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Violette Lama, Rachel’s Tomb area

Contributed by Arab Educational Institute on 25.11.2011:

Violette Lama: “We are a strong nation. That will never change!”

Sytske van Bruggen,

January 2009

“Do you know any nation that has been occupied for the last 500 years?” Violette starts her story. Violette, who used to be a social worker for blind people in the Bethlehem area, is a small, clever woman in her fifties. Nothing around her escapes to her attention. We are sitting in a cosy living room. Because of the sun, the curtains are closed. Violette brings us tea. Then she continues her story.

“The Ottomans, the British, the Jordanians – they were all here. But it has never been as bad as with the Israeli’s.”

Soldiers close to her house

Violette opens the curtains and gestures through the window to two buildings, 200 meter from her house. “Do you see these hotels? Israeli soldiers settled there during the second Intifada. They were looking at us every moment of the day. Nobody dared to come at our place. Even taxi drivers refused to come to our house. They did not want to go further than to the corner of the street.” And that was not without reason. “Male cab drivers often had problems with soldiers, like all men here.”

Violette has one daughter. With a very happy and proud smile, she tells how she prayed to God for years that He would give her a child. At the age of 39, she finally became pregnant. “I called my daughter Hiba. That means ‘Gift of God’.”

Now, 19 years later, it is clear how grateful Violette is that she has a child. She adores her. How was it to have the Israelis so close to her house, with her beloved daughter at home?

“Actually, we were not that afraid. We did not have boys at our house. Our family was living here, together with my sister-in-law. Therefore the Israelis left us more or less in peace. If there would have been young men as well, it would have been much different. Then they would have invaded the house, threatened us or even took them to prison. But because we were living here only with women and my husband, it was safe.

Funeral of her brother

There was only one day that she really was afraid. “Five years ago, my brother died in Jerusalem. We wanted to give him a place in the family grave in Bethlehem, but that was not allowed. So he had to be buried in Jerusalem. Of course, we wanted to be present at his funeral. An acquaintance of us arranged a one-day permission for five members of our family. But we had to cross the soldiers’ area to get at the checkpoint.

Running with a big white flag, we tried to cross the area. But then soldiers armed with guns ready to shoot ran to us. They threatened us with their guns while asking why we were there. Even though we had our permits, they were very difficult. Finally, they let us pass. We were so sad because of the death of my brother – and now we had to go through this as well. This was a terrible day.”

Separation wall finished…

Since the separation wall is finished, the soldiers have left the buildings that are close to her house. Now people dare to come again at their place. But their life has changed to the worse. “My husband is an handcraft artist. He makes beautiful wood carvings. But since the wall is here, there are hardly tourists coming anymore. Pilgrims are coming with buses from Jerusalem to Bethlehem and return with the same bus, without stopping. They don’t pass our shop. And single families don’t dare to come on their own anymore.”

She didn’t see her beloved Jerusalem since five years. “We used to go every Sunday out in Israel. We went for shopping to Jerusalem; it’s just a few minutes from here! Or we went to the mountains, or whatever. Now we’re forbidden to enter Israel. I stay all the time in the Bethlehem area. I’m even afraid to travel in the West Bank. There are so many checkpoints everywhere. I am afraid that they will ask me unpleasant questions. And I just don’t want to be confronted with Israelis anyway.”

Violette tells about an American friend of her. “She asked me: ‘How can the people of Palestine still laugh?’ But we believe in our God! And we are a strong nation. That will never change!”

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