Claire, from Bethlehem: My Life Story
Contributed by Arab Educational Institute on 25.10.2013:
Interview by: Maria Schmuck
Edited by: Natsumi Morita
Q: Could you tell us your experiences surrounded by the wall and living in the conflict situation?
I: In 1997 the Israeli army camped behind our building. They wanted to confiscate our aunt’s land and use it for military base. The also wanted to turn this area completely into blocked area later on. Then they slowly started to destroy our life, but we thought all the time that it’s always temporary time and nothing would be more worse than before.
In the war time Bethlehem was besieged and occupied by the Israeli Army. It was very dangerous because shootings and crossfires were everywhere and we had been facing them all the time. Then, they occupied the house and used my apartment where I live with my four children. I couldn’t believe what was going on and we were totally shocked and lost. We did not know where to go back or to whom we should ask for help because no one did anything for civilians.
Whenever I went on the roof in order to get things done in the middle of the dangerous situation, I used to catch shots from the snipers with the red lasers. Without a permit we are not allowed to go on the roof for security reasons. Because we are Palestinians in here and because of the wall we are under the complete Israeli control. It means that we have to pay the Israel’s property taxes but we are not able to get any rights. Moreover, the Palestinian authority asks us to pay them another property taxes as we are in Palestine so we are obliged to fight both of them all the time in different issues. After we pay property taxes we have to register our properties in order to prove that it is our land and to renew the papers. If we do not renew the papers for sure they will confiscate our properties. So we have to renew everything otherwise they will take it from us and threaten us so we won’t be able to fix all these papers. I need to manage these things on my own. For years we have been waiting for better lives and we were praying to the Lord to save our life, our children and family.
Q: How did your children react with the wall and the conflict in the first place?
When building of the wall was conducted, my children were at school. When they returned back to home, they found themselves surrounded in the high wall and described themselves as being burried alive in a big tomb. The wall made them feel there is no future and nothing at all. My children asked us to leave but we couldn’t leave because there were nobody we could ask for help. They could not do anything for five years because the high wall impeded them from moving, the curfew was imposed, and the city was crowded with Israeli soldiers. Continuing clashes were evident and all of us were caged at home for more than one year. And no one did nothing at all for them. Therefore, they were frustrated with the situation and knew that there was no hope from any kind of solution to get even our rights back.
One day they asked me to leave for next day. But I asked my four chilren to give me a last chance to do something for them and I started attracting media and I invited people and offered them my stories for free. Also, I opened a small shop and started helping many students by designing products together and selling them to students. Most of the young people are all thinking to leave Palestine because they never know if they can find any kind of hope in here. But they become convinced by what I’m doing here and they start helping the whole family and other families. I’ve been one of the role models for students.
Q: You have been and are facing a lot of problems for many years. But you have always stayed here and you tried to cope with this difficult situation. What helps you to be able to cope with it and to get along with it?
I: What makes me strong is god and my faith. I cannot be this strong alone. Also my friends, the AEI and its activities make me all free to hope. I believe that if we stay here, we will get our rights at the end . Therefore I want to continue and hold the same strengths.
Q: How does the Arab Educational institute help you?
I: When we meet together and make nice performances, it helps me get out stress and something from inside. When I go to AEI, it helps me to breath freely and I feel alive. This institute is working hard to bring people together and it encourages us to share stories with each other. They bring foreign guests and when they stay in our guest house, they could not only help me but also our children. They have fun together with us and share our breakfast. The Israeli army avoids having their presence around us when we have foreign guests so it helps so much. They are doing their best to make real peace and I believe that we can’t live with peace without working with peace activists and helping them to make actions. We need to be more active to get our own rights and people in the institute also feel the same way. The institute invites people to listen to us and make an connection with various kinds of people so that those people can help us in any way.
People in Palestine want to survive and live here because their lives are based on here. But we live in a big open prison where there is no access to get out of it. Especially our children generation, they know that there is no hope for their lives unless they would travel abroad. We, women as mothers, gather and try to share our stories such as how to deal with our children because it is very important to convince their generation to stay here.
Q: Does it also help you to tell your own story?
I: Yes, that’s exactly what the institute does for us. It definitely helps us to get out our stress and depression because when we share our stories I feel that we are struggling in the same way and I am not the only person who is suffering.
The wall museum helps foreigners to stop and read the stories and they come to ask us what these posters are. Therefore, I offer them presentation for free and they are so glad that they hear about the situation. They are giving us hope more because we can see them almost every day. I feel that foreigners are ray of light. They are the only hope for us because nobody from locals nor politicians will take care of us here. When we have foreign friends, they are always interested to act more on a visit to Bethlehem. They are determined to come here and visit us at least to hear the story and help us in any possible way. It is really a great help because we are still stuggeling in the isolated corner like when the Intifada happened.
Q: What does “sumud” mean for you in a scope of the struggles and the problems you are facing?
I: Sumud means for me to believe that nothing will stay as it is. Nothing will be much worse than what happened. There must be something better in the future. For example, as you see what happened with the Berlin wall, nothing exists forever. We hope that the separation wall will be over soon so that our children can live in peace with freedom.
Q: Do you feel something like hatered or objection against the Israelis?
I: No, I don’t. Of course I can’t forget what they have done and I will never ever forget it. But I can forgive them. Because of my religion I forgive and love our enemies. I will not hate or hurt them because god will manage it and not us.
Q: The wall separates between you and Israeli and you can go to the other side only with permit, but what would motivate you to close up with the Israelis?
I: Because without the mutual interaction we will not be able to solve any problem. If you cut them off from you, they won’t feel with you and know about you. They won’t just even think that you are struggling in this situation. If they don’t know about our situation, they don’t either follow your steps nor act against it. But if we have connections, I believe that they will act in a serious way. In fact, I have many Jewish friends who are activists and came here. When they came, they were crying because of what they saw in here. They are good people. I am proud of them because they are workng hard more than us. We are not doing anything because we don’t have the power but it is an excuse and we have to act more in peace.