The Opinion Pages | Op-Ed Contributor |NYT Now
A Palestinian Mother’s Fear in East Jerusalem
By RULA SALAMEHJULY 9, 2014
JERUSALEM — THERE was a huge crash, and I felt the ground shake under my family’s home. We heard the first explosion just as we had finished our iftar meal ending the daily Ramadan fast and settled down in front of the television. Out the window, I could see people running in the streets of Beit Hanina, my Palestinian neighborhood. Then came a second crash, and a third.
We heard that bomb shelters had been opened in West Jerusalem, so we assumed these were rockets from Gaza.
But the only bomb shelters near us are in Jewish settlements like Pisgat Ze’ev and Hagiva Hatzarfatit in occupied East Jerusalem, and we were not going to go there, especially after the events of the past weeks. Just days ago, in apparent retribution for the killing of three Israeli youths, Jewish extremists kidnapped, tortured and murdered Muhammad Abu Khdeir, a Palestinian boy one year younger than my own son, and Israeli authorities have arrested and beaten hundreds of Palestinians throughout East Jerusalem.
So we sat in our living room listening to the explosions — the sound of rockets being intercepted in the air — painfully aware that Gaza civilians would pay a heavy price for their leaders’ attempt to hit the Israeli seat of government.
I was born and raised in Beit Hanina, and I attended Bir Zeit University near Ramallah. When the first intifada started in 1987 and the Israeli military closed my university, I began working as a journalist, covering not only the stone-throwing demonstrations but also the lesser-known civil-resistance campaign to end the Israeli military occupation.
In 1989, I flew to a conference in London about education in the Palestinian territories; there I met the man who would become my husband. He was a Palestinian, too, and his family came from Nablus. But he was born and raised in Doha, Qatar, so he had never been allowed to visit the West Bank, like millions of other Palestinian refugees.
In 1994, both of our families traveled to Jordan and we celebrated our marriage in a country that was home to none of us. I moved to live with my husband in the Persian Gulf, and I became pregnant in 1996. After consulting with lawyers, I realized that I would need to go home to Jerusalem to deliver my son so that he would be issued a Jerusalem residency number, and not risk being banned from visiting the Palestinian territories, like his father.
I returned to Jerusalem alone. In a cruel twist of fate and policy, the Israeli authorities informed me that my son would not be given a Jerusalem ID as long as I remained married to his father. Because one of his parents was a Palestinian without a Jerusalem ID, my son was not entitled to inherit my residency status. After years of financially and emotionally draining legal struggle, my husband and I divorced — the strain ended not just our marriage but our relationship — and my son, Marwan, was given his identity card.
Today Marwan — whom we call Memo — is 17 years old. One week ago, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, who was 16 and who lived two minutes down the road, left his house to go to the mosque in the early morning after eating breakfast with his mother before starting the fast for Ramadan. As he was standing outside, he was grabbed by a group of Israelis in a white car, tortured and burned alive and then left in a nearby forest.
I have not been able to sleep since I heard this news. I constantly think of Memo, who often goes out with his friends to watch a football game or to pick up groceries, and I think of Muhammad’s mother, Suha, whose son went out one morning and never returned, and I think of the mothers whose sons have been arrested, beaten and humiliated by the Israeli police in the days since. Every mother I have spoken to in East Jerusalem is thinking of the same things. We are all terrified for our children’s safety.
My neighborhood of Beit Hanina borders the Israeli settlements Pisgat Ze’ev and Neve Yaakov. How can we continue to live like this? In September, when our children return to school, how will we let our sons and daughters walk by themselves in the mornings and evenings? How can a mother let her children out of the house, knowing now that in addition to the harassment and threats they have always faced from the Israeli police and authorities, they may be grabbed off the street and murdered?
No parent — Israeli or Palestinian, Jewish or Muslim — should have to live with such fear. Violence and repression will not make anyone’s children safer.
The situation didn’t begin with the kidnappings, and we have to pay attention to that fact. The world must hold the Israeli government accountable for its actions. For its military campaigns that have taken the lives of too many sons and mothers in Gaza over the past few days and in the West Bank over the past few weeks. For its blatant disregard for Palestinians living in East Jerusalem — the lack of bomb shelters is just one of many basic services that the Israeli authorities fail to provide to Palestinians living under their rule. And for the entire occupation, whose violence and cruelty is the dark context for so much of what has happened over the past few weeks.
Seventeen years ago I returned to Jerusalem so that my son would not be denied the right to live in the city of his ancestors. I never thought I would be so frightened for him to do so.
Rula Salameh is a journalist and outreach manager at Just Vision, an organization that documents the stories of Palestinians and Israelis who use nonviolence to end the occupation and conflict.
A version of this op-ed appears in print on July 10, 2014, on page A27 of the New York edition with the headline: A Mother’s Fear in East Jerusalem.
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