Thirty-Six Days After the Wedding

16/01/2012 Aisheh Aqtam


My brother, Mahmoud el Khatib, was wounded in the heart on the 27th of August 1989 at the age of 17 when I was 18. He was on his way to our uncle's house half a kilometer away from the main road. When Mahmoud was on his way some youngsters gathered together throwing stones and shouting. The soldiers were far from them on the main road. Mahmoud was wearing a red shirt and maybe that is why he was more visible than the others. A sharpshooter shot at him. The bullet went into his heart and out of his back. He was taken to the hospital in Rafidiya where, though lacking in technology, they did their utmost: cut part of his heart and managed to keep him alive. He remained alive but the doctor told my father that his heart could fail at any moment. For the doctors the fact that Mahmoud was alive was a miracle. He lived a normal life. Our father never told us what the doctor had told him.In July 1999 Mahmoud got married. Thirty-six days after the wedding on a Friday he went out to play sports with his friends as he was used to doing over the years. He played netball and football. The group divided into teams, Mahmoud didn't feel well and wanted to rest for a while. After a few minutes his heart gave in and he died. He was 27 years old.

Mahmoud and I were very close, he was a year younger than me; we were good friends and he would tell me of all the little things in his life: what he liked and what he did not. Losing him was the hardest thing I have ever experienced and the pain will never pass. I remember the times when I was ill or did not feel well and he always took care of me. He looked after everyone but especially looked after me. He always visited, inquired, always showed an interest. A while before he died he would say he felt that he didn't have much more time to live.

His death had a devastating influence on the whole family: my brother had a nervous breakdown and needed treatment by a psychologist and I stopped eating. I suffered greatly from his death and am still suffering. I had many ideas of vengeance, but I knew vengeance wouldn't make me feel better and would only exacerbate the situation of my family.

Mahmoud died the day he was wounded, the 27th of August. After my brother died my father said he had always thought that the 27th of August was a dangerous date.

Years later I heard about the Bereaved Families Forum which has Israel and Palestinian bereaved families working for reconciliation. I was curious to know how Palestinian bereaved families meet with Israeli bereaved families and decided to give the Forum a chance. It took me time to understand the outlook of the forum but I began to feel that the forum's way was the only way that could help me contend with my personal bereavement. I became an active member and today head a group of Palestinian women and participate in various projects of the Forum. In the Forum I meet people like myself who, like me, are against killing people in this conflict, people who believe in humanness and human beings. I belong to the Forum because I believe in its way, which is against violence and killing people. I respect this idea and am part of it.

I think that we, bereaved families on both sides, are strongly connected to the struggle for peace and reconciliation because we know of the heaviest price possible that we paid and are still paying with every day that passes. We know that violence and killing will never lead to peace, tolerance and patience.

I live in Nablus. Nablus may be the most difficult city in the West Bank to live in. I wandered through other cities: Jenin, Ramallah, where the economic situation is a little better. There are a few more jobs available. Nablus is isolated. It is impossible to get out of the city without passing many checkpoints, the economic situation is really difficult, there are no jobs and the army comes in and goes out many times night and day. Today I live in a main street of the city and am a witness to the comings and goings of the army. Life in Nablus ends at five or six in the evening when people enter their homes and do not leave till the following morning. I am the mother of six and if the children are late coming home I am very scared and apprehensive as to what will happen to them if they are caught up in some incident and cannot get home.

I believe that the message of peace must be transferred to the family and I begin with the children. I keep telling them that bloodshed and killing have never been the way to resolve a conflict. A conflict will not end by violent means. Violence will always lead to more killing. The Jews and we must find a solution of life that will stop the bloodshed, the killing and the conflict.

Death is harsh. I have been involved with death twice with two brothers who died within months of each other. A second brother died having fallen from a building where he was working, a few months after the death of Mahmoud. At Mahmoud's gravesite he stood and said that he felt his death was imminent. The pain and the loss are unbearable and therefore we must put a stop to the mutual killing. Loss has been great on both sides. Almost every Palestinian home has suffered loss. And if you are lucky and have no relative of the first degree that has been killed, you definitely know a neighbor or a distant relative who was killed in the conflict. My mother is still crying for my brothers, as are all the mothers. Arabs or Jews, Palestinians or Israelis, armed or not, everyone has a family.

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