The Eternal Mother
By: Hala Alsafadi
a. Invasion, conquest, and control of a nation or territory by foreign armed forces.
b. The military government exercising control over an occupied nation or territory.
However, Occupation to Palestinians has a total different definition than that in the dictionaries, for it means Humiliation and Suffering and Victims and Dark Nights and Funerals and Bloodshed and Injustice and Tyranny and Isolation and Destruction and Homesickness and Alienation and Wars and Aggression and Violence and Siege and Inhumanity and Imprisonment and Death.
He knew exactly what occupation means without the need of going back to the pages of dictionaries in order to double check. He actually knew that the definition found in the dictionary does not satisfy him.
He was a young man with a dream of living a “normal” life just like all other “normal” people all over the globe who think that occupation cannot be defined in better words than those found in the dictionary.
He was born in June 19th, 1970 in the city of Gaza in a family consisting of four members and his widowed mother. He never got to know his father, for he was martyred when He was five. Even though He was the youngest, his dreams were the hugest dreams among all his siblings. He believed in himself and knew He can do whatever He sets his mind to. All one needed to do in order to get to know him more was to look into his eyes. Doing that would be enough to figure out how honest, smart, and ambitious He was. He succeeded in achieving many of his goals; however, how long can happiness, satisfaction, and success last in a place where occupation existed?
Sooner than He thought, everything He built started to be wiped out right in front of his eyes while He was moving through his life motionless, speechless, and helpless. The Israeli Occupation did, indeed, destroy that ambitious man and shatter all his dreams. The man who was looking forward to his future and life hopelessly turned his back to life knowing that He is left mentally dead, and physically vulnerable.
1. An effort to cut off food, supplies, war material or communications from a particular area by force, either in part or totally.
2. The isolation of a nation, area, city, or harbor by hostile ships or forces in order to prevent the entrance and exit of traffic and commerce.
To Palestinians, Blockade, categorically, is way more than “no food, cars, internet and mobile connections, and construction supplies.” To Him, it meant unemployment, loans, debts, loss, and loneliness. The supplies He needed as an engineer in his construction work were cut off for more than three years; therefore, He could not do any work. Thus, he gave up on many of the signed contracts. Eventually, He was unemployed and started to lose all his work contracts, therefore, became broke. He did not give up, yet. He never thought that He would end up in such a way. He decided to take a loan so that He would be able to start over from scratch and work again. But the blockade does not really care for those who try to start over, for occupation does not have mercy. He kept on losing more money till He ended up in more debts that any time before.
Humiliation: 1. An instance in which you are caused to lose your prestige or self-respect
2. The abasement of pride, which creates mortification or leads to a state of being humbled or reduced to lowliness or submission.
To him, humiliation was more internal. He felt guilty for everything He lost. His loss was beyond what his mind would have ever thought of. He lost his job, money, pride, and future. He was going through hell every day of his life, not knowing whether he would survive the next day or not being dead from the inside. Every time He ate, He cried because that very moment was too humiliating, for food satisfied his body, but ached his heart.
Precisely and exactly for those reasons, He was forced to make a life-decision that can cost him a lot. Nevertheless, He decided to take it since He thought He had reached a dead-end in his life and got no other options available for him. He was one of the 12,000 Palestinians who were not given Identity Cards (ID) or Passports, for they were not in Palestine when Israel gave only those who remained in Palestine after the war of 1967 IDs while all other Palestinians who were out of Palestine for whatever reason were not to get IDs, even if they were out for education while the rest of their family in Palestine. Those “ID-less” Palestinians have one of two choices, either to stay outside Palestine for the rest of their lives and never come back to the West Bank or Gaza Strip, or to return back to the Palestinian territories knowing that once they are in, there is no way out unless they plan on not coming back again.
He made up his mind and took the second choice into consideration. He knew it would cost him a lot, but He was too desperate to find the light at the end of the tunnel, for the only light He saw was at the end of the borders. He packed his luggage with the memories of his life since He was a child up to his very last moment home. His mother, on the other hand, helped him in packing his stuff while she shed her warm tears over anything that went into his luggage. She did not really like the fact that he is travelling and not coming back. Something deep inside her told her that she would never ever have the chance once again to lay her soft hands on her son’s face that can never grow old in her eyes. Nonetheless, nothing can make her stop her son from racing his dreams especially since she suffered seeing him breaking down after He lost everything He had before her eyes while she was dreadfully helpless and could not do a thing to help him stand on his feet once again. She has always wanted him to live in Gaza to help in making it a better place because Gaza needs all its youth to keep it strong; however, she knew that her son believes that a better life is awaiting him outside Gaza, but saying goodbye to him was nothing close to easy. She was with him all along the way to the Egyptian border trying her best to keep looking at him until the very last second; for she knew very well that she is going to miss looking at that piece of her heart. Not even the best writer can put words together to describe the farewell between a son that adores his mother, and a mother who feels she is looking at her son and touching him for the last time in her lifetime. She kept her eyes wide open until the moment she could not see her son no more; he was as far as her horizon.
I miss you. I miss when I used to wake up every morning finding you listening to Fairouz’s songs and having your morning sugarless coffee. I miss the way you used to say good morning to me and ask me to get dressed as soon as I can and hurry up, for , and as usual, I woke up late and I need to rush to university before my class would start. I miss the glass of juice and the little toasted cheese sandwich you used to prepare for me as a breakfast right before I leave the house. I miss coming back from university to the smell of your food filling each corner of the house. I miss looking at your face that always had that engraved smile of yours which would fill me up with hope for the rest of my day. I miss looking at your shinning eyes that were full of love and passion which would tell me not to worry because everything will be okay. I miss your sweet smell, that smell that no one has, but you. I miss looking at my cell phone to find your name appearing on the screen, “mama” is calling ….
I cannot forget how happy you were the day I graduated from university. You were very proud of me that your tears were streaming from your eyes down to your blushed cheeks. You were always telling me that I am growing older and older every day of my life while you were always afraid I would take that decision I have always wanted. It seems like you felt it all along. Maybe that is the mother’s heart that feels the pain before anyone does. However, I made that decision of leaving Gaza to UAE, for I thought I would be able to work hard and make more money. I made up my mind that I need to travel even though I knew it might be a one-way only journey since I have no Palestinian ID; therefore, I might not be able to come back home any time soon.
My busy life took me away from you, but I have not forgotten you. I remembered your voice, smile, and advices every day of my life. I needed our family throughout those years. I wanted you to be there on my wedding day. I wanted you to be the one welcoming the guests to the wedding hall, and most importantly, I wanted you to see me a groom; I could not help it but remember how you used to pray to God that you would be alive on that day. I cannot deny that I used to think that you being on my wedding day is more like a “fact”. But it seems like I have got many things wrong while I am living hundred miles away from your charming heart. I never felt that homesick before. I missed you being there on Ramadan’s breakfast table. I missed being around during Eid. I missed getting you a gift on Mother’s Day. I missed kissing your hands while you rub my hair.
I have never thought that it would happen to me and I would actually tell my story one day. Even though it was always very close, but it always seemed very far away. Yes, I used to think it might happen to my neighbors, friends of friends, but not my very own family.
January 12th, 2010! I can never forget that day- that phone call. Ahmed called me while I was at work. As soon as I heard his voice, I figured that there must be something wrong. I do not know why, but I felt that you were not fine. When Ahmed fell in tears, my heart fell down and I could not think of anything, so I started shouting at him on the phone telling him to stop acting like children and stop crying so that he would be able to tell me what is going on.
“Our mother… Mama…” he scarcely uttered.
“What’s the matter with her? Don’t you dare scare me like this! Tell me what’s going on?” I yelled back hysterically.
“She felt really tired and then fainted, so we ended up taking her to the hospital despite her incessant refusal in going,” he replied in a whisper.
“Ya Allah! Is it the blood pressure again? Why isn’t she taking her medicine regularly? Why is this happening to her? Why aren’t you guys taking enough care of her? Ohh, don’t you tell me that any of you got into a fight with her driving her mad? How many times do I have to keep on telling you to…?”
“No, no, no! Stop!” he shouted. “I wish it were that easy. Mama has…” Ahmed’s voice crackled as he broke down again into tears.
“Mama has what? What happened to her! Ahmed, answer me!”
“She… she has a tumor in her brain,” stuttered Ahmed.
Me: “………a …… a tumor! Do you have any idea what the hell you are saying! Don’t you have the slightest clue what you are referring to?”
All I remember is that I did not want my brother to feel I was weak, so I hung up the phone and broke down crying right out loud. I was mad at the world and mad at everyone in this world. My mom was dying while I was not able to travel back home to see her maybe for the very last time as I had no ID. Even if I had one, how in the world am I supposed to get into Gaza while Israel is turning it to a prison where no one can get in or out? Is not it enough that I had to leave my family at an age of 30? Is not it enough that I have been far away from my family and country for the past years? My kids do not even know what my mother looks like. My dying mother did not get the chance to hear the voices of my kids calling her grandma while they are playing all around her as she is having her usual cup of sugarless coffee. Where is the justice in this life then?
Soon, I realized that I was taken by emotions and I do not really know what exactly was going on. I called Ahmed back, while I was trying to fight back the tears in my eyes, to ask him more about our mother’s condition. Ahmed told me that they are working on getting her a permit to either Egypt or Israel since such disease cannot be treated in Gaza, for hospitals in Gaza are not equipped for such things. Well, now they got to know that our mom had the tumor in her brain for the past 6 months while none of the hospitals in Gaza were able to diagnose it any earlier which resulted in making her condition even worse. I wanted Ahmad to realize that I was ready to do all I can and pay whatever it takes so that she would be able to get a permit from Israel to get out of Gaza for medication purpose. For a second I forgot all about the despondency of the occupation; I refused to think that my mother would end up like thousands of Palestinians who knew that dying might be easier that getting this damned permit. I finally came to understand what people mean whenever they keep on saying that a man so desperate tends to get his hopes up holding onto every sign of hope while he still can.
I spent that despondent night at my dull office doing nothing but staring at that picture in the brownish wood frame you graved on “We Will Miss You”. That picture of you hugging me real tight right before I planned on traveling. Now, after it is too late, I was able to read what was behind your smile. How did not I notice that it was not charming like always? How could not I see the tears in your passionate eyes? Why did not I feel that your hug was a parting hug? How come I thought I would see you again? I was just very happy to leave to a new world where my dreams would come true, seemingly! I regretted leaving you behind. I blamed myself for your sickness although I knew deep inside that this is the destiny Allah had chosen for you since the day you were born. I started to reconsider the reasons that forced me to leave my hometown, my family, and my friends behind. I cannot deny that my reasons were strong enough for me back then, but, now, when I look at where I ended up, I do not think that they are actually as strong as they used to sound. All I used to think about back then was a way to get myself out of the besieged Gaza which suffers on a daily basis from all kind of tyranny and injustice especially after I thought I lost my life. I wanted to live a normal life for once just like all other normal people around the world where they do not have to worry about all the occupation’s “side-effects”. I imagined my life far away from the sky-scraping rate of unemployment, poverty, bombings, assassinations, murder, blood, invasions, aggressions, wars, and the list can indisputably keep going. I wanted my very own children and wife to live in a country where they would not go through the same experience of mine. I did not want my children to worry about turning the TV channels from AlJazeera to AlArabeya then to BBC; I desired they know no more than Cartoon Network, Spacetoon, and all other kid’s TV channels; I craved that the most horrible thing they would ever see is an action or horror movie. Yes, I do not want my kids to watch a horror movie and not get freaked out, for they think that what they had actually witnessed during their lives is way worse that the “horror” in the movies. I wanted to be able to go to bed at night without having to worry about my salary, electricity cuts, shortage of gas and food, house getting destroyed the next morning by the Israeli Army, my children’s education and future, siege, and me not being able to move from one place to another. All I sought was peace no more no less. Even so, I could not enjoy a day far away from my beloved country and family. I felt like I am in an exile. What kind of freedom is it when I can travel to any place I wish, but not to Palestine where my memories belong? I was never able to rest on my pillow at night without worrying about my kids. I was not worrying about them witnessing bloodshed or being murdered, but this time I was worried about how they are growing up as Palestinians who would never know the real meaning of Palestine; they are not only refugees, but will also be strangers in their own country. My two children would never know the feeling of living among your own people and family. This idea alone was able to steal peace from my peace-less life.
I suddenly woke up on the sound of my cell phone ringing. It was my wife who was so worried about me since she had been calling me all night long, but I never answered. “Sweetheart, there is nothing to worry about. It is just that I had a lot of work to finish at my office and fell asleep out of the blue.” I said. For a second, I thanked God I was sleeping and I really hoped from the bottom of my heart that last night was no more than a horrible nightmare that one cannot wait to get up from. However, once she replied with a tone that holds all meanings of doubt, “Then why is your brother calling every now and then making sure that you are fine?” I realized that my real life is what a nightmare is. I told her that I will be home in a bit since I am in a need to talk to her.
I knew you loved my wife, for she is the love of my life that keeps me going. I would never forget how she has always been right there for me through thick and thin. I remember that once I got home, I tried to put on that fake smile you used to hate, but she also does know whenever I am faking a smile. She ran towards me and looked me in the eyes. For a wife like her, that was more than enough to grasp how gloomy I was. I crashed down in tears and told her all about Ahmed’s phone call. I told her all about my thoughts and fear. Surprisingly, she empowered me with her strength and optimism. She made me realize there is another way to come and see you even though I got no ID. I have no idea how I did not think of that anytime earlier. “Hun, even though I would have never accepted you taking such a risk, but why cannot you try to get to Gaza through the tunnels?” she suggested. Her words rang a bell in my mind and I was ready to do so for the sake of being there with my mother when she needed me the most. That was the light at the end of each tunnel, indeed. I could not wait to sleep on it; I rushed to buy a ticket for the soonest flight from UAE to Egypt which was at 3:00 am the next morning. I could not wait for the time to fly by so that I can find myself in Gaza after long years of absence.
Each minute passed by like a year loaded with tons of tragedies, till I found myself on the plane heading to Egypt. The three-hour flight was, to my surprise, very short, for I could not fight my eyes and fell in a long nap that was far away from any kind of sweet dreams. I then took a cab to Al Areesh, but this time, the tormented eight-hour way seemed endless; the clock needed million minutes to strike an hour. I was not able to see anything other than my mother’s picture in front of my eyes, and could not hear anything other than her warm voice calling my name, that was enough to keep me warm during this cold winter of January. I reached the end of the Egyptian side, and all I needed now is to wait a bit longer for Yaseen, a friend of mine that took on the responsibility of choosing me the tunnel I should take to my way to Gaza. Yaseen was there sooner than I actually expected. He told me how hard it was to find an owner of a tunnel which is safe enough for me since many of those tunnels can fall apart for so many a reasons. They can simply fall down due to the fact that they are too weak and simply-built or the usual reason which would be the fact that Israeli Forces keep on bombing the tunnels regardless the fact that the tunnels were the only way for getting food and other essential supplies into Gaza Strip since the brutal blockade was imposed on Gaza because Palestinian did democratically elect their government, which Israel does not “like”. Yaseen assured me that traveling through the tunnel will cost me an arm and a leg, especially because I got no Palestinian ID. However, I was ready to pay my life back in order to get the chance to see my mother who would be more than happy for such a surprise. I planned on doing anything to draw that smile she had lost long time ago on her face once again. Even after Yaseen explained me how risky my plan is; I still wanted to stick to it, for I had not left my wife and children behind me in UAE for nothing. I knew deep inside me that it is either now or never after.
After Yaseen wished my mother a soon recovery and wished me the best of luck on my way to my Gaza, I went in the tunnel lamenting how much a Palestinian could suffer more than this. The tunnel felt like it was haunted; it was extremely narrow with no signs of hope; it was awfully dark and cold that I thought I was not going to make it out of the tunnel alive. Although Yaseen did depict how appalling the tunnel would be, it was not even close to the way it really was. Nonetheless, I had learned in this forsaken life of mine that everything would eventually come to an end, that endless way reached its end. And here I am few meters far away from my beloved country that I have been longing to for too long. Although I was full of fear and grief, my heart was beating delightfully, for my feet are finally going to step in the blessed Strip of Gaza. For a minute, I forgot the focal motive behind this laborious travel as I was filled with joy to see my childhood and teenage love that I was forced to leave behind, my old friends that are all now mothers and fathers, my pillow that I used to lay my head on thinking of my very bright future waiting ahead of me, my siblings and their families, and my Gaza that I am a stranger to after all those long and unbreakable years of homesickness. Soon though, my daydreams crashed on the rock of reality once I remembered my house and my mom who was always there filling it with laughter and love like no one else could.
Thoughtless as I was, my feet took me without my guidance to my way to Gaza, for it felt like they were devotedly moving forward to a place they are so familiar with. I looked around me and could not help fighting my tears back once I realized that I am wholeheartedly in Gaza. I kneeled down to kiss the heavenly soil that was wet from the sparkling drops of rain, the smell of the soil took me back to my childhood years when I used to wait for the rain to go outside and play; only God knows how much I have been longing to this land and those memories that would never be buried beneath that holly land.
Gaza, for the most part, did not change that much. How much would a country develop under a reality full of wars and occupation? The yellow cabs were all over the place and just like the old good days, cab-drivers were shouting at the top of their lungs for people to get in their cabs calling the names of the areas they are heading to. I took one of those yellow cabs that were full of mud as fast as I could because it was starting to rain cats and dogs. I asked the driver to drive as fast as he could because I could not wait any more for another hour for the reason that my way to Gaza was already too long to get any longer. It seems like I totally forgot that Gaza is only 365 km2; how much more time would that add to my never-ending trip anyways?!
As the cab started to get closer and closer to my house, I saw a lot of people heading towards my house while others were gathering right in front of the house. The cab driver assured me that there is a funeral house in our neighborhood. “It should be Om Nasser, our ninety-five-year old neighbor.” I whispered to myself. As I reached my house, the sound of crying got louder and women were actually going inside our house rather than Om Nasser’s. “Maybe my family decided to hold her funeral in our house since it is bigger.” I never thought it would be any of my family’s funerals, but something deep inside my heart told me that there is something wrong. I hastily ran towards the opened door, which kept many old sweet and bitter memories inside, without even saying hey to any of the people who were gazing at me with looks full of unexplainable pity. I started to hear the consistent cries and wails of my siblings. I cannot recall anytime of my life I was as scared of fate as those moments, for I could not keep on running fearing what I was going to see. People started hugging me and giving me their sincere condolences while telling me how much my mother used to talk to them about me. I broke down in tears and could not make any sense of what was happening. I felt that the world is doing that to me on purpose; on the day I come after a long absence, I find my mother dead! Too much for my surprise! Ahmad saw me there and ran towards me hugging me so tight while telling me, “Our mother passed away! She left us alone to no one in this life. Why did she do so to us? Why did not she fight that cancer? Are not people supposed to live a bit longer than that? Why did she give up? Damn this permit which made her give up,” he tore the permit paper to hundred pieces which was full of his tears that missed up the ink on that permit. “The day she gets her permit to get her chemical medication outside Gaza, she dies! We had to beg people to help us get that damn permit, and then we had to wait for Israel to approve it; they kept on rejecting and rejecting till she rejected this life realizing that she would be in a better place once she dies. I know her, I am sure that is what she was thinking about. She wanted to be in a place full of justice and peace, far away from humiliation and degradation. But why could not she hold on a bit longer? Why?” He kept on asking many a questions not expecting any answer. Ahmad, may Allah reward him, has been taking care of our mother for too long and doing all he possibly could, but he was still helpless; Consequently, I can understand the reason why he was so miserable. At that moment, I had to put myself together and asked Ahmad to pray to her for mercy rather than crying and not making sense since all she needs now is our prayers. Ahmad wiped away his tears and then realized that it is me standing right there in front of him which made him wonder what I am doing here and how I knew that our mother died. I answered him very briefly, for each word that came out of my lips contained all the grief in the world put together. He then took my hands and got me to a room where my mother’s body was on a bed covered with white while her charming eyes were closed, yet she still had that smile that used to fill my spirit with glee. She did not look dead for me; she seemed like she was asleep and actually having sweet dreams. Her face was bright and pure that her sickness could not be read on the wrinkles on her face that I am a total stranger to; I did not know that sorrow could undone all that. I asked him to leave me alone with our mother for a while before they all can come in to see her for the very last time as they express their most inner emotions and prayers before she is buried beneath the soil of this holly ground once and for all. And so Ahmad did.
I brokenheartedly knelt down next to my mother’s body upon my fragile numb knees that did not get the chance to lighten up after the elongated days of travel. I was speechless and could not believe my eyes. “Ma, I know you can hear me. Yes, it is me! I came all way to see you, yet I did not know that I will see you covered with white. I am sorry, Ma. I should have come long time ago; I should have not waited till I knew you were sick. Even though being here was always out of my league, I should have come back home and raised my kids in my home country. You have no idea how much I hate the fact that you do not know my kids, yet rather love them from the bottom of your heart, especially little Sarah who I named after your name.” I felt that you were really listening to me. You actually knew I was there since that smile did not know a better place than your lips. I kissed your forehead and held your hands tight close to my heart and kissed them, yet once you did not put your hands up on my head to pass your long fingers through my hair, I realized that you are DEAD. My mind could not comprehend that; my heart could not ease the pain.
We buried your body in a cemetery full of Gazan martyrs which made me feel like you were going to a better place. I cannot forget the minutes where I and my brother put your sick and weak body in the grave; that was one of the hardest moments of my life, indeed. Soon, soil started to be thrown on your face till it covered your body and your lovely face until we could not get a glance no more. That was the last picture I have of you in my mind. I wonder if you were feeling us around you.
Ma, after what happened to you, I decided to come back to Gaza along with my family. We are living now in your house, the house I was raised up in. I do not care if I do not get the damn ID, you know why? Because you did not even get a medication permit and you were fine with it. I want to stay here. I want my children to know how great Gaza is. I want them to see, smell, and feel Palestine. I do not care if they are raised up in a pinkish childhood no more, I would rather have them raised in a reddish childhood so that they will always learn how to be real men and women who can stand up and fight for their country and rights. I want them to be the generation that would give up anything for the sake of Palestine. That is what you always wanted me to learn, I am sorry I put you down. But I promise you to raise my children in such a way. It is never too late, Ma – that is what you always taught me and I am going to do all I can to make you proud. I am not scared anymore of not getting an ID and not being able to get further than Rafah Crossing; I do not care if there are not any malls, movie theatres, great payments, and best educational institutions in Gaza. I know you raised me to be a great man without any of those, and I surely can raise my children in a similar way. Ma, after you passed away I thought there is no strong reason for me to come back to Gaza, but now I realized I was totally mistaken. Please, forgive me. May Allah Bless your soul.
a) The act of dying; termination of life.
b) The permanent end of all functions of life in an organism or some of its cellular components.
For Palestinians, death is not just about the termination of life. There is almost until the end of time a heartrending plot created by the Israeli occupation behind Death. Death did terminate the life of hundreds of thousands of the Palestinians; nevertheless, it resulted in building a stronger generation that is so determined to achieve the goal of Freedom and Liberation and Peace and Justice that has been set right in front of the eyes. After all, Death does end the earthly life, but, without a doubt, the heavenly life is what counts. For Him, his mother’s death was certainly the toughest thing He has ever gone through, yet he became conscious that one more day far away from this blessed country of his is a lifeless day.
He placed some white flowers on her grave, read Al-Fateha, and went out of the cemetery heading back to his childhood house whose walls witnessed the best moments of his life. He decided to make all the memories of his Children grow in the same house that is full of his mother’s laughter and smell in each corner.
He came to realize that even though his mother passed away, Palestine, the Mother of all Palestinians, is not to die, for it will always live in the hearts and minds of Palestinians.
“My Mother will never die.” as He said those words, He decided to spend the rest of his life in the land of Palestine.