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Mariam’s Story, from Ramleh to Bethlehem

Contributed by Arab Educational Institute on 26.06.2008:

When I was 19, I married and moved to live with my husband in Ramla. We were so happy. One month before the war started in 48, we heard there would be problems; so the population, the Christians and Muslims, sought refuge in the Franciscan church. We slept in the corridors to hide from the shelling.

When there was a ceasefire, I went home to bring some food. Just what was left. There was nothing else. A kid came from the street and told us to run away. I pleaded with my children to run with me. When I reached the monastery, 1000s of Christians and Muslims were gathered there. We hid in a shelter under the church. I held my children near my heart and they slept next to my body during the bombing.

One day we got a taxi and paid 70 Jordanian to travel to Bethlehem. On the way, there were no people, no cars, no life. When we went through Jerusalem, we saw government buildings burning.

My family told me, “You were lucky. After you left the town, the Jewish soldiers came and opened all the wineries and started dancing and drinking and celebrating their victory. One day they called the women to come. They said they would give the men I.D.s. Instead, they took the men and put them into camps like a prison.”

My husband lost his hometown; everything. All his legal documents were burned. He had to leave us to look for work in Jordan. My sons felt like somebody could kidnap them.

In 1967, the Israelis shelled the Lutheran church in the old city of Bethlehem where we were living. People said, “You have to leave and go to Jordan.” I didn’t want to leave, but I dressed my children in layers of clothes just in case. My son asked me, “Why are you dressing me like this? The winter has already come.” I was afraid for my sons because they were young. I was afraid they would be arrested or beaten like other young men in 48.

When I was a bride 19 years old and we traveled to Ramla, people would say to me, “Put your head down, we don’t want a bullet to hit you.” From that time on, we have hoped for a better life. Now I live with my son and his beautiful family. We are still continuing the struggle.

Interview: Bethlehem, January 2008.

Interviewer: Jane Toby from Catskill, New York, who worked for many years with Women in Black and Middle East Crisis Response, Hudson Valley, NY. Interview in cooperation with AEI.

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