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Toine van Teeffelen
May 11, 2011
Fuad’s brother passed away after a struggle with illness. A shopkeeper, he was known to everybody in Bethlehem. Why is it that in Bethlehem and perhaps other cities in the West Bank so many people die of the well-known diseases? Much more than in the 1990s, as I remember. I discuss it with an activist who says that there has been interest to do research about that issue, but that such a research – which has to be done well in order to be valid - would be quite expensive, and there are no funds, as there are other priorities. But thoughts come back again at each of the funerals I attend: is it the pollution because of all the old cars which keep circling in the town as there are no opportunities to go out? Is the lack of life perspective for so many; all the frustrated hopes, an indirectly contributing factor? Or the accumulated pressures of occupation on life including the physical dangers? There are many possible reasons to think of, but it remains a big question mark what exactly affects the general wellbeing and the health risks of the Palestinian population.
What strikes me most at the funeral and in the mourning customs is a process which is here perhaps more accentuated than in the West: the transition from the expression of sadness and loss to a sense that daily life once again moves on. During the relatively brief service in St Catherine’s – the Roman Catholic wing of the Church of Nativity – the priest makes a connection with Easter, the resurrection of Christ. Afterwards a few of the grieving relatives, who express their sadness openly – which is after all the best what you can do at such moments though difficult to watch for the bystanders - almost collapse and quickly a few chairs are brought for them to sit on.
There is gender segregation in the church and also in the mourning customs afterwards. The coffin with the body is held above the hundreds of mourners who follow the procession towards the graveyard nearby the Milk Grotto Church. Afterwards the visitors tell Allah Yirhamu – may Allah (God) have mercy on you – to the relatives who stand next to each other in a long queue.
There are three days of mourning during which family, close friends and acquaintances come together, men and women separately again, served with bitter black Arabic coffee and bread with raisins. When I visited the place - the compound of the Antoniana, the house for the elderly - you feel the sadness mingling with that sense that life goes on. As if daily life is recreated. A wide circle of chairs is put outside as the weather is spring-like. People are starting to talk again about daily business, about of course the traveling difficulties, the permits, and so on. You indeed feel this shared experience of standing up.
Mary dreams that she meets her father again; now, she says, a bit stouter than at the end of 2000 when he passed away, just after the beginning of the second Intifada. He looked good, she said. However, today she still feels depressed somehow.