The young man in the tiny photograph I carry around my neck is my son Mahmoud. Mahmoud was eighteen when he was killed by Israeli soldiers. There are people in my town who accuse me of selling my son's blood by going to meetings with Jews. I tell them that in so doing I am buying the blood of my remaining children. My objective is to protect them, and I believe that the best form of protection is peace.
The first instance of joy in my life
I am forty years old, and I have lived my entire life in Beit Ummar - a town situated between Bethlehem and Hebron - where my parents, too, were born. I am the eighth child of ten children. My father passed away when I was five. After his death, all that remained was a plot of land, which mother cultivated, and father's truck, driven by my elder brother.
As far as I was concerned, the word "Jew" always went hand-in-hand with the word "death". As kids, whenever we saw Jews we were afraid we might be shot at. My first frightful recollection is from age seven, when the army entered my school, following a student demonstration, and the soldiers used tear gas.
My mother married off her daughters young in order to up the financial burden somewhat. At age fourteen I stopped studying and was married off through an arranged marriage to my cousin, Muhammad, fourteen years my senior. He had studied electrical engineering in Jordan, but having found no work in his profession he opened up a store and sold chickens which he slaughtered himself. Our life was a difficult one, but four years after our wedding I conceived and gave birth to Mahmoud. It was the first joyful event of my life.
We lived in a tiny house in the heart of the village, near the mosque, where all the events and demonstrations took place. The Second Intifada was part and parcel of Mahmoud's childhood.. He would go out to every demonstration and I was always worried for him and would run to fetch him home. Whenever an event was underway, I would take the kids and hurry away to my mother.
When Mahmoud started his matriculation studies, I had great hopes for him. I wanted him to become wiser, to advance and to bring about a change for the better in my life too. In order to encourage him, I decided to take the matriculation examinations with him. So I brought home books and we started learning together and competing with each other over who would bring home the best grades. He started concentrating on his studies and hardly left the house.
On one of the nights of January 2008, two youngsters from Beit Ummar infiltrated the settlement of Gush Etzion with the objective of carrying out a terror attack; soldiers who were there shot both dead. The following morning the army entered the town in order to demolish the homes of those who had carried out the attack. Mahmoud joined a group of youngsters who had gone out to demonstrate in an attempt to prevent the demolition of the homes. I begged him not to go, but he wouldn't listen to me.
When the demonstrations began Mahmoud made sure to bring home his two younger brothers, but then went out again, despite my ongoing pleas. After a short while I heard intensive shooting. We felt Mahmoud was in trouble and so his father went out of the house to try and look for him. He saw him being lifted into an ambulance by his friends - wounded. Mahmoud had sustained injuries to his stomach, and pieces of shrapnel had entered his heart. After fifteen minutes he opened his eyes, looked for a moment at his father, and died.
People told me Mahmoud had been injured, but from the way they spoke I realized immediately he had been killed and I collapsed. Less than an hour elapsed from the moment he left the house until his death and burial. That day I knew that my happiness and all my hopes were taken away from me.
Taking care of the little ones
Today I am trying to take care of my two sons, his younger brothers. Sayed who is 16 does not listen to me, and every time he hears the army is around he goes out of the house. I am very anxious for him. On one such occasion I chased after him and said to him: "If you insist on demonstrating, then I will demonstrate with you, so that if we die, at least we will die together."
He has already been arrested once for throwing rocks, was sentenced to a month in prison and fined 3000 Shekels. He has recently been charged again with rock throwing and has already been detained for a month and a half in the Ofer prison. I cannot visit him because I am not permitted to enter Israel. His father cried at every trial session he attended, and that is why I now go without him.
The last trial session took place a week ago. The soldier at the entrance to the courthouses asked me whether the young man in the photograph on my neck was detained. No, I said, he was killed by the army. The soldier took the photograph from me and placed it in his shoe..!! At that moment all I wanted to do was eat up that soldier alive, but I was scared that my nephew, who was with me, would be harmed and so I avoided creating an upheaval.
A friend of mine introduced me to Ruby Demlin from the Parents Circle Families Forum. Ruby told me of her son who had been killed because of the war between us; and when I heard her talking of her son, I saw myself.
I started participating in the forum's meetings and thus became acquainted with many Jews. I had always known that all Jews are bad; however, now I understood that some were bad and some were good, and that there are also those who seek peace and do what they can to obtain it.
At the meetings we kiss and hug each other, and even visit each other's homes. Twice I got a special permit to enter Israel and visit Ruby's home in Tel Aviv. It felt as though I was in an entirely different world; it wasn't only the vast open sea, it was the feeling of freedom on the streets.
Naturally Tel Aviv evokes envy in comparison to the life we know. I think the prosperity in Israel stems both from the Jews' competence as well as from the fact that we, the Palestinians, were robbed.
Today I have eight children, including Mahmoud, and we all live in one room. I want my children to have the opportunity to study and earn a living, and I do not wish for them to suffer as I did. My big dream is really very simple: I want to feel that they are safe when they leave the house.
* Bushra Omer Abu ayash participated in the film group. The group was filmed during the workshop for "TWO SIDED STORY" by Tor Ben Mayor.