Aida: Palestinian Women of Bethlehem

In the introduction to this book, I speak of my struggles over the last few years and condensed my thesis on autonomy and breaking away from the powers of social programming that often conflicts with our ability to understand who we really are. We become so immersed in this socially constructed identity that we begin to believe that it is real, that it is who we are. I went through a process of learning to think for myself and to find the courage to be myself in a world that encourages quite the reverse.

One part of this recovery was when women from work listened to me as I tried to tell them parts of my story that even I did not fully understand and they never judged me, never advised me and told me what to do. They just listened. This acknowledgement was crucial. They were effectively telling me ‘it’s ok to be you’ and that I was perfectly normal, just confused and vulnerable because of this confusion and that I will eventually figure it out.

The publication of my collection of creative short non-fiction based on interviews with women from Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem epitomises this vulnerability. There is a great loss of dignity when living under the insufferable conditions of the Israeli occupation and I felt helpless when I was there, mostly because I was an outsider who was having difficulty being pro-Palestinian without having to be anti-Israel. I am all about the law, justice, righteousness and have a human rights approach to all my undertakings, so when I see people who are hurting, suffering, dying, I want to play some part in ending that without being swallowed by the political leviathan that is hungry for and all-consuming of this emotional, human side to me.

I see ordinary women and not women from some specific race or national identity. I see broken hearts and not beautiful faces. I wanted to make a difference but I didn’t know where to start. I realised that there was one thing that I could give because I know that it was the one thing that I wanted.

Acknowledgement.

As I talked to one woman after the other, listened to one story and the next, I could see their sense of relief because someone was willing to listen, someone who felt genuine empathy and who acknowledged their pain. I did not tell them what they needed to think or how they should act, neither did I judge them. I just allowed them to share their story and simply listened. I was just an ordinary woman.

It may appear like nothing, that it makes no real difference to their situation, that change-makers need to be political and need to yell and get angry, but people are now being killed and never get a chance to even be buried. If politics dehumanises people and categorises them in order to make it easier to hurt them, then we need to counteract that by telling their stories, by listening to each and every person we encounter so that we can remember their humanity, that they are delightfully normal and that they deserve a chance of being heard. A chance to be seen as human.

I am human. I am a woman who has seen and experienced some bad things and I wanted to share my love and understanding with them. Those who are privileged will never really understand but when we share our experiences, we learn from each other.

I realised through these women that maybe those people who have done wrong to me simply don’t understand and so I too needed to share my story. When I approached them to see if they felt any remorse, most said ‘I am sorry you feel that way’ rather than ‘I am sorry for hurting you’ and there were denials, lies, some very creative in their methods of reversing and blaming me.

It takes quite a lot of courage to accept an apology. I was left with guilt, anger and sadness all at the same time. When we learn about ourselves through one another, we see that we are all vulnerable and it is hard to admit to our mistakes. This is what it is to be real. It is ok to make mistakes and that we have all been there where we try to work out the chaos in ourselves by blaming it on others, feeling vengeful and angry, or getting defensive. Most of all, distrust. This is how reconciliation works; it is challenging, confusing and it takes time. The most important step is to remember that we are all human.

I hope that one day this reconciliation enlarges politically with both Israel and Palestine and that they each recognise and acknowledge one another. I hope that those who believe that Palestinians are monsters ready to eat their babies understand that there are challenges to peace and reconciliation, and a lot of it is due to distrust.

If you are expecting a collection of short stories based on the true lives and experiences of women from Bethlehem, this book contains just that. It is not politicised, it is just stories of normal women living under terrible conditions and yet still capable of laughing, of being courageous and strong, and still doing amazing things despite all of that. It is about getting married, getting divorced, baking cakes, having fights with sister-in-laws. It is about the stresses of everyday life with a difficult husband, the success of business and the challenges of childbirth.

My goal in this is to remember the humanity and normality that exists and to embrace it, respect it, even admire it in a world that continuously dehumanises.

 


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