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Antoinette Knesevich

Contributed by Arab Educational Institute on 11.11.2011:

“I say loudly that our peace is based on justice”

Written July 2010

Bethlehem

I remember my early childhood. I was playing and having fun while watching hundreds of people carrying their properties on trucks. These scenes happened nearby my house which was located near the Latin Convent and Rosary Sisters monastery in Beit Jala, Palestinian refugees entered the Sisters’ Convent where each family was hosted in a classroom. It took place during the summer vacation. The story was that of the Palestinian Nakba or catastrophe of 1948 when the Palestinians were displaced from their houses and sometimes took refuge in monasteries. My father used to live in Jerusalem and work with the British Mandate Government. Businesses stopped because the British left Palestine. The refugees took the keys of their houses and fled the country thinking that they would return very soon.

In 1951 I was appointed as a teacher at St. Joseph School and remained there for five years. During this period I gained a good experience in teaching children. Afterwards I joined the UNRWA school at Al-Fawwar Refugee Camp near Hebron; then moved to Aida Camp in Bethlehem and became there a successful music and dabkeh teacher. (The dabkeh is the popular Palestinian dance). These subjects are always very popular and interesting for most children.

In 1975 I resigned from my job because I got married with a British man named Henry Knesevich. This was a turning point in my life. I moved from an ordinary woman’s life to the life of officials and people of high position because my husband was a British officer. I learnt a lot and acquired a new culture because I visited many formal and social parties with consuls and high-ranking figures.

After three years marriage I felt extremely happy in life. Once I started to weep in front of my husband. He asked me, “Why do you weep?” I told him that I felt a climax of happiness though I know that perfect happiness cannot be found in this life. But a month later all of sudden my husband fell ill and died from leukemia. My life turned upside down. My happiness was transformed into bitterness, sadness and despair. I started to concentrate on caring for my husband’s sisters who were older than him. They needed my love and respect. So I decided to spend my new life with them. I became more aware of this life: it is a life full of crosses and each one of has to carry his or her cross and continue life.

I longed to restart my teaching career and rejoined the UNRWA schools as a music and arts teacher. Once I was preparing for a celebration at the Arab Women Union’s Hall in Beit Jala. The hall was full of people. After the Jordanian national anthem was sung , I saw a physically handicapped group carried foreword on wheelchairs. As it was the first time I saw such handicapped people, I was not able to control myself and started weeping. I found my self unable to enter the hall and play my musical instrument and join the party. My school principal called me when he saw me crying. After a while the director of the handicapped society noticed my feelings and invited me to join the society. I responded positively and became a voluntary member in this society.

I am still an active member. Also my late husband used to work as a volunteer to convey the society’s message of serving the community.

This mission of giving and serving gives me happiness especially when I am able to bring a smile on the face of the sad and suffering handicapped. My joy becomes very meaningful when I give tenderness, compassion, love and a smile of happiness to others.

Two years after my husband’s death I became for five years a teacher at the German Schmidt School in Jerusalem. However, in 1987, when the first Palestinian intifada broke out, it was difficult for me to drive my car to Jerusalem, I started working at the Talitha Qumi School in Beit Jala. While teaching I was also volunteering in a number of charitable societies.

Since 1964 until now, we are at the Family Planning Society: implementing awareness, cultural and lecturing activities in more than 30 villages around Bethlehem. The aim of these activities is to give people birth control and sex education and everything related to women’s and children’s issues and health.

The newly established society “Support” aims at providing support to small organizations. It does so especially by providing training in music teaching and leadership skills. French experts in cooperation with local leaders are giving certified choir and music training sessions.

I have been for more than 30 years a volunteer at the St. Nicolas House for Elderly People. We implement many fieldtrips and organize social parties. We also take care of all the house logistics and fundraising.

I am the secretary at the St. Mansour Religious Society which cares for the poor and marginalized through visits and modest forms of help.

Further, I am a member of the Patient Committee at the hospital in Beit Jala. We represent all societies and organizations in Beit Jala. We carry out social and cultural activities to raise funds for needy patients.

I visited many countries and learnt a lot about their culture and I attended several conferences where I represented my beloved Palestine.

I am very committed and proud of Palestine’s traditions, culture, and heritage.

I say with confidence and pride: “I am a Palestinian woman who has struggled and is still steadfast or samid. I say loudly that our peace is based on justice.”

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