A Widower Offers Forgiveness in a Land of Vengeance

By Cameron W. Barr

WEST BANK - Israeli soldiers blew open the Hawajas' metal front door, spraying the interior with its jagged fragments. Huda Hawaja had chosen the very same moment to step across the hallway that leads away from the front of the house. Shrapnel gouged her right arm and left thigh.

A young mother with a strong nose and dark eyes, she screamed and fell at the feet of her husband Ismail.

As the soldiers stepped into the Hawajas' modest concrete house in this Palestinian refugee camp, Ismail bent over his unconscious wife, took the scarf from her head and wound it around her arm as a tourniquet.

“Get up,” a soldier said, according to Hawaja. "Get out."

He refused, went to the phone, and called for an ambulance. One of the soldiers, a medic, began to work on Huda, applying a large bandage to her hip.

The ambulance was delayed. The medic's efforts failed. Huda bled to death an hour after she was wounded.

But three days later Ismail — widower and father of five, square-faced and fine-featured, wearing a business shirt and pressed trousers — vows never to waver from his commitment to peace. “I have no grudges,” he says. “ I'm willing to have Israelis come to my house.”

Time slips away.

There is no indication that Huda Hawaja felt much pain. After the explosion and her collapse, which occurred at 10 a.m., she never regained consciousness.

Even though the hospital nearest the Hawaja home is just minutes away, help did not arrive quickly. Ismail phoned again and again and learned that Israeli soldiers, in the midst of their search-and-seize operation, were preventing its entry to the camp.

At about 11 a.m., the ambulance reached the Hawaja house, but Huda's skin was yellow and clammy. “I think she died in the ambulance,” Ismail says.

Peace is the only solution.

Ismail is a science teacher turned school administrator - he helps run an Islamic orphanage in Jerusalem's Old City - and his understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is rational. “I believe,” he says, “that the struggle with Israel is not between people but between leaderships... The Israeli people have the right to live in peace just as we Palestinians have that right.”

Today the answer, he says, lies with peace-minded people on both sides. “When Palestinian people cooperate with Israeli people, they will be able to change their leaderships,” although he says he believes that “Arafat wants peace.”

Ismail ended up leaving his children at home during the hours he spent at the hospital. The Israeli soldiers had moved them from one room to another, but they were unharmed. His youngest, 3-year-old Afnan, asked him when her mother would return. “She's with God,” Ismail told his children. “She's a martyr and she's happy.”


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From Jordan: A View on Western Culture

By Sonia Shaheen

The youth of Jordan are divided in how they see Americans and life in America. There is so much talk about going to a Western nation to become prosperous, yet our perceptions are varied on whether that is right or wrong.

Many Jordanians believe that adopting the culture and values of America is the only way out of poverty and ignorance. They embrace the possibility with vigor and court it when they can. At the same time, others reject Western culture in an effort to protect all the Arab nations' history and values which are unique to the world. Another group promotes the values and cultural mores of the Arab society, but believes that they would surely benefit from the technology of the Western world.

As for myself, I should be classified with the last group. I believe it is not wrong to learn from the Western culture where knowledge and medical breakthroughs are for all humanity. What is wrong would be adopting the values and behavior like drinking, illegal drugs and lack of commitment to family.

For those who arrive in America, there is a gigantic adjustment to be made. The first stage is shock—cultural, educational and social. Afterward, a sense of awe and fascination sets in along with questions like: Should I remain the way I was or should I change? How much will I have to change to fit in?

There is so much discrimination and many ways to break through that discrimination. For instance, it doesn't hurt to be an Arab driving an American car.

The media has a very important role in reflecting the truth, and all around the world it seems to be failing. I have met so many from Western nations who believe the media myths about our lands. One Western visitor who came to Jordan in 1989 was stunned to find out there are no barbarians on camels, no old tents, no terrorism or intimidation as he expected. This is a common misconception of my country, Jordan, and many Arab countries.


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Understanding Without Words in Morocco

By Sarah Rogers

The woman across from me handed us a piece of paper with her address and phone number in Casablanca.

“When you come to Casa next week, come to my home. We will have a traditional Moroccan meal. Afterwards, my daughters and I will take you to the baths,” the woman told Leigh, another student, and me in French. I smiled, nodded, and tucked the slip of paper into my pocket.

At first, it had been difficult to shrug off my American caution, a caution that I had learned was called “street smarts,” essential to American city life. According to this American logic, when someone offers you something, your first thought should be, “What do they want in return.” I had been living, studying, and traveling in Morocco for two months, however, and so I knew this woman's offering was genuine, without an expectant gift in return. Despite the veil, I knew this woman was smiling from her eyes. And her smile was as true as mine. By this point in my stay in Morocco, I had come to expect this open and honest hospitality.

Leigh and I, along with the ten other students on my semester abroad program, were on the train from Rabat, heading to Southern Morocco. We were about to embark for a week in our “village stay.” We didn't know what to expect. All we knew was that two students were staying in each of the surrounding Berber villages and our stay was to last a week. That limited information, a case of bottled water, and some supplies, a gift to our host family, was all with which we were equipped.

Early the next morning, all twelve of us and Abdelhey, our program director, loaded onto the back of a rattling pick up truck and headed into the mountains. The cloudless, pure blue sky seemed closer to us than it did at home. Two by two the truck dropped us off at each village. We didn't even know how we would find our way on Friday to the souk, the group's meeting place. We didn't even know what would happen between now and next Friday.

Greeted by two men, Leigh and I were led to one of the houses. All of the houses were in close proximity to each other. The pale brown color of the houses reflected the pale brown of the surrounding mountains. We had had two months of Arabic lessons, but this was a Berber village and so therefore, we had no way to communicate when we first arrived. We couldn't even ask simple questions, such as, “What is your name?” Even reading body language was tricky. As Leigh and I quickly realized, one reads one's body language within one's own cultural framework.

We were immediately served mint tea and bread, still warm from the fire. The house was composed of several bare rooms. In the front room, a large loom was set up and several elderly women were weaving a blanket. The main room had no ceiling and several mats were laid out for sitting, along with a small table. That night, after a silent dinner with a few adults and several smiling children, Leigh and I went to bed.

The following morning, we awoke and went into the main living room. Thinking we would go for a hike in the mountains, we opened the door of the house, only to be greeted by a huge group of smiling faces, all the women and children of the village.

The voices of the women and children sang through the air. I felt a child's hand slip into mine. I looked down, comforted by the smile of a stranger. We spent the next few hours dancing and singing in the morning sun. That night, some of the women of the village put henna on our feet. When it got dark, the women worked by candle light. All of our dancing partners from the morning surrounded us like a cocoon of protection in what should have felt like utter chaos and confusion. As night grew, Leigh and I grew tired. Sensing our fatigue, our host grandmother shooed away our guests.

After dinner that night, Leigh and I sat with our host family in the main room. The only light was the candle and the glimmer from the stars above. The time passed quickly that night. The hours filled with attempts to communicate with our host family. I thought of my friends and family in the United States. If they could have seen me at that moment, they probably would have laughed. Yet it was a moment which I will never forget. Every sense each of us had was used to express and communicate some little tidbit about ourselves. The next morning when we woke up and had breakfast, there was an ease in our company. I will never know how much I understood of what my host family was trying to tell me, nor how much they understood of what I tried to tell them; that morning it was irrelevant. What mattered that morning was an understanding of an effort to communicate and a smile.

Soon it was Friday morning. Leigh and I arose with our host father and the sun. We followed his steady footsteps and several mules down through the mountains, to the souk, where we met the rest of the group.

My village stay is a story I have difficulty telling, difficulty communicating. Maybe there truly are no words to describe that night under the stars, in the mountains, in Morocco. The words may be lacking, but the feeling, the senses of that moment are in my heart, my mind, and my soul and in the clay dirt of the mountains, which is embedded in the silver ring given to me by my host mother in the village. The open and honest generosity of the woman on the train is spread like the wings of a colorful butterfly throughout the country of Morocco.

Sarah Rogers wrote this when she was a student in the graduate program of Art History and Museum Studies at Tufts University. In her undergraduate program at Bates College she wrote her thesis on “The Utilization and Definition of the Self in Contemporary Arab-Islamic Art.” She is continuing her interest in the relationship between politics and national identity in the visual world, both its creation and its reception.


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Palestinians Grieve

Sandra Olewine, United Methodist Liaison in Jerusalem, addresses the one image we have seen many times — Palestinian children dancing in the streets celebrating the events of September 11.

Dear Friends,

I've had numerous emails from people asking me to help interpret the scenes they have watched of Palestinians 'celebrating' after the event. Yes, there were some gatherings of people, particularly in Nablus, who were shown in the very early hours of the horrible attacks in the US on the street, dancing and cheering, and passing out chocolate. But, these expressions were few and certainly did not represent the feelings or mood of the general population. The deep shock and horror of the Palestinian people, the real sorrow for all the dead and wounded, was, and continues to be, unseen by the world, particularly in the USA. It is the story unheard.

What was important to me is what has mostly gone unseen by the American public. I have to ask why these scenes of a few Palestinians have been shown again and again and again, as if they capture the ‘truth’ of Palestine. How few cameras have caught the spontaneous sorrow, despair, tears and heartache of the vast majority of the Palestinian people.

As the news unfolded here on Tuesday afternoon about the extent of the attacks, people gathered, as people did everywhere, in front of television screens to learn as much as possible. My phone rang and rang as Palestinians from around the West Bank called to express their horror and their condolences.

Yesterday following a prayer service held at St. George’s Anglican Cathedral, I talked briefly to the US Consul General in Jerusalem. We talked about the scenes from here which were most prevalent on the TV. He told me that his office had received a stack of faxes of condolences from Palestinians and Palestinian Organizations ‘this high’ (indicating a stack of about 12 inches). He asked his staff to fax a copy of every last one of them to CNN to give a different visual image from Palestine.

When we left the cathedral after the service, we drove by the American Consulate in East Jerusalem. Gathered there were about 30 Palestinian Muslim schoolgirls with their teachers. Looking grief-stricken, they held their bouquets of dark flowers and stood behind their row of candles. Silently, they kept vigil outside our Consulate. But no cameras captured their quiet sorrow.

Friends, then, began stopping by my home. Palestinian, Christian and Muslim came together, visiting me to express their sorrow and to ask what they could do. Again, the phone rang incessantly with Palestinians asking if everyone I knew was okay and asking if they could do anything to help.

As we talked many went on to tell of stories of their loved ones who are in the States who have been injured or killed or subject to harassment in the last couple of days. Others talked of having received emails from people who had been supporters of their work who wrote saying “I can never again support the Palestinian people,” as if somehow Palestinians everywhere were suddenly responsible for the attacks in the States.

The remarkable thing to me, though, was that despite such messages, these same people still wrote letters of condolences, made phone calls to friends, and asked what they could do to help. Despite the world, and particularly the American world, not seeing them or seeing them only as 'terrorists’, Palestinians continued to express their common humanity with people everywhere as they shared in the heartache and dismay.

Trusting in God's everlasting presence,

Rev. Sandra Olewine, United Methodist Liaison – Jerusalem


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A Palestinian's Journey

By Sabi Atteyih

The radio was blaring with news that the British army, which occupied Palestine at the time, turned over the country to a handful of European Jews; they decided to call the land Israel. News stories recounted atrocities and massacres committed against the Palestinian people. The year was 1948. For Sabi Atteyih, the news started his life story fifteen years before he was born.

Like many other Palestinians, Sabi's grandfather, Mohammad Atteyih, decided to retreat temporarily to neighboring countries such as Syria, Jordan and Lebanon with his wife, six sons (one was Sabi's father) and two daughters awaiting the promise that the Arabic army would restore peace and give the lands, homes, businesses and olive groves back to their rightful owners.

In Syria, away from the destruction of innocent lives, the Palestinians suffered a similar fate as the Palestinians in other neighboring countries; unemployment, crowded schools, unbelievable living conditions and discrimination top the list. In a few years life was unbearable for Ismail, Sabi's father, who was only 19 at the time. Faced with the responsibility of helping his father (Mohammad), unable to tolerate dreadful living conditions and seeking an education, he traveled to Yemen southeast of Saudi Arabia.

Once in Yemen, Ismail had a bit of luck balancing school and work, in addition to being able to send some money to help the rest of the family in Syria. After ten years, Ismail armed with a degree in pharmaceuticals, moved north to Kuwait and found a job in his field. While traveling back and forth to Syria to visit a his family, Ismail met a young woman named Khayreia who was a Palestinian. After a year, Ismail and Khayreia married and she moved to Kuwait with her husband. There, three children, two girls and one boy, were born. They were also Palestinians.

In 1966, just when things started looking good for the whole Atteyih family in Syria and Kuwait, the Kuwaiti government accused Ismail of conspiracy to overthrow the king of Kuwait. Ismail was seen in a group of Palestinians that may have met to demand better living conditions. With only 48 hours to leave Kuwait, the family of five was deported, never to be allowed back. Once again Syria seemed to draw Ismail back, but this time with a bigger load. Syria continued to absorb many Palestinians from the 1948 immigration which contributed to the housing shortages. Ismail, his wife and three children lived at his parents' house until able to find a place to call home. (One can imagine what it must have been like at “Grampa's house.”)

Living in Syria and working in the same city with his brothers, Ismail's life was once again stable. Ismail and Khayreia were the proud parents of another boy, bringing the family to two boys and two girls.

In the summer of 1973, Ismail received an invitation from his brother-in-law. Khayreia's brother had moved to Syria in 1948, then on to the United States in 1959. At his request, Ismail, Khayreia and two of the children packed their suitcases and visited him in the United States. While the visit in New Jersey was brief, the United States “bug” bit Ismail: He was fascinated with the American way of life, the open market economy, five-day work weeks, innocent until proven guilty in a court of law and — baseball.

Ismail returned to his home in Syria dreaming the impossible dream: “I need to help provide a better future for my kids. I want them to experience peace, happiness, good education and, most of all, success.” Years went by, yet the dream was still running. In 1978, Ismail applied for immigration to the United States of America. At that time, Sabi was fourteen years old and he again spent the summer in the States while his father, Ismail and Uncle Saleh were working on moving the entire family to the States. The application took three years to process. In 1980, a heart attack ended Ismail Atteyih's life, but not his dream. A visa arrived several months after his death which enabled Khayreia to carry on the dream with her four children. In August of 1981 they moved to the United States. At the time, the oldest of the children was 18.

Sabi was only sixteen when his father died, but the years spent with his father, traveling around Europe and the Middle East, taught him so much. The most important lesson was that he is always a Palestinian. No matter where or how they traveled, they would always be treated suspiciously—like criminals. While living in Syria, the passport issued was a Palestinian passport. The Arab countries, to preserve Palestinian nationality, issued Palestinian passports. With the Palestinian passport, they were often denied entry into certain countries.

Sabi was born in Kuwait but has never been considered a Kuwaiti. While this policy helped keep the Palestinian issue alive, it also enabled the whole world to discriminate against more than 10 million Palestinians scattered around the planet.

In 1986, Sabi received his American citizenship. For the first time, Sabi realized his father's dream: to roam the planet free without interrogation and to be simply treated like a human being.

Eleven years of isolation from aunts, uncles and cousins ended in December 1992 when Sabi was finally allowed to enter Syria for a period of thirty days. Because of a new Syrian law, Sabi returned for a short time without being forced to serve in the Syrian army. This law went into effect in 1992. Free to roam, Sabi felt as if he were in Europe once again with Ismail, but these feelings came with tears. They were Sabi’s tears as he walked the streets of Milan, Italy remembering a sweet past, when his father was showing him the landmarks; and remembering the bitter past when he had a label that frightened the world around him— Palestinian. No one can better describe the trip to Syria than Sabi Atteyih: “It was like a dream. I still cannot get over it. I can see the picture of the plane touching down in Damascus (Syria); the highway lights lead my eyes to the city, twinkling at night like a faraway galaxy. I can still smell the fresh winter air with a slight hint of a pine scent. I felt the earth shake, but it was I that was shaking, trembling as chills raced down my spine. What will they say? Will they remember my face? What are they thinking? These were the questions that echoed in my head the entire distance from the plane through the terminal and into the lobby. I could not believe my eyes when I saw the crowd that came to greet me. Had the entire city come out? It was impossible to recognize all the faces. It seems that some of the people had features I have seen but on a child's face twelve years before in 1981. It was as if I expected that nobody would change but myself. I felt like a stranger among my family. Yet I was in a place I called home for fifteen years. It was like asking a sailor to navigate in the Sahara Desert. I felt out of place.”

In Syria I visited the cemetery that holds my father's grave. For most of an hour, I sat like a messenger telling the stone that represented my father all the events that shaped our lives in the last twelve years. Oh, how I wished I could see Ismail's response when I described how successful his wife, sons and daughters are and how handsome his grandchild is. Somehow, I felt that he had been with us during our long and painful journey.

As the days went by, my relationship with my extended family grew stronger and before leaving I was loaded with memories, hugs, kisses, stories, photographs and gifts to connect us all. I headed back to Wisconsin (my new home), fueled by anger but directed by love. As I walk through life, I look forward to my next visit, hating the distance that has torn us apart. I find security in the thought of reuniting our big family (now scattered over seven countries) in a place called Palestine.

(Sabi Atteyih branched off from the family restaurant— “Lulu's” in Madison and now owns Casbah, also in Madison. His feelings and sense of isolation from his homeland are a common thread among millions of Palestinians in this world.)

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