HER STORY #41 - buthaina
I’m 29 years old. I was born and raised in Kufr Yasif (in Hebrew they call it Kfar Yasif), Arab village northern of historic Palestine (Israel’s Galilee now). I’ve been living in Haifa for nine years. I studied English Literature and Human Services at the University of Haifa University, and then pursued my career and further studies in marketing and business development.
Today I work as a business development manager at a Digital Marketing Network in the central district of Israel.
I’ve been politically active for as far as I can remember. My father is a member of the Communist Party, Al-Jabhad, or Hadash in Hebrew, and so is my entire family from my father’s side, including my uncles, aunts, grandfather etc. So I was born in a house with lots of political awareness and political activities.
I want to say something, but I don’t want to be misunderstood. I was born in a Christian family.
When you’re born in Israel, they label you according to your religion and language, so even though I’m an atheist and even though almost everyone in my family is atheist, the religion label is always there. There is a stereotype about that the struggle in Israel is a Muslim-Jewish one. This is why I say that I am “Christian”, because it’s not true.
When I was a child I took part in the communist party’s children summer camps, where we did all sorts of activities such as identity awareness of being a Palestinians in Israel – political awareness. It was different to be raised in a house where politics is a major subject.
When I started university, I became a member of the Arab Students Union. I was a member of the Hadash university party as well, and during at least the first three years of my time at the university, I was active in the same party. I have been either one of the organizers of political events or a participant at least, which caused couple of problems, resulting in receiving “bad-behavior” letters.
When the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] shot the Turkish activists on the Flotilla to Gaza [May 2010] we organized a huge demonstration at the university. And I remember that the university called me for a hearing.
After the hearing, a professor who taught me at the English department (his specialty was political language and who happens to be very Zionist), told me something very interesting. He said: “Just for you to know, acts like this might threatens your future.” “Why?” I asked. “Because the government of Israel is not afraid of Islamic jihadists. They are afraid of people like you. If they shoot you, they don’t have an excuse for the international committees. Educated people, university students, non-religious people who are politically aware are actually more of a threat to the government than a jihadist with a bomb.” This clicked in my head, and I understood the kind of resistance that I was taking part in
Until two years ago, I was someone who took part in every national demonstration, even the un-authorized ones. This, in terms of being a woman, was always a conflict in the community, because our community is not perfect. Women are still oppressed and still are expected to be sweet, calm, and quiet – a woman is not expected to hold a flag and run in the streets shouting for freedom, nor face 500 police officers, nor write political posts on Facebook all the time. Even though I was born to a politically aware family, this has always been a struggle in my life.
On the other hand, I’m facing this occupation and the need to not be careless about what my people are facing from the Israeli occupation and the Zionist movement.
It’s was a struggle with my family, with my aunts and uncles from my mother’s side too. Because this is how the Arab and Palestinian family and community structure is based on. People have the freedom to give their opinions, even if it’s none of their business. It’s a struggle.
A two faced resistance: as a Palestinian I resist the occupation, the oppressors, and the Israeli criminals and on the other hand as a woman I am fighting against the Palestinian-Arab community when it comes to women’s freedom and liberation.
Of course it is different from one family to another. Some families stand behind their women, daughters, wives etc. But unfortunately, even in 2016, even today you can still find people who believe that women should be hushed, who force women to dress in a certain way. Palestinian women are oppressed by two factors here in Palestine\Israel: by the racism of the occupation, and by our own community and people.
I sometimes feel the need to remind myself to not allow anybody to tell me what to do. Sometimes when you’re tired, you are too busy, and you forget that you are the master of yourself, and you find yourself doing things just to please your family, your village and your community.
Sometimes I feel insecure to argue with older people from my family, but I have to stand up for what I believe in. I don’t want to be hushed because I’m a woman.
At the end of the day, I know that no matter what happens I can defend myself, and I know that I can survive wherever you put me. I think I’m a strong woman.
Three years ago, late June 2014, I participated in a huge demonstration which took place at the entrance of the city, Umm al-Fahm [located in Haifa district of Israel].
It was held for different reasons, but mostly because many [Palestinian] prisoners had been on a long hunger strike and the Israeli jail authorities wanted to force-feed them. There was also the kidnapping of the three Israelis kids, which Israel took as a lame excuse to invade the West Bank; many houses were destroyed, many Palestinians were taken to jail without a court rule – simply an act of Zionism. We had to demonstrate and show our anger.
It was a huge demonstration, some Knesset members participated in it as well. I arrived a little late.
When I arrived, I noticed something interesting. There were huge numbers of police officers. I would say about 600, including Yasam units [Israel Police Special Patrol Unit dedicated to riot and crowd control] with horses, and skunk cannons. I was in shock. Everybody was in shock by the huge number of police officers and the number of army personnel. At such demonstrations we always see big numbers of police officers, but not that much, they were ready with their guns and other means of force.
Fifteen to twenty minutes after the demonstration had begun, we noticed something weird. The police had closed the street before we even decided to walk down on it. They for sure had something in mind. Twenty minutes later, the demonstrators decided to step into the street.
I was a little bit far away from the demonstration itself, because I was on the sidewalk talking on the phone. I was closer to the police than to the demonstrators. Then I started hearing gun shots of huge rubber bullets and tear gas cans. After having hear the first one [gunshot] I was out. I was out because one of the Israeli police/army men shot me in the head.
I almost lost consciousness, but I could hear some things, how people were running towards me and shouting “they shot her!” I could neither move nor speak, and I didn’t know what was happening. My entire head and face was full of blood. People were screaming and running towards me and asking me to look at them. I just kept hearing noises, and my vision got blurry. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.
Some young men carried me away from all the shooting, they took me to this kind of restaurant, and people said that I needed to go to the hospital. They took me to a local clinic there, and the doctor also said that I needed to go to the hospital right away. As far as I remember, they told me that no ambulance was allowed in, so two of my comrades took me to the hospital.
As a result of the shot I was left with two skull fractures plus internal brain bleeding, I was close to death. I had to go through a difficult and painful brain surgery, and the healing was a long and painful process.
They shaved my head. And till this minute I am left with an ugly scar on my head, and a headache that simply never goes away. It was a horrible experience, and from this experience I learned that the Israeli government doesn’t care about the values of our lives. I am sure they did this on purpose, especially since I’m someone who’s very difficult to miss due to my height and body.
Why did the police start shooting like crazy? What was the need of such heavy shooting? They could have broken up the demonstration with two shots in the air! But no, they intended to hurt us. What does this tell you about Israel?
I heard that lots of people were hurt in this demonstration. I know that I was the most severe case, but I heard and saw other hurt people. One very young woman had a horrible broken leg. It was really terrifying to see hurt people.
The neurosurgeon who performed my surgery told my mom that he had never seen someone survive from such injury as mine. He said I was lucky not to have left the hospital in a coffin.
It feels scary, scary as hell – how human life can be taken just like that for no reason but the inhumanity of the Zionist Israeli state. All I could think about, when I think back, is how my mum could’ve been like Asil’s mum; who was murdered in October 2000 by the Israeli police.
Which makes me think of these young people who in the past two years left their homes knowing they won’t come back, knowing that they are going to be shot to death. I just can’t imagine how desperate they are, these young men and women, who went to stab. None of them did it because of religious reasons. None of them belonged to any religious group. They just had enough of the Israeli occupation and humiliation. I tell you; I understand their anger, actually, I feel it.
The other day I went to Hebron with my family to buy a few things as part of my wedding preparation. On our way back, we had to put all of our purchased items through a scanning machine at the Israeli checkpoint.
I saw a kid there, who was probably five years old, with this father, who I guess is in his mid-40s, the father had two boxes of onion and three boxes of tomatoes. He’s a farmer. He held the boxes and they were heavy. One of the IDF soldiers asked, “What’s in the boxes?” And I thought to myself, “Oh my God!” The box was open, and you could smell it. The smell was killing us. I was that close to telling the soldier, “Are you fucking blind?”
The soldiers questioned the father in a very nasty and humiliating way, in front of his son. How do you think this child felt back then? To see the Israeli soldiers humiliate his father every single day as he tries to earn some money. What sort of peace would this kid want with these people? As he grows up so will the anger in his heart. Israel is to be blamed for any acts of resistance the Palestinians commit.
Some blame these young rebellions, but no one really understands that every single day in a Palestinian life means Israeli humiliation. They see their fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters get humiliated. They have to go to school and see five, six, seven soldiers on their way home. It’s just crazy. I wouldn’t know how to do it, to tell you the truth. I don’t think I would be able to handle this, if I were in their situation.
They Want Me To Be Scared
My lawyer and I are suing the police. The first reply we got from Machash [acronym for Israel’s Police Internal Investigations Department] was closing the case. Their claim was that they could not find out who was responsible for the shot. They also claimed that it could have been from a shooting [coming from elsewhere] or from a stone, which is unbelievable. We appealed, and we asked for some material, which they have refrained from delivering, as they claim that it is secret.
I have been through hell after the surgery and after this shot. I won’t lie – the Israeli state managed to scare. Two and a half years later I still am afraid to participate in big demonstrations. I started seeing a psychologist and even a psychiatrist, because fireworks, sounds of bombs, and certain voices would freak me out. For example New Year ’s Eve fireworks scare me, this BOOM sound drives me crazy.
I realize that this is exactly what they want, what the government wants. They want me to be scared. They want me to stop writing political posts on Facebook. They want me to stop participating in demonstrations. They want me to feel ashamed of this scar on my head and to hear these nasty voices from my people saying “She should have stayed home.”
I still go to some therapy. Because of the shot and because of the surgery, they had to cut some nerves in my head, which means I don’t feel that area of my head. It’s always numb. Sometimes I have nightmares, and I need something to help me fall asleep. Sometimes the headache is so bad that I feel as if my eyes are going to pop out of their place. It comes and goes. I suppose it’s something I need to live with my whole life, because nerves are not something you can fix.
I still see a psychologist, but I feel very angry. Angry with both sides. The occupation, the police, Israel. On the other hand, I also feel very angry with these voices among my people which call for women to sit aside, who oppress women. I’m equally angry about both sides.
Now more than ever I believe that women and only women can make the drastic change in our world. If we manage to liberate the Palestinian women, we will liberate Palestine from the Zionist occupation for sure.
Whenever there is an event, such as Land Day [Annual commemoration for Palestinians of events, including strikes that took place in 1976 following the Israeli government’s announcement of a plan to expropriate a high number of acres of land for security and settlements purposes] or any different occasion during the year, the Islamic movement will either not participate or will march separately, they don’t accept women walking by their sides or women not dressed according to their beliefs. Sadly not only the Islamic movement are women oppressors. Some men who claim to be “liberal” are as such too.
On the other hand, as history has taught us, oppressed people such as African Americans for example or any other people living under difficult circumstances, we find the community to be a violent one, especially against women. We cannot separate the living circumstances of nation/people from its behavior, and even from its religious extremism. Look around. Countries with a low economic status or under oppressed rule tent to be more close to God. It also has to do with hope I guess.
I am not trying to give excuses, but you will more likely see less liberal communities when they are oppressed, and this is something that history has proven to us. I do strongly believe that if my people become more liberal among themselves, it will help us fighting the occupation, but on the other hand occupation is the main reason for what is happening as well. So it’s a sort of circle.
I know how my people were once. I’m not saying that the Middle Eastern culture is perfect, but we didn’t have all these Islamic extremists, all these backward minds before. The Arab countries are being invaded and destroyed by Western money and Western interests, and that’s basically what’s happening.
Four years ago, the company I worked at sent me to Dubai on a business trip. As you might know as someone holding the Israeli passport I cannot enter most of the Arabic countries, but with the help of our offices abroad they issued me a visa.
When I was waiting for my flight to Dubai from the Jordanian airport, I looked at the scheduled flights, and I saw and heard the announcement of a flight to Damascus. It was painful to hear that this plane was going there, and I couldn’t be on it. I really just wanted to not board the plane to Dubai and go to Damascus instead.
When I landed in Dubai I went to Sephora [chain of cosmetics store]. I wanted to buy a mascara, and this girl approached. She wanted to sell me some things from her department. She told me, “You have a weird accent. Where are you from?” I answered, “Palestine” and she said, “Oh, I’m also from Palestine.” I, of course, understood that she really meant: a third generation Palestinian refugee.
She asked me again, “where from Palestine?” I wanted to say Kufr Yasif, but she probably wouldn’t know where that was, so I said that I’m from Haifa. To this she replied, “I’m from Jaffa!” So I was sure that she was a refugee. She asked me where I was born, and then things got complicated. I told her that I was born in Haifa, to which she replied, “You mean that your grandpa was born in Haifa?” I said no and told her that I was actually born in a village near Haifa. She looked at me weirdly. “Do you mean that you actually live in Haifa?” she asked, I said yes. “How? How is this possible?” she asked. And then I asked her, if she had heard about the Palestinians, who had managed to stay in homes after 1948. She said that she had heard something like that, and added, “But we never see people like you! You’re not someone we communicate with.”
She asked, “Does that mean that you collaborated with Israel to stay in your land?” to which I replied no, and the whole makeup conversation turned into a political one. She wanted to know how we managed to stay on our land, and how some became refugees within Palestine, who couldn’t go back to their villages. She was amazed. She asked me, if I’d been to Jaffa, “of course, many times”. She cried so much, I cried too, and she hugged me.
That hug was full of anger and of love. She wanted to be in my place, she didn’t want to be a Palestinian refugee in Syria to later become a Palestinian-Syrian refugee in Dubai. She wanted to eat from the famous Jaffa Orange, to pick it up with her own hands from her grandpa’s farm. So I felt the hate and the love. It was, by far, the most complicated experience I have ever had in my life.
I promised her that if I came back to Dubai I would bring her something from Jaffa, and when I went back to Dubai a year later, I brought her some earrings from Jaffa, that said “Jaffa”. But she was gone.
I regret not asking her for her Skype or Facebook contact details. I just left and never saw her again in my life.
When I went back to Sephora, I looked around for her and couldn’t find her. I asked someone, if they had seen a Syrian girl, who worked there. No one knew her.
I’ve met a lot of Arab people, who are in contact with us [Palestinians, who stayed after 1948], from Algeria, Dubai, Morocco, Lebanon, Syria, etc. I have lots of friends, but they are usually politically active as well, and when you’re politically active, then you’re more aware. But this was the first time in my life that I’d met someone Palestinian who didn’t know I existed. And she definitely hated me and loved me at the same time. She is someone who had been a refugee twice, and God knows what happened to her.
I am more appreciative of being here. I feel powerful in some ways, and I’m not going to leave, and I’m not going to let you, Israel, take every corner of my land.
On the other hand, I feel weak, because I can’t visit or be with my people around the world. I know that Jewish people, black people, and a lot of other people have been through a lot, even Europeans, but I don’t think that there is any nation in the entire world, who has been through this kind of disaster of being separated the way we are right now. Palestinians are everywhere, except in Palestine. The Jewish people came from all around the world to this land.
I think we are some sort of robots, especially those of us who are political activists. When we go to demonstrations, when we read a political article or discuss politics, we are "on." We suddenly are angry rebels who want to destroy the system. But, when demonstrations finish, or five minutes after a video showing Israeli cruelty is over, we turn on the TV to watch an entertaining TV-show or we go to a bar for a beer, and it’s gone. We become different people – in this beautiful bubble, where anything can happen.
It’s just incredible. I have no idea how we remain sane. One minute you feel angry and hate the Zionists, the Jews, Israel, etc., and then the next you are working with your [Jewish] colleague in the middle of Tel Aviv, who just came back from one week of milu’uim [reserve duty]. You see, how fucked up it is? Our lives are really fucked up.
The same guy who once wore the Israeli army uniform and pointed his gun towards my people, today he is my colleague. He will come and dance at my wedding. It’s weird.
I can’t be angry at him, because I’d lose my job. I can’t be angry every day, because otherwise I’d be in jail. I can’t express my feelings the way they are, because then I won’t be able to live, and as we all know, humans are selfish at the end of the day. I’m selfish. We also want to live well. We want to have the chance to wake up in the morning next to someone we love.
We live in a big fake bubble. If it’s a good or bad thing – I don’t know. I just tell you that we’re not there yet. We’re numb. We think that we are doing something. Are we?. Even the Arab members of the Knesset (and I do vote) are just a big joke. We’re not the important people here. We are important, because we are still saving what’s left of our land, but are we the ones that will liberate Palestine? No, we’re not. At least not without the unity of the West Bank and Gaza.
I have not given them [Israeli government] an obvious reason to arrest me. There is a thin line between me living my life and me being in jail for five or seven years. It’s a very thin line. You need to be smart enough to know what to write on social media: what to write and how to express yourself without crossing that line.
For example, there was my experience at the checkpoint in Hebron. When the soldier asked the man, what it was, I said, “Can’t you smell it?” The soldier looked at me with the eyes of a mad dog. He waited for me to say just one more thing in order to make a scene. I’m telling you, I wanted to yell at the soldier, but I know that it would’ve ended badly.
I wasn’t scared from his facial expressions, because by now I know “my limits”. When you’ve been politically active for a while, you just know; you learn your limits.
Today I think I’m strong and confident enough to know how to face certain situations and how to deal with some social and political difficulties as a woman. It's courage one gathers from experience.
I’m not fearless, definitely not. I still have a huge fear in my heart, but I definitely fear less than before. I’ve learned how to fight back.