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Maisa Khreimi: Working under the Shadow of the Wall

Contributed by Arab Educational Institute on 23.05.2006:


The following interview by Mirvet Giacaman is with a young secretary working at a factory in Beit Jala to the west of Bethlehem. The factory borders the Wall. “How can you keep up with your responsibilities?” That’s what Palestinian women in Palestine ask themselves. The economy has collapsed. There is an unemployment which sometimes reaches 50 percent. According to studies, the majority of the people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are living below the poverty line of one dollar per person per day. How can you survive?

Q. Can you introduce yourself?

A. I am Maysa Khreimi, 21 years, from Doha in the Bethlehem area.

Q. As a Palestinian woman, can you tell about how the Wall affects you?

A. Actually, it did affect me, especially because I am female. At checkpoints we are more vulnerable than a man. When I reach the barrier I feel fear and terror. The girls are verbally abused and sexually harassed. It depends on the group of soldiers at the checkpoint. Sometimes you are walking alone, doing nothing. Then they may start shooting in the air to frighten you. Nowadays we don’t walk on the roads. Besides feeling the fear, we are sometimes late at work. I work overtime and at night they sometimes let me pass home and sometimes not. They humiliate us. Because of all this you reach a kind of turning point after which you feel too depressed to leave home. This is the main issue for me. To reach work, I have lots of checkpoints to pass and sometimes you can’t cross them. You feel constricted, especially in the working area here. It is a very exposed area. The atmosphere is very different from normal. You feel obliged not to leave your office or even to come at work as you might be hurt by the abusive words of the soldiers. Our traditions do not accept this kind of behavior. Palestinian women are sensitive to those kinds of abusive words. We are always afraid and terrified.

Q. May God help you. Where is the factory located and in what kind of work is it engaged?

A. This is a stone-cutting factory. We are close to Rachel’s Tomb in front of the Gilo settlement, where the segregation Wall has been built. It is just a five meters from the factory. Our work depends upon our ability to reach and leave the factory freely. As this is not possible the economic situation has deteriorated.

Q. You are working in this factory since a long time. We know that this factory has been shelled lots of times, can you tell about what happened from your own experience?

A. Yes, I experienced this event that was like a nightmare. Really I felt terrified. That day, at the beginning of the Intifada, all of us were working normally. I was sitting in the office, and the workers down were working in the factory. All of a sudden live bullets spread all over the factory, through the windows, on the walls, the sound of shells everywhere. I was horrified. I saw bullets in front of my eyes, two or three centimeters away from my eyes. I could feel them. I felt like collapsing. We were thinking that one of the shells would kill us all. For our factory is the building closest to the confrontation area. At that time I felt so vulnerable that I was hypnotized. I was so emotional that I started to cry. I knew I couldn’t escape because no one would help or hear me. The area around the factory was completely empty. In seconds everybody in the area had been running home. Only we in our building could not leave and were the target of the shooting. We tried to call people to tell that we had workers here. After this event, everybody was saying the same thing, that if the shooting would not stop, we all would be killed. There were lots of bullets here. I got a nervous breakdown from the incident. I stayed at home for one week, trembling with my hands, crying. There was something inside me that let me cry without reason. When I thought of this event, I couldn’t handle it. At that time I thought about quitting the job. If I would keep my work, I would loose my life. It was the work or my life. The problem is that the economic situation my family is going through obliged me to continue struggling for work. But my life is also precious.

Since then I was terrified. Then they built the Wall and put a checkpoint near it, with two shifts during my working hours. One soldiers’ group is worse than the other. I can see them from my window. If they are a little bit far, I try to go and leave. The army is stopping those coming in and going out and starts asking them silly questions, especially the customers of the factory. When I pass them and there is little space between them and me, I feel fear. I hear the bad words. In such circumstance you don’t feel that you live the life of a human being. After this I once again started to think about leaving work. The economic situation of the factory is deteriorating. Half of the employees were dismissed because of the economic situation. There is no demand, no transport; the raw materials can’t reach us, and we can’t bring out our finished products. Marketing has stopped. That has affected all the employees in the different departments of the factory. The Wall made us feel that we are living in a big prison. Besides, the soldiers are making their daily patrol, teasing people, whether an old man, a mother, or children – they don’t differentiate. This is some of the worst things I can tell you. Beside the fear, we are being humiliated, there is tension. Truly, I can tell you, these are barriers of death.

The interview is adapted from the film:

Blessed Are the Olives: Palestinian Women Living Under Siege

A film by the Women’s Group of the Arab Educational Institute

Produced for the Pax Christi Netherlands/Middle East program

Filmmaker: Ramzi Hodali. Adviser: Toine van Teeffelen

Bethlehem, 2004

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