted, and I was tired of listening. She said, “This talk should stop, and this story should come to an end.”

She looked around. The place had emptied of people. It was as if she had just descended from another world and begun to observe the universe for the first time. She looked at me and asked for a cigarette.

“I didn’t know that you smoked,” I said, surprised.

“I don’t smoke,” she said, inhaling deeply and laughing, as if she had just taken the first breath of her life.

I tried to re-enter myself after her journey. I felt a deep sense of amazement. I couldn’t differentiate between reality and imagination, between her story and mine.

She asked me to write her story… I thought…

I don’t know if I can ever succeed in writing a novel. I don’t know if I can set my own life aside to imagine a totally fictional world. Even after writing all of this, I am still processing everything that has happened to me: the world I was born into, the abstractions and arbitrary rules that shaped what my life has become. I am still obsessed with making sense of it. It is hard to imagine turning away in order to write a novel about people who are not real.

Something inside me doesn’t know how to inhabit or imitate the life of another. But one must inhabit many lives in order to write a novel. Perhaps my life is the only novel I know how to write. Perhaps it is already written inside me. Perhaps it is the story that busies me.

Perhaps there is a novel that is being written about my life.

Perhaps our own lives are the origin of the novels we write. Some read between the lines. Some cannot express themselves. Some pour forth novel after novel, in which the writer becomes the narrator of his own life. Perhaps narrating one’s own story is easier.

Embodying her and myself, our novels ascended and mingled and I could no longer differentiate between the narrator and the writer.

 

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