HER STORY #36 - lamah
Today I'm 23; in November I'll be 24.
I was good at school. My dream was to write my own book. I'm writing it and working on it. It's a book of poetry and small stories in Arabic. The book is influenced by experiences of life. You can learn something from it.
It's something new, and it gives people the energy to feel hope and to feel other things. That's why the name of it, if translated from Arabic, is "The Caffeine Mornings."
In the first part of the book I discuss the morning, about how there is hope in the morning. I thought about how much energy there is in the morning, like caffeine.
I have a Facebook page with 130,000 likes. I have videos on YouTube as well.
This has been my passion since I was ten years old. My parents used to write, but they never published anything. They only wrote things for the family. My aunt likes to draw, but she also just kept that within the family. So I always had that passion to go out into the world and to write.
There were some difficulties in the beginning from my parents. They would say, "You can't write that." They are not used to publishing their writing or of someone becoming famous. Arabic society is closed, and it is forbidden for a girl to put a picture on Facebook, so I broke the rule, and I'm doing whatever I want, and I'm doing it on my conditions. I'm not doing anything wrong. I'm living my dream for the very first time. Here I am, and I want to do it. This is me. I want to be the writer.
My father is proud of me, now. In the beginning he didn't care, but today he trusts me. He says, "Do whatever you want," even though in the beginning he would ask, "What for? Just go and be a teacher," and that's it. He didn't know that I was writing, and that I did everything without them knowing. They wouldn't have approved it, but I'm not making any mistakes.
They are from a different generation, and I did have a feeling that they were going to be proud of me. [Now] my father thinks that what I'm doing is right. He is so happy. Sometimes, I get gifts from people around the world, so every time I receive something from those nice people., my father says, " My daughter gets gifts from here and there." He's so proud of me, but my mother still thinks that it's risky for me, and that I won't get married if I become famous. She has this old idea about girls putting pictures on Facebook - that there will be scenes, and people will start talking about it. They had the wrong ideas, and I proved that they were wrong.
I'm 23 years old, and I know what I'm doing. If I put a picture of myself [on the Internet], I will put something respectful, like, for example, me reading a book. There is nothing wrong with it. It's no big deal. This society should be open to different ways.
I started writing when I was 12 years old, and it was at the age of 18 when I said that I wanted to write a book, so let's make it happen. Then life started hitting me with problems, such as lack of money, sickness, and the fact that my brother moved to America and didn't want to come back. I had to work too, and I felt very down, until I began saying, "There is nothing to lose." So I took my first step towards my dream.
People began recognizing me, and in the first week I had thousands of likes on Facebook. It's like I'm doing what I'm capable of, just because I can do it. I'm not putting that much effort into it. I feel it all the time. When I write and think of ideas and details for the book it brings me joy. I had hard days. I don't want any hard days anymore. When I took my first step, a whole world opened up to me with different things. I didn't know that it existed, but it happened when I took my first step.
I am a Muslim, but I have my own beliefs. When people start believing, things will come to you. When you seek it, it will seek you too. That's what I believe in.
Sometimes I like to be optimistic, because in my darkest days and my biggest sorrows, optimism keeps coming back to me. It's like a spiritual thing. If you want that, you will have that. That is my belief. Just believe in it, believe in yourself, and go for it.
I'm from Abu Ghosh [ten kilometers from Jerusalem]. It's a small village with nice people. It's a nice place to live. My village is full of tourists, especially because of the hummus [known for its hummus restaurants].
It's a small village, but there are many things going on. I know half of the people there.
I remember my childhood. It was a little bit rough there. I remember my house. We had a garden around it. When I think about Abu Ghosh, I think about green things. We had strawberries in our house, and we had lemons, trees, flowers, and nature. It's good to grow up in nature like that.
Going to school there was hard for me. My mother is originally not from Abu Ghosh. She's from another village, Imwas [Palestinian Arab village in the sub-district of Ramla], and that was difficult. They called her "the stranger." I got used to hearing them call her that. I experienced a lot of bullying, and I didn't have many friends. The teachers weren't good at all. They were racist. I had the worst grades, just because my mother wasn't from there. It was so difficult for me in primary school.
In middle school my life changed. I met students from Beit Nekofa [moshav town in Jerusalem District] and Ein Rafa [town in Jerusalem District] that came to us, just five or ten minutes away from Abu Ghosh.
I started excelling in English and Arabic, and I wrote my first poem when I was nine or ten. My teacher supported me a lot, and I started having friends. This is when I began valuing friendships. I needed it a lot, because I didn't have any friends as a child, and now I started having a lot of friends. I began getting good grades again, which was also so different. It was something else. I became the President of our class, and the whole school knew me. We ran a magazine that was published every month within the school. We did a lot of activities.
High school was also vastly different, and the girls who had bullied me [in primary school] became my friends. In high school we had different teachers too, who weren't from Abu Ghosh. Everything changed in Abu Ghosh. The teachers who had treated me badly had been fired along with many other teachers. The principal got replaced as well.
During high school I got a scholarship, and when foreigners came to visit my school, my school would send them to me to speak English with them. Suddenly people knew that I was good at English, and that I had been raised from another kind of mother, who knew how to raise [her children.] It changed many things.
I love my village, but we're different in habits, ideas, thoughts, and treatment [of others]. At the same time, there are such nice people. You have good fun with them.
There are 7000 people in Abu Ghosh. Some people in Abu Ghosh say that we are Russians, from Chechnya (because a lot of people have blond hair), and the other half says that we are from Saudi Arabia or Yemen. They are not sure.
I think the thing about Russia was made up. Some say that we came thousands of years ago, when Jerusalem was opened by Saladin, so there are many different stories. I think it's because the Russians are known for being the most beautiful people in the world, and therefore people from the village say, "Yes, yes, we're from Russia."
About My Dreams
Sometimes I think of moving or working somewhere else, but in the end my family is in Abu Ghosh, and people respect me there. The fact that I can go to my village and be respected makes me feel confident. If I were in a different places, I would be "strange," and I would live out my mother's story again.
But I don't see myself marrying someone from Abu Ghosh, or even staying there. At the end of the day, if I had stayed in my village, I would have had a different life. I'm not sure.
I always thought about staying in Jerusalem and focusing on my career, and let things come to me. If I meet someone, and things change, I will just enjoy every month of my life. I won't hide it. If it came to me, it came to me.
The only thing I plan for are my books and my writing. I don't think about my personal life. I just want to go for my dreams.
I'm in my second year of my Bachelor's degree.
When I was 19 years old, I studied tourism, and I worked in a tourist agency to save money for school. Now I'm living out my dream.
At the time I was going to a different college. I never thought about wanting to study here [at Hebrew University]. At the time I was thinking of going to America, where my brother is. I had a different dream too. I wanted to be a psychologist. I had thought about it. I was accepted into an [American] academic institution and was supposed to go to the US, but then my father got sick, and I had to come back here again. I had to start all over again, and I lost a year of my life. I had thought of going there, and now I was here.
I didn't know what to do, so I just chose this tourist agency. I had wanted to be a psychologist, but my grades in the Psychometric Entrance Exam [standardized test in Israel for higher education] weren't good enough. I had also thought of going to Bethlehem University or Birzeit University, but I needed money, and therefore I had to work. So I finished my license and started working in a company in Talpiot [neighborhood in South-East Jerusalem]. I did make some money, and so I said, "Let's go for Hebrew University." I'm going to go for my dream.
Now it's been two years since, and I'm having so much fun. I'm so happy. I'm studying Arabic literature and the Middle East.
I live in the dorms now, because it's easier, but when I first started at Hebrew University I was still living in Abu Ghosh. But there is no direct bus from the central bus station [in Jerusalem] to the university. In the winter it was too difficult, I didn't want to go to school anymore. I would spend all of my time on buses, and there wasn't a place to sit and study quietly in my parents' house. There were lots of children, and it was so annoying. I couldn't get any quiet, so sometimes I would study at the university, and I had to go home in the middle of the night - with a hijab.
Veil And Hat
It was dangerous to go to the central bus station, every day.
I used to wear my veil in a different way - the way the religious Jews [Jewish women] wear it [veil], when they wear a hat. I didn't do anything. I just took my veil, laid it down and put a hat on it, and the veil was just on my shoulder. The purposewas not to look Arab.
They didn't believe that I was Arab. People were nicer to me. It was something else, a new experience and it was just a veil. I didn't change anything about the hijab conditions. I just put a hat on it. So they thought I was Jewish, and they were so respectful to me. For the first time people started sitting next to me.
People don't sit next to me, when there is room [on the bus], and I got used to it. People stopped staring [when wearing the hat]. Sometimes people would come and ask, where I was from, and I said all sorts of things, even New Zealand. I would speak on the phone in English.
Once I went to the [bus] central station, and there was an Arab worker. I went past him, and he began talking to me in Hebrew. I responded in Arabic, and at the end of our conversation he said, "You speak Arabic very well."
But with this experience I found out how much the hat helped. When I got to the university, I would adjust the veil in the Arab way again. I didn't change any of the hijab conditions, nothing at all, just the hat - the look of it. I didn't change me from the inside, but the looks of people changed a lot. It has always been like that.
When the stabbings occurred, it became even more dangerous when you wore a hijab. Policemen would come over to me and ask me to show my ID, and if you didn't have your ID on you, you would probably end up in the Maskobiyeh [Detention center in West Jerusalem], where they can check who you are. If you don't have your ID, you have to follow them.
Sometimes there are many police officers and security guards in the central bus station, so sometimes they would ask me to give them my ID. Someone there knows me, but he always asks, so once I told him, "Okay, now it's your turn to give me your ID." If you request it, they have to show it to you, so he gave it to me. I held it and read carefully, gave it back to him, and then gave him mine.
The same person once stopped me and I asked him, "Don't you remember me?" He answered that he was just doing his job, to which I answered, "No, it's racist, but just do your job then."
When I wore the veil with a hat on it, the police stopped asking me about my ID. On the other hand, people asking for donations on the street approached me, which they usually don't do when I don't wear a hat. That became annoying.
I have put m feelings in the refrigerator. I don't care anymore. I have reached the point, where I don't care anymore. I just want to go around peacefully and come home peacefully.
Once I was walking past someone, who turned around and spat on me. I was so mad that I spat back at him. He also cursed me, and so I gave him a "you're so disgusting" look, and I walked back over to him and just looked at him. Then he turned around.
There is a point, where things happen to me, but I don't get mad, because I know that I wouldn't shut up. I don't care, but I do get worried that I could do something [to others], if, for example, I meet people in the streets saying that there should only be Jews. I could cause a big accident.
When people stare a lot, I don't care. I used to stare back a lot too. Now I don't care. I put on music and just wanted to reach my point peacefully. If you want to look, be mad at yourself. I'm happy. I'm going to go to university, happy. I will go and meet friends and have fun.
If I want to go and sit somewhere, and someone says that I can't sit there, I'm ready to scream. It didn't happen to me, but it happened to my friend, and she found another seat. I told her that I wouldn't accept it, if I was in her shoes.
Orthodox Jewish Women
Sometimes I think about the religious [Jewish] women. When I go to Bar Ilan [Bar Ilan street in Jerusalem] neighborhood, they are all wearing the same clothes.
They are similar to us, but no, they want to keep it different. I see those women, and I think about their lives. In the end, she [the Orthodox Jewish woman] goes home to her husband and kids, and she cooks. They have this hard life, and I think about their feelings. I know that there is similarity in my community too. She [Jewish Orthodox woman] does everything that her husband tells her. She doesn't have enough education, doesn't go to university. The mixing of boys and girls is forbidden. They have a hard life.
When I see a [Jewish Orthodox] woman, I feel their feelings. I know that her only problem is that she doesn't know me. I'm thinking about all the problems, and that we have had enough. We are tired from our lives and the conflicts of religions. I know about that too. Of course I can't say "hi" and "don't be afraid of me," because we're not in that position, but she's never met any Arabs. They only have this idea of Arabs hating Jews and wanting to kill Jews.
Sometimes I feel like we have all these same things, the same source, but everyone has opinions without having met the other side, so they live solely with their thoughts. They never actually mixed and let them see for themselves. They built a roof, and they would never tear it down.
If a man stares at me, I stare too, because I don't want him to feel that he's stronger because he's a man. I will make sure he puts his eyes down. I have to beat them, when they stare. When they stare, I'll stare more.
They stare at me all the time. Sometimes I wonder, if it's someone I know from before. I got used to it, but if they cursed or hit me, I would have to act. There is a limit.
I'm a woman, and I feel like men control women, and I think that if women got control, it would be much different. We wouldn't have to go through this conflict. [Jewish] men are similar to Arab religious men: "I'm the man, and do whatever I say. I'm the man. I'm the boss."
Because my mother is not from Abu Ghosh, but from Ramallah, we used to go there, and we say how men controlled women even more. People do that in Jerusalem also. I know a family with five sons and one daughter, and the brothers won't allow the sister to go to university, because they are afraid that she will be "corrupted." They forbid her to go, because they are afraid of the guys [at the university].
I used to be afraid to say that I'm Palestinian. I thought that if I said it, I would get in trouble. But I don't have to be afraid.
When I came to university and began working in the Botanical Garden [Jerusalem Botanical Garden], was when the word "Palestinian" really hit me.When I came here, people actually told me that I was Palestinian. I can't hide and I can't deny it. Why say that I'm Israeli?
I also got a Dialogue scholarship [scholarship given by the university], and when I went to a women-only meeting between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians, they called me Palestinian, not Israeli. When you saw my hijab, you called me Palestinian, so I'm Palestinian - that's the end of that.
Where I grew up, many people say that they are Israelis, and they are proud of it, but for me, with all the things that have happened in my life, now I do feel like I want to say "Palestinian" and not something different. I respect others, but I'm Palestinian, and I go by that. I accept it proudly and with dignity. Wherever I go, I am Palestinian. I am from the country that is suffering, and there is still that complexity. I have it in me.
When I got the scholarship, I joined dialogue groups between Israeli [Jewish] and Palestinian girls. In one of the discussions, we were taught that you can't hide yourself. You need to be proud of yourself and your identity. Take it and hold it. It's what makes us. Sometimes we [the Palestinian and Israeli Jewish girls] argued, and other times we laughed. The scholarship has now ended, but we still meet. We all became friends.
Those [Palestinians] who have Israeli identity, I have this complexity about their identity. I want to feel the connection to my land and my home. I want to find my roots.
There is Ramallah and Gaza. Those are two different places.
When I read the book "Ramallah Dream" by Benjamin Barthe, I thought that everything that was written was true. He had been here for just five years, and he could understand what was going on and he described it well. He wrote something that Arabs can't write, because of free speech [limitations]. It's not allowed, but he could and did write, and he published names, places, etc., and it was so true. In his book, he talked about how there are different people and different societies.
I do feel sorry for them [the Palestinians] and what they go through. Their lives are so hard, and I have compassion for them. Sometimes I do understand them and their feelings. They are different from us [Palestinians living in Israel], but I do understand how things go for them. Sometimes I speak with people from Gaza over the internet, and some of them say they have really hard lives, while some of them say that they are happy.
In the end, all of them are Palestinian, but different kinds of Palestinians. Everyone has his own world, his own society.
Within my own society, with the Israelis, it is my duty to do my best for my society, to be better. Everyone has his own role in his society and needs to achieve certain things. They [Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza] are much more limited but they are trying in spite of that. Here in Israel living conditions are much better, so I want to help the Palestinians, since my life is easier - to be the voice of those who don't have voices.
I buy from there [West Bank] a lot. I really enjoy going there. When I go, there are different sides, the rich people and the poor people. In the rich areas, everything is peaceful, which is different from the other [poor] side. The rich people have malls and good buildings, cinemas, parks, KFC [Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants], and other things. None of them knows what goes on in the other [poor] neighborhoods. Sometimes I like to think about it and to write about it.
Ramallah is so special, because everything happens there. It's a small town, full of people. Twenty years ago there was nothing called Ramallah, and now it's one of the most important cities in the West Bank. I love Ramallah, because my grandparents are from there, and that's where my happy childhood was, as I lived there in the first few years of my life [before moving to Abu Ghosh]. Nobody was racist toward me there. I used to play and have fun in parks, and no teachers treated me badly, so Ramallah is something happy for me. I also like to go elsewhere in the West Bank, but this is what I prefer because of my grandparents' house.
We [Lamah and her Palestinian friends] have Jewish friends. They are nice to us. Sometimes we laugh. You can talk to those people, these kind people here [at Hebrew University]. Those walls [of the university] are safe walls. I don't have to be worried about the outside. Here I come and get my education and get my grades.
The son of Netanyahu [Benjamin Netanyahu] joined one of my classes called "Ethnic Democracies." He came with five security guards. The first time he came to the class, was a week after the course had already started, and he was sitting and staring at me. I thought to myself, "Who is this? Why all the security?" There was one security guard inside [the classroom] and the rest were outside.
When he began staring at me, I thought to myself, "Are there Jews that stare like that?" I sat down and started staring back, and then the security guard started looking at me.
I was the only Arab in that class, and the Jews [Jewish students] were sitting on one side of the room, and I on the other half, so he would stare at me from there. He stared so much I could feel electricity in the room.
I didn't know him at all, and I didn't care. I thought that he was probably rich, but I didn't want to give him that interest. However, after a month I wanted to find out who he was. The teacher used to give us a paper to sign our names on [to confirm attendance]. It was passed around, but, of course, no one ever used to give it to me by hand. I had to take it from another table, because it never reached me. They [Jewish students] had been nice to me in the first week, but they changed when he [Netanyahu's son] came.
I took the paper and thought of politicians' last names that I knew, such as, Tzipi Livni and [Moshe] Kahlon. I didn't find any of them, but then I found "Yair Netanyahu," and I was shocked. It was the son of the Prime Minister, and he was staring at me! I was in shock.
I used to sit in a specific chair in the class, and he would put his legs out so they touched my hair. It was really annoying, and I didn't know what to do, but one day I had enough, so I came to class with a keffiyeh [Palestinian black and white head-scarf]. I was late. I opened the door, and everyone started staring. I thought that he was there, but he was late too.
I sat down, and this was the first time that they [the other students] gave me the [attendance] form. When Netanyahu's son came, he sat in a different seat, but he stared at me more. He stared at the keffiyeh and the ground, and he was so intense. He was shaking his legs anxiously and looking at the ground more.
But the teacher, Alexander Yakobson, was so nice to me. I apologized to him for being late, although I had done it on purpose, to which he said: "If you hadn't arrived late, it wouldn't be a democracy."