Family Life in Palestine and Israel
Just Another Occupation Story
The story is of the family of Hassan Sa’id (or Abu ‘Attaf) and his wife Rawda (or Um ‘Attaf) and their family of 12. Hassan and Rawda have 10 children, three boys and seven girls, and live in two rooms. The small room is 9’x10’ and the large one is only slightly larger. The family owns no refrigerator, and no phone (neither cell nor land line). They own one fan. The furniture in the big room consists of some plastic school type chairs. The small room functions as a kind of storage space with two large storage bins covered by blankets – it was not clear what was behind the blankets, but from the looks of the place, there was not much of value. Hassan works as the guard for the local trash dump, and makes 1000 NIS per month. That is the equivalent of a little over $200. With this he feeds his family of 12.
Because the family only owns one fan, they all sleep in the same room when it is hot. The village they live in, Deir Istiya, is in the same area as Hares, which gets extraordinarily hot in the summers. It was often impossible for me to sleep because of the heat, even under the best of conditions – with beds, a mosquito net, only four women to a room, and a working fan when we had electricity, that is. They are 12 to a room on thin mattresses which would make the heat an added barrier to comfort. The night that I am writing about, the heat was intense, and as a result the whole family was in one room to benefit from the one fan. The following is the story as told by Hassan and Rawda in our interview. The second part of the interview also contains pieces by the children. I have put my own clarifications in parentheses and (only where I felt it was necessary to comprehension) changed some phrases particular to Arabic into more understandable English. For the most part I have tried to keep to the story as told by them. Hassan let us interview him for hours. He chain smoked throughout the interview.
At the beginning of the interview Hassan tells Shannon and me that at 1:30 AM Rawda woke Hassan and told him there is a noise outside. “She went and opened the door and found two soldiers with guns in their hands.”
Rawda: While I was sleeping I heard someone calling “open the door!” I woke up frightened. I had many feelings at the same time – I was in my sleeping clothes and my daughters were as well, and I saw someone looking into the window. I was shy and frightened. I tried to open the door but I couldn’t because they had used a tool to open it. There was a soldier with a gun who said “shh” and put the light off.”
What must be made clear before I go on in this story is that nobody in this family was suspected of anything. The house was being used as a lookout point to capture others in the village. It is centrally located, and looks out on several places in the village. The soldiers had no interest in this family, only in the two room house.
Hassan continues to talk: All my children were shaking and I prevented them from making a sound because of the instructions – In the dark I used my hands to prevent them from making a noise. For forty minutes we lay under a blanket. After that a soldier whispered in my ear ‘what’s your name?’ I told him. For forty minutes the soldier kept asking me ‘do you have a telephone? A mobile phone?’ I answered ‘We haven’t. We are poor.’ He was finally convinced. The soldier put his mouth on my ear and said ‘go to the other room one by one quietly.’ I argued ‘but that room is too small!’ The soldier said ‘if you don’t we will damage the house before we leave it,’ so we did.
Shannon: How many soldiers were there?
Hassan: There were eight soldiers inside the house.
Shannon: Why do you think they were there?
Hassan: I am used to being absent from the village from 7:00 (in the morning) to 7:00 (in the evening) and didn’t know what was happening. When they came I thought they came to kill everyone and that this is the last night for me and my children. I’d like to mention that I spent twelve days after that where I couldn’t walk normally or sleep properly. At that time (the night the soldiers were there) I remembered all my friends and my mother and father. I can’t describe it. And I thought I’ll die all alone without them and I thought to myself ‘I am a man! How must my wife and children be feeling?!’
Rawda: I felt the same, but I thought ‘What if they kill us and leave my children, or kill my husband and leave me and the children, or kill just some of us? How will life continue if they kill part of us? All my daughters were crying and I wanted them to be quiet.
Hassan: I spent all my life just to build this house. I have no car, no land, no telephone – just this house to sleep safe in my house, but on this day I found the soldiers came without making any noise. I don’t know how. And they came not like the Eastern people! My wife was in sleeping clothes!
It is a source of great shame for a woman in Islam to be seen without being entirely covered, not only for her but for her husband or father as well. Very little is more important for a man in Palestinian culture than his honor. It is only through accepting this fact that it is possible to understand Hassan and Rawda’s words here.
Hassan continues: I felt that I am nothing. How did I spend my whole life building this house and I’m not safe? Is there a way to kill myself and kill them at the same time? All my honor is broken. Then, when I did the 4:00 prayer I said I want to wash and they prevented me. I wanted to make tea for the kids but they prevented me. At 8:30 I said I wanted to pray again, and I was allowed. But I went to the toilet to wash and when I exited the toilet I found a soldier at the door. The door to the toilet is only a blanket and I was again humiliated. I prayed with a soldier next to me.
The soldier asked me about my fourteen year old son “does he throw stones at jeeps?” I said “no, he goes with me, I am a guard at a rubbish heap – I have to go to my work. It’s late.” The soldier said “you’ll say that you were ill today.”
It was twelve of us in one room and it was a hot day. There was no fridge. I wanted to go to my brother to get cold water, but they wouldn’t let me. When my wife took one of the girls to the toilet a soldier stood by the blanket and again she was humiliated.
Finally they let my wife make tea and we found we haven’t bread. The kids started to cry ‘we want to eat and to drink cold water.’ The two year old boy began to cry.
Shannon (to Rawda): How were you feeling then?
Rawda: I can’t describe my feelings. I had many bad feelings. I was in the toilet with my daughter and when we finished the soldier was there. My two year old boy made waste on the floor and it smelled very bad but they didn’t allow me to get water to wash it. Nothing can describe it. We felt like less than animals at the time.
Hassan: The two year old boy touched the gun of the soldier and the soldier shouted at him. I said ‘He is two years old. Why are you shouting?!’ He touched it again and I thought the soldier would hit him. I took his hand and said ‘He doesn’t know what he is doing!’ The soldier tried to hit the boy but I stopped him.
I asked again if someone could bring cold water. He said ‘no!’ and said that if anyone comes to the door we were not to open it. The neighbours came to check on us. I found a soldier taking pictures through the window. I said ‘how would you feel if I saw your wife like this?! Where is democracy?’ He answered ‘Democracy is inside the state (i.e. on the other side of the green line). Here we are here to kill two wanted people and then we’ll leave.’
I said ‘I only have one place for water. In the kitchen.’ I filled a cup and said to the soldier ‘see – it’s hot. Let me get cold water.’ The soldier said again ‘No. Today nobody enters. We’re here to kill two people and then we’ll leave.’
The soldiers kept us inside the small room and stood behind the door. We needed fresh air. I tried to open (the door) and he tried to close it and we had a struggle. I couldn’t open it. The soldiers kept changing guard (and so they could get fresh air), but we had to stay inside. In the end I managed to open the door and saw one of the soldiers stealing my olive oil and putting it in his luggage.
During the day I finished my cigarettes. I asked for a cigarette but the soldier repeated the same thing again. I said to him “There are no armed people. This is fireworks.”
At 4:00 they began to take off their military clothes and I saw that there were wires and microphones in their clothes. They opened the doors and I saw two military jeeps with soldiers. I saw these soldiers go out and shake hands with the other soldiers.
After they left the house I found they had used our water bottles for a toilet and food was on the floor.
Rawda: I spent two hours cleaning. The smell was very bad.
Hassan: They broke a window and pushed it out into the alley – if it had fallen on someone it could have killed them.
Shannon: How did you feel?
Rawda: It’s the judgment of the stronger on the weaker. I’m more concerned with the fact that we’re all safe.
Hassan: After they left she (Rawda) felt sick. We called a doctor and he found that her temperature was 40 degrees. From then until now she has been bleeding. They found that the baby inside of her is dead. They did a cleaning process but she is still bleeding. Two days ago they did tests and found rotting pieces of the baby still inside her. They said that if the bleeding is like this they will postpone the surgery but if it gets to be a lot then we should come to the hospital. This also caused a poison to come into her blood and into her milk. She is nursing our two year old now and he has now gotten sick from it.
Rawda: I felt they are the reason for the baby’s death. This is not my first pregnancy or birth. I have done this nine times and I didn’t feel tired. Now I feel everything has changed. This is the first time in my life that I feel old and tired, and I ask God to take my revenge.
With this the interview ended that night.
As we were leaving that night one of the boys ran out of the house and yelled “wait!” We slowed down and waited and as he bounded down the stairs, he handed us each a cucumber. Shannon and I thanked him profusely - we were both really hungry. As we were walking back, I bit into the cucumber. At that moment it hit me with all the force of a terrible tragedy - this is the most expensive cucumber I’ve ever eaten.
The following week we arranged with Riziq, our local contact and translator to go back. We wanted to talk to the kids a little bit, to hear what they felt that night. We also had a few questions we still wanted to ask Hassan and Rawda. Hassan immediately began talking again, recounting the aftermath of the soldier’s stay.
Hassan: When the soldiers left I entered and found it dirty. There were bottles filled with the soldiers’ waste. This affected us very badly. It had a psychological effect. I felt unsafe, and that my family isn’t safe and my house isn’t safe. I feel afraid and unsafe. Imagine that your wife and daughters are in sleeping clothes and a stranger opens the door! Because of this shock I spent a week tired. I felt that every part of my body is tired and sick. As I said before, my wife also became very ill. We sent her three times to the hospital.
This was catastrophic. First of all, we are poor. Second, this is the tenth time she is pregnant. Everybody takes it on differently. I feel my life is useless. My honor was broken when they saw my wife and daughters in this state in their night clothes.
Shannon (to Rawda): What is it like to lose a child?
Rawda: I can’t describe my emotions but I can say that as much as anyone loves his son or his coming son...
Also there is the process of physical pain and financial problems...
Shannon: If you could say anything you want to the soldiers without being afraid, what would you say?
Hassan: That if I would go to one of their houses or any Israeli house and open his room and see his wife and daughters sleeping would he accept it? He has to ask how he would feel if I did that. They came and broke my honor and I lost my baby and they made another one sick. If I go to any Israeli city they have the right to kill me. But they are in my house. They didn’t ask me if they could come in. I woke up and found them at my head.
The next night they came and slept at the stairs. And we feel that any night they may come. But if they do, they can kill me, but I will try to prevent them.
Now we go to sleep at 1:00 or 2:00 at night because we’re afraid they will come again.
And still now, if a cat or wind or something moves outside, all my children wake up and think it’s the soldiers coming back.
Shannon: What do you think will happen if they come again?
Hassan: They will kill me, and I’m not afraid. They may shoot me. I’m sure I’ll face danger, but I’ll do it. No Palestinian would make problems for them, but if they make problems for a Palestinian we will make problems for them.
Hassan continued: I want to ask “who is the terrorist? Me, or them?” The terrorist is the one who comes to our house and makes problems for us.
I work for the municipality, 4 kilometers from the village and the place is used to throw garbage. They came with their jeeps and drove past three times. They had military hats and guns and they pointed their guns at me and said “why are you here?” in a provocative way. I was in a shelter that I had made. I said “I work for the municipality.” I’m new – so I don’t yet have a card. They said “If you haven’t got a card we will kill you. You can’t stay here without a card!” This is the terrorist.
Hassan continues: My problem is not the money charged for everything, rather, first I lost my baby, my second baby is ill. And the worst problem is I don’t live as a full husband and I can’t have a sexual life and I have asked my wife for a divorce.
My salary is 1000 NIS and I have ten people in the house. Last month’s salary is gone from the hospital and transportation. Soon school will open and I have to cover my children’s needs for school.
Every morning when my children wake up they ask “did the soldiers come last night? Did the soldiers come last night?” and sometimes they come but I say they didn’t.
Shannon: Why do you think Israel is doing this?
Hassan: They know that we are weak people. We can’t resist them. We haven’t got guns. They did it in Deir Yassin and Sabra and Shatila and the main reason is we haven’t a way to resist.
Shannon: But why do they want to harm you?
Hassan: Their aim is to get us to leave these lands and to be alone in these lands but in history they lived in Islamic society and nobody treated them badly. But in Europe they started to make problems for them and they moved them to our lands.
Shannon: So you think they are scared?
Hassan: Yes. (He repeats the line about being weak). I’m sure if we had the power to resist they would not do this.
Rawda: They came to the house because it is in the center of the village and from this house they can talk to people about where the soldiers are. The proof is the question about the phones (Here she is talking about the soldiers’ insistence about giving them a phone when they first arrived).
Shannon: Do you have a hope of peace?
Hassan: I don’t hope there will be peace unless the Israelis leave the land. (He turns to Riziq) You are an Arab like me – if you come and try to steal my house – we will fight. The problem is not that they are Jews. It’s because they do this to us. If they go to their state and let us live in ours – peace will come.
Hassan goes on for a while but we want to try and speak to the children. We begin with Ayisha, who is 11 years old. She is shy and we do not have a great deal of time to spend getting her to feel more comfortable with us, which would have been ideal. As a result, her answers are short.
Shannon: Can you tell me what happened that night?
Ayisha: I was sleeping and one of my sisters woke me. I felt afraid but my older sister took me to the other room. I was very afraid – one of the soldiers stomped on my hand and this was painful. I was very afraid because of the sounds they made.
Shannon: What did they look like?
Ayisha: Like monkeys. (Hassan smiles and explains that the soldiers were wearing blackface).
Shannon: What did they sound like?
Shannon: If you could tell them anything without being scared, what would you tell them?
Ayisha: Don’t come to our town and don’t kill our people and don’t frighten us.
Shannon: Do you still think about that night?
Shannon: What do you think about?
Ayisha: I’m still terrified from when they were speaking.
We speak to Doach, who is 13 years old. Hassan prompted her a lot, and I didn’t write down what he told her to add, although what he said about it is that she is shy but that she talks to him a lot about it and so he is just reminding her. What I wrote down is just what she said unprompted.
Shannon: What do you remember from that night?
Doach: I was very afraid. We moved rooms and it was very hot. (Here she says something I don’t quite understand) The soldiers hurt some of us and pushed me with a gun.
Hassan cuts in: By morning we couldn’t stand it. The kids tried to use books as fans. The soldiers took the books and told the children to be quiet.
At this point the sound of the call to prayer rings out from the mosque. The apartment is right next to the mosque and hearing anything over the noise is impossible. Hassan suggests that he show us the room in which they spent the night and the majority of the next day. Hassan first points to a fan which hangs on the wall of the small room.
Hassan: I bought a new fan but I haven’t paid yet, but I’m afraid it will happen again. We were in 1/3 of the room – the soldiers had thrown all the furniture in storage on the floor. I have a disc problem and back pain which makes me have to move. When I moved, sometimes I stepped on my children (the room was dark and he couldn’t see the kids). I told them, and they gave us a small lamp and I put it here.
This is a storage room for furniture. Sometimes the kids use it for study. Sometimes I used it with my wife while the children slept in the other room. Now I don’t use it anymore. I live with my wife as with my sister. I feel desire but I’m tired and her bleeding and the psychological situation don’t allow me and also her psychological condition...The sounds of the mosque stop, and we return to the other room and continue talking to Doach.
Doach: The most painful moment is when my father came home from the hospital alone and I thought “I will live my life without my mother” and I became crazy thinking “how will I live without her?!”
They imprisoned us in a small room. It was very hot and I was very afraid. I felt they may kill us or my father. When we wanted to go to the toilet they prevented us. When we wanted cold water they prevented us. They hurt us and frightened us.
Shannon (to Doach): How would your life look if there was no army?
Doach: I would be very happy and comfortable. I would play with my friends and go safely. All Palestinians would live in freedom and safety and my relationship with my friends would be better.
Doach: Because we wouldn’t feel afraid to go to each other and play and I wouldn’t hear all the time that there’s another one killed.
Shannon asks Doach: What is the solution for Palestine and Israel?
Doach: The solution is that the Israelis will leave our land.
Hassan cuts in: From my point of view, which is hard, we are poor and I worry about my wife, even so, my message is that if Jews live in their country I guarantee no-one will hurt them and they can live safely. It’s enough for them. They have Tel Aviv, Petach Tikvah. They have the cities. We need pressure from other countries. I guarantee that not only Palestine but all the Arab countries won’t hurt them. We have history. The Christians and the Jews have lived safely in Moslem lands.
I want to emphasize, when Israel divided us I was seven years old. Since then I feel afraid because of the stories I hear. The soldiers killed that one, the settlers killed this one...We want to live in peace, plant on our land, discover science and we want our history to talk about new inventions not bombs. All money and science concentrates on weapons. We don’t want this. We want money and inventions to concentrate on things that are good for people. What I want to understand is – until when will the US and Europe stand behind Israel? Why don’t they judge all human beings by their acts ?...
Sarra: Tell me what you think about suicide bombings.
Hassan: This happens because of pressure. We live forty years waiting for peace – we try every way – peaceful demonstrations, Lebanon (Riziq says that he is referring to the PLO in Lebanon), and harvest nothing. The whole world supports Israel. Some people think this is the only way to force them to withdraw, but if they withdraw and go to their state I guarantee nobody will do this.
They kill our sons in prison. Our daughters. We are poor. They stole our lands and the international community supports it. What can we do? Anyone in our position would do what we do. The problem for us is that we feel we are alone and we will be killed.
We turn to ‘Attaf, who is 15 1/2 years old.
Shannon: What do you remember from this night?
‘Attaf: I remember that I woke up hearing them asking my father to go to the other room and saying “if you don’t go to that room we’ll damage your house.” When he stood up they hit him with a gun on his shoulder. They took us to the other room and told us to be silent and when any of us made noise they hit us.
Shannon: What was it like to see your father hit?
‘Attaf: I was frustrated because I couldn’t protect him or avenge him.
I remember when my father asked about a fan they refused. When he wanted to open the windows they refused. When he wanted cold water they refused. They allowed him to get water but it was hot.
Shannon: What were your thoughts at the time?
‘Attaf: My main feeling was that I was frightened.
Shannon: What were you afraid of?
‘Attaf: That they would kill us – slaughter us. What will my relatives say if they find out the next day that we were killed in our house?
Shannon: Why do you think they came?
‘Attaf: I thought they were coming to kill us.
‘Attaf: Because we heard they killed people, and every day we hear it.
Shannon: Why do they do it?
‘Attaf: It’s a kind of strength, and we are weak.
Shannon: Is your family different since it happened?
‘Attaf: Mainly they are afraid and feel exposed to their visits at any time.
Hassan: When I talk to my children they are always asking me “If our mother died would you marry another woman?” or “What is her health situation?” and they also ask their mother “If the soldiers kill my father what will happen?”
The last person to talk to us that night was Qosay ‘Al Kaadi. He is a 13 year old boy who had been kind of playing around with me as I was writing and listening. He had a very sweet smile and kept smiling at me the whole evening. For the first little while he was just getting my attention and playing around, but after a while he clearly wanted to be interviewed. I told him that after ‘Attaf finished we would interview him, but that in the meantime he had to be quiet. So now it came to his turn. I turned to Shannon and said “he wants a turn.” We put him in the interviewing chair and he began...
Qosay: I don’t want you to ask any questions. I just want to tell my story. (We agreed).
I am not a son, I am a nephew. In the morning at 8:00 that morning I came to play. I came and knocked but there was no answer. I went back to my home opposite, and I looked, and I saw soldiers in the house. Me and my father and mother asked “what’s going on?” and we were afraid they had killed our family. We were afraid to knock – that they would kill us because nobody answered.
My granddad and grandmom, the parents of Sa’id, are ill, and when they heard this they became more ill because of anger and fear. I crawled to Sa’id’s house and knocked but there was no reply.
We spent the whole time asking each other what’s going on and when they will leave. At 4:00 in the evening my uncle opened his door. We thought there were no soldiers but I saw soldiers coming out and shaking hands and saying congratulations.
The whole time I was worried about Sa’id’s situation. I knocked many times that day but there was no reply. We had to planned that I would go with my uncle to the fields and help with the fields but there was no reply. I was worried that he was hurt.
Shannon: What do you think of the soldiers?
Qosay: They are wild creatures. We thought if they didn’t have guns we could open the door, but the problem is their guns. They are stronger than me because of the guns. If I had a gun I would go and make them leave our lands.
My notes stop here, and I don’t remember if there was much that came after this or not, but I do remember his last words. They went something like this: “I await the day when I will become a suicide bomber and become a martyr for my people.”
Interviews from 03/08/05 and 10/08/05, conducted by Shannon and Sarra
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