Randa Abo Saymih

 

Ka'is's heart

I have seven children, one of whom is blind.  His name is Ka'is, and in complete contrast to other Palestinians, he believes that Jews are good.  That is what Ka'is' heart has been telling him ever since he was hospitalized in an Israeli hospital and underwent three operations, in which an attempt was made to cure him of his blindness.  The entire hospital staff was there near Ka'is, and he cannot forget their warmth and devotion to him.  The doctors told us that Ka'is was born blind because of what had happened to me two weeks before the birth.  I happened to be present in a riot near Hebron and was hurt when I inhaled tear gas used by the Jewish soldiers.

I was born in 1978 in the town of Halhul (Hebron), the sixth of ten children.  My first recollection of Jews is from age five or so - my aunt running into our house because soldiers had seen her on the street during curfew.  The soldiers entered our home, beat up my father and tied him to a tree outside.  While searching for my aunt, one of the soldiers discovered my older sister, who was 16 at the time, hiding behind some furniture.  The soldier signaled to her to continue hiding and did not give her away. 

When I was nine, curfew was imposed once again, and I went out barefoot with my younger sister to the grocery store to get some bread.  Soldiers approached.  Out of sheer fright I ran to the nearest house and abandoned my sister in the grocery store.  The soldiers entered the house of the neighbors who were hiding me, but they did not discover me.  Later I went to pick up my sister and returned home. 

I grew up in the midst of the First Intifada, and all I knew of Jews was their violence.  I was an unfortunate school girl, and when the army would use tear gas in response to rock throwing, it would always land up hurting me.  Till this day I suffer from the damage rendered by that gas which entered my lungs, and I often faint due to lack of oxygen. 

I recall them coming to arrest my brother at two in the morning.  The soldiers knocked fiercely on the door.  My father opened and all of us, the children, woke up frightened - all except my 17-year-old brother, Imad, who was in deep slumber.  When they had finally managed to wake him up, he was taken into detention.  He was released after eighteen days, when it was discovered that he had been confused with another boy with the identical name. 

A short while later my father, who was working in the Egged bus company at the time, was suddenly denied entry into Israel.  The soldiers took away his orange ID card and gave him a green one instead.  He was the sole breadwinner in the family and the situation at home was very difficult.  Father was also afraid of leaving the house, because the soldiers would automatically beat up any Palestinian who was stopped to be checked the minute it was discovered he was the bearer of a greed ID card.  After six months he was given back his orange card. 

 

When the tank started shooting

I was married at age fourteen and a half to Mohammad, who was twenty seven.  It we a prearranged marriage, agreed to by the two families, although I was not let in on it beforehand.  During those years Mohammad worked as the subcontractor of a construction company in Israel, and would tell me of his good ties with Jews.  One day the manager of the company invited us to visit his home in Beit Shemesh.  I did not want to go because I was afraid, but Mohammad convinced me that not all Israelis were bad and that he knew this couple well.

We were welcomed with hospitality, but on the table lay the Jew's weapon.  His wife sat next to me and we started talking.  After this visit I told Mohammad that I wanted more of the same, and had a desire in me to get to know the Israelis better.  And, indeed, we went back there a few times and met with other Jews too, both in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.  As I was walking around in those places I thought to myself that the Jews had taken from us the best and most beautiful of places; on the other hand, I felt they were a people very much like us - of which most simply led their lives and had nothing to do with the occupation. 

After the wedding I continued with my studies.  I completed my matriculation examinations and also graduated from the teachers' seminary in Hebron.  The studies were spread over quite a number of years because I bore children throughout, and today I have five sons and two daughters. 

I usually go into labor early, in the seventh month, because of a medical problem.  Before my first birth I took an ambulance with Mohammad to the Al-Makassed hospital in Jerusalem.  We were detained at the checkpoint at the entrance to the city for three hours.  We arrived too late.  The baby was born in distress, and after a week she passed away.  I was fifteen and a half when it happened. 

A year later, I gave birth to a son, whom we called Malik.  At the third birth I bore twins - Yasmin and Ka'is.  Yasmin was discharged after two weeks, but Ka'is, who was born blind, weighed 500 grams and remained in the premature babies ward in Ramallah for two months.  I would drive to him daily from Halhul, and in the middle of the way I would have to get off and bypass the check point, which meant long journey on foot. 

When Ka'is was four, my mother and I took him to the hospital in Ramallah for a medical examination.  It was 2003, the peak of the Second Intifada, and it was a three-day-long wearisome journey just to get to the hospital.  When we headed back home after the medical examination, we came across a tank that suddenly started shooting; I am not quite sure in which direction.  We started running across the field, while little blind Ka'is was screaming, not understanding what was going on.  Today he is thirteen years old and completely blind; even the operations he underwent in the hospital in Tel Aviv were not able to cure his eyes. 

What were my thoughts back then on the suicide bombings?  On the one had I felt pain at what I saw; on the other hand, as a result of all the pain I had experienced in my own lifetime, I didn't care all that much.  I said to myself - let the Jews taste a bit of suffering too. 

 

Kisses near the sea

The change in me came about after I had taken Ka'is to be treated in Israel.  Ka'is, despite all he had experienced in infanthood, was not afraid to enter Israel.  All he was interested in was in being able to see.  The Israelis were not successful in treating him, but I did notice the devotion and gentleness with which they treated him.  There were also instances at the check points when the soldiers did not make it difficult for us despite official problems that presented themselves; instead, they showed us empathy and wanted the child to receive medical treatment. 

Mohammad and I discussed this.  We had had enough of the violence and the bloodshed and we wanted to try and find a way out.  I wanted to get to know the Jews better and understand their way of thinking.  This is how we got to the Narratives Workshop of the Parents Circle Families Forum in Bethlehem.  The first meeting was not easy, but that night we, the women, sat together, listened to music and danced together in a separate room.  The Israeli women danced to oriental music, and we danced to their music. 

I learned about the Holocaust and about the suffering of the Jewish people, but the main thing I discovered through these meetings was the fact that the Israelis were as much in pain as we were.  Both sides are sick of bloodshed.  When I told them of Ka'is, they were very surprised and pained.  From these meetings I came to the realization that the Israeli nation doesn't really know what we are going through under the occupation.  After hearing our stories, even the woman who came with extreme opinions, changed her mind completely. 

I am a kindergarten teacher.  When I told the nursery school children that I had met Jews, they responded with:  What for?  And did they have weapons?  And what do they look like?  One must understand that the only Jews these kids have ever seen are soldiers who suddenly appear at night in uniform, carrying weapons and with camouflage colors smeared on their faces. 

At the end of the workshop, we held a get-together in Herzliya, children included.  Our new friends, from the other side, had prepared a picnic on the beach and sent a bus to pick us up from the Tarqumiyah check point.  We introduced our children to the Israeli children.  At first they were weary of each other, but after an hour they went into the water together.  At the end of the day our kids didn't want to go home...  Before getting on the bus, all the kids kissed each other. 

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