A Mother’s Burden
UM AL-KHAIR | 01.13.2013
For a mother, their hearts are made to protect and care for their children, to shield them from the bad parts of life. In Um al-Khair, we see our mothers as special people in our community, as the people who hold us all together and keep us whole. They carry a lot. Of course, people from the outside see them make the food, wash the clothes, take care of the chores. But what they don’t see is the way they take care of us mentally and emotionally.
They are the ones that give us our strength on the inside. So when a mother comes to tell their children to prepare themselves that the Israeli military is in the community once again, that the children need to hurry to collect their toys and special things and to be careful, this isn’t an easy thing for them. This is an extra pain on top of having their homes destroyed. It is with all of this, that my mother and all the mothers try to hold our humanity, to remind us that we deserve to be treated like real people, but more importantly that we need to treat each other well – despite our own trauma and needs.
I remember the look on my mother’s face on January 14, 2013, when she woke me up and told me the Israelis have again invaded and surrounded our community, that I needed to prepare myself and to go look after the other smaller children, as some of the other parents and older people were off at work. For her, it isn’t easy to put this kind of responsibility on her son whom she loves dearly. It isn’t easy for a mother to ask her son to put himself at risk for the sake of others. But this is something the mothers of Um al-Khair have to live with for the sake of everyone, for the other mothers with children.
Because this has happened so many times, I sleep with my camera next to the bed, because the one thing I can do is record what is happening in my community to share it with the world. I need the world to see how the Israeli military inflicts violence on our community, how it leaves everlasting scars on the mothers and children who want nothing more than an education, work, and life of marriage and bringing children into this world. I need to show the world the life we live. It is a small thing, but a powerful thing.
Not yet fully awake, I took my camera and ran across the valley to the other side of the community. In that moment, I saw the two big bulldozers following a brigade of Israeli military vehicles entering through the other side of the community. Immediately I knew that yet another set of homes was going to be destroyed, that another family would be left homeless, that children would be scared and that mothers would be angry and crying. It is a scene that lives permanently in my thoughts and feelings.
They stormed the house of an old lady, shoving and pushing everyone away from the home that was awaiting demolition. It was a simple home. Having been destroyed in 2012, with no money to rebuild it out of tin and metal, the community took time off of work and collected stones from the field to build a modest house that couldn’t even keep the rain off the family.
With such few things inside, because most of it was lost in the last demolition, it didn’t take long for the workers to pull out all of the stuff from the house and toss it to the ground in a heap. With each toss of her private possessions by the workers, the old lady cried a little bit harder. The men and women in the community tried to comfort her, but in those moments, it seems almost impossible to comfort someone. They are dealing with so much. They are dealing with the anger, the fear, the memories and the fact that they know even when they rebuild, it will only be a matter of time before everything is destroyed again. It is something that we deal with in Um al-Khair: Sometimes people’s pain just can’t be reached.
Seeing his family members in such agony, my uncle Suliman confronted the Israeli soldiers, yelling at them, telling them to leave. Even though my uncle Suliman acts in nonviolent ways and would never assault the soldiers, because he knows that it is wrong to do, the Israelis arrested him anyway. For my uncle Suliman, he doesn’t try to convince them to save the homes, because he knows it will not work. Rather, he does it to make it hard on them; to save his own dignity.
During these demolitions, it isn’t just about the physical loss of homes, or the challenge of trying to rebuild, it is also about trying to keep your humanity. Learning how to hold onto your dignity, keep your respect, and make your oppressors see your humanity: this is the one great challenge we face in Um al-Khair.