HER STORY #30 - DIANA

Bethlehem and Kuwait

I'm from Bethlehem, but during the first 4-5 years of my childhood I lived in Kuwait. My father is also from Bethlehem, and he met my mother here. 

Then they went to Kuwait. My mother was pregnant with me there, but she came back to Bethlehem to give birth to me, and when she was 40 years old, she took me back to Kuwait. My sister was also born in Bethlehem. We are six children, four girls and two boys. The other two sisters and my brothers were all born in Kuwait. 

We came back in the 70s to retrieve our Palestinian nationality. Most of the people who lived here at the time didn't have the local Palestinian nationality, but my grandfather prepared the papers for my father to bring him back from Kuwait. These are called "reunion papers." At the time, it was hard to get these papers, but my grandfather was able to succeed. 

Independence

I have been independent since childhood. 

I used to make and sell wooden and mother-of-pearl rosaries. 

I studied by myself, and every year in school I was the first in my class, even when I worked in the summertime. I was also the valedictorian in high school. 

I received a scholarship to go to university, which meant that I only had to pay for the first semester of the first year. However, I didn't even have the money for the application fee. It wasn't so easy to attend university at the time and I had to borrow the money for the application. I had to work during my spare time in order to pay for my books and other expenses during my studies. 

I didn't receive any allowance from my parents during my time at university, and I worked during the summer and also in the afternoons. When I finished work I went to another job until midnight, so I studied and worked till midnight with two part-time jobs in order to have enough money for myself. 

Because of the scholarship I was able to continue, since I only had to pay for books and transportation. And when I graduated I had the chance to work at Cairo Amman Bank in a minor position. I worked hard, which enabled me to challenge the situation of being a lady. It's so difficult to achieve a higher position, especially when the patriarchal man controls the high-rank positions. But with all of my efforts, I was able to get a good position. 

Today I know six languages: Arabic, English, French, Italian, Spanish, and Hebrew, and I have taken two courses in German. Every language needs practice. 

I also have a license to be a Palestinian arbitrator. I'm a general member of the Palestinian Arbitration Association. If there is a dispute between two sides, the court can transfer the case to arbitrators, and I solve the problems with the least amount of losses. I got the license from the Ministry of Justice in Ramallah. 

I live with my parents, and I take care of them and do most of the chores. I repair things around the house, I take care of the garden, and each year I do any maintenance that is needed. I spend all of my money on this house and the shelter. 

From Managing A Bank To A Dog Shelter

I have worked within the field of banking for more than 23 years. My most recent job was as a manager of Jordan Commercial Bank. Before that I was acting manager at Al Quds in Beit Jala, and before that I was an observer CEO at Cairo Amman Bank. 

I started out as a minor clerk, and I thought that I should educate myself more within this field so that I could work in other departments at the bank and learn as much as possible to go to other branchesto be more efficient. I enrolled in a Master's degree in International Cooperation and Development at Bethlehem University. I wrote my thesis around the time I began working at Jordan Commercial Bank. This happened step by step, from being an unimportant employee, to having a high degree, to receiving an "A" signature to sign bank documents. 

But last year I had to quit my position at Jordan Commercial Bank, because it was in Ramallah and I couldn't continue working long hours from early in the morning till late at night. 

At the same time, I had established a small tutoring center that gives courses to all types of students, for all stages till high school who were seeking education that could help them improve their skills within a specific field.

During my work at the bank I had the idea of establishing a shelter for stray dogs and saving animals. I prepared all the necessary papers to get the license from the Ministry of Interior and to be formally registered as an NGO. In 2013, we formed the main board, board members, and main members of the association, and then we started to increase the number of dogs we could take in. 

Diana petting some of the dogs of the Bethlehem Animal Shelter and Administration Unit (BASAU)

Diana petting some of the dogs of the Bethlehem Animal Shelter and Administration Unit (BASAU)

Waited For Me On The Roof

Since childhood I've loved animals. 

My family lives in the same area as we did when we returned from Kuwait, but in a different neighborhood. I used to rescue many cats because we didn't have dogs at that time. 

Then we moved to the place where we are now, and I got a dog. He used to accompany me to work and would then go back home. When I came home from work, he could sense it and he would be waiting for me on the roof. 

The idea of the shelter grew because of how the municipalities increased the poisoning procedure of killing dogs, and because the use of poison was also endangering other animals, such as cats and birds, who ate the leftovers of the poisoned food. 

The dead body of an animal creates a smell, the fleas spread, and the pollution from the body of the animal can move to plants, and to anything that we eat. It also causes pollution to food, and can be contagious. 

Shelter

My passion for helping tortured animals made me start the idea, which is the first of its kind in Palestinea shelter to protect animals. 

I started contacting the municipalities to find another way to solve the problem of the increasing number of stray dogs and cats rather than poisoning them. The municipalities say that they receive complaints from local citizens about dogs every day. People worry about what the dogs can do to their children. It can create harm, as they can also bring diseases, and this might additionally cause danger to other kinds of animals. 

So when we became a registered association, we also started organizing workshops for all municipalities in Bethlehem. 

I went to various mayors, and I wrote to the Ministry in Ramallah and to Mahmoud Abbas. I wrote to Salam Fayyad, who is the founder of "Palestine Tomorrow for Social Development." But none of them helped. The last letter that I sent was to Rami Al Hamdallah, the Minister, who then forwarded the letter to the Minister of Agriculture. I spoke to the Secretary of the Minister of Agriculture and she said that they would read the letter and get back to me, but up until now I still haven't heard from them. 

Last week we had a joint meeting between us an the Beit Jala Municipality. I went there to talk about the association: its beginning, its progress, and the problems that we face. We have found some support from the people there. 

Next week we are organizing something for the Beit Sahour Municipality, where we will talk to them about the shelter and its importance. A month and a half ago, we received a letter from them saying that they wanted us to evacuate the shelter. The mayor supports us, but the local people, or some of them, don't realize the importance of such a project. They don't realize that it's for the sake of their children. 

We also started contacting universities, such as Birzeit University, Bethlehem University, and Hebron University. We did a workshop at Bethlehem University a month ago. A workshop at Hebron University will be arranged next semester. 

Lack

I spend most of my savings on the shelter, because we don't have regular funding. 

We have a lot of cases of people who contact us about neglected, tortured, and sick animals, including small puppies. We lack animal equipment, so many of the cases cost a lot of money, since we have to take many of the animals to hospitals in Jerusalem. 

We sent our proposals to different institutions abroad. Some of them refuse because they only help local organizations. We hope to find regular donors so that we will be able to save more cats and dogs from the streets. 

The association depends on individual supporters and help from foreign friends that I know, because we don't have a specific donor. We have been able to collect some local donations from people here that helped build the shelter. Some people have donated money, while others have donated building material, and others have come and helped with work. 

Now the shelter has two employees, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. We have a lot of expenses, like medicine, operations, food etc. Operations cost a lot, as they are done in Jerusalem hospitals. Then there are employee wages and running costs (electricity, water, internet, computers, cleaning materials, food). 

Israeli Hospitals

I know a lot of Arabs in Jerusalem that help me, but sometimes I have to bring animals to Israeli hospitals, because we lack medical equipment. 

The safety of animals is beyond the political conflict. There are a lot of people from different parts of Jerusalem who have helped me in mediating animals because they have their own clinics. They cooperate and help, and they don't care that I am Palestiniantheir concern is saving the lives of animals, fully aware that we are the only rescue shelter, and that I save animals from the streets. They know that and appreciate me for what I do. In addition, some hospitals give discounts to our association, like Beit Dagan [Veterinary] Hospital in Rishon LeZion. 

Sometimes I get advice from Arabs in Jerusalem and from Israeli veterinarians in Jerusalem.

I can't enter Jerusalem with my car, as it has a Palestinian number plate, so I go with drivers who have yellow plates, such as Arabs in Jerusalem or with European friends with "cc" [number plates for consular corps]. In particular, there are Arab friends from Jerusalem who help give us rides to different clinics (Aya Yassin, Athar Abu Surayya, Rana Badarneh and Amjad Karmi). Sometimes I send the dogs with drivers when I don't have a permit to enter Jerusalem. 

A few days ago we took four dogs to be neutered and spayed, and receive microchips. If the dogs get lost, it's possible to find them via microchips. 

We try to find a way for people in Jerusalem to adopt some of our dogs. A year ago, we sent some of our dogs to Herzliya for an open adoption day. I went there with an American volunteer and with the cooperation of a friend from Jaffa, Francesca Hamati. Two of the dogs were adopted by Israelis. Each dog has to have all of their shots, because people need to be sure that the dogs don't have rabies, and know that the dogs are neutered and have microchips. 

I often go through Checkpoint 300 [Checkpoint 300 in Bethlehem]. Once I went through with a dog that had a stomach infection. One of the soldiers was a lady, and when she saw that the dog needed medication, she had me go through the checkpoint quickly. I always need to have a permit, because the drivers with Israeli plates on the other side of the checkpoint won't let me throughand they will be blamed if I don't have a permit. 

If you have a magnetic card, you don't need to show a permit. Magnetic cards let them read everything about you. 

Every time I go there I meet new people in the clinics. I meet people at the hospital in Beit Dagan. But our connection is only centered on the issue of animals. It's not a friendship, although I keep a good relation, since they have accepted to help me, so I put aside all the differences and sometimes I ask for their assistance in moving the dogs. 

Once, a dog was hit by a car, and he was in terrible shapehe was about to die. He had been thrown in the garbage, under the sun for the whole day. People came looking for me at the shelter to tell me about the dog, but they did nothing to help him - he was thirsty and in pain. When I went with two young men from Beit Sahour to find the dog, I put a wooden board under him, as his leg was broken. He also had several fractures in his spine, and I think there were two broken bones. One of my friends came with his car, and I went with him to the hospital in Beit Dagan. He gathered money through online donations. The dog needed a lot of money, because he had to go through certain operations, and Beit Dagan Hospital is the most expensive hospital. 

They fixed the fractures and did an operation on his spine. A video was put online showing all the stages of the dog's operation to his recovery, including pictures of the operation room. Everything was gathered on Kickstarter. 25,000 shekels were collected for that dog, Timmy, which mostly came from Israelis. 

Now Timmy is out of the hospital, and he's going under physiotherapy in a special center in Tel Aviv. The same Israeli man is gathering more money for Timmy. 

You find cooperation in these cases to a certain extent in matters that have to do with animals, also via Arabs in Jerusalem and Jaffa. Medicine and food is collected for us from both local Arabs and Jews. They consider the work that we do for the sake of the animals. They put conflict aside, and they think for the sake of the animals. 

Violence

After the summer we are going to do workshops for students. 

Because of the conflict, many students become aggressive. They fight and throw stones; they hurt each other. They have to learn how to be more humane and more passionate, to let love and passion come out of them and to learnt to want to help people and animals. This will serve both sides - people and animals. 

Kids become violent, but kids have to live their own lives. They shouldn't do things that are too "adult." They are children. We have to teach them how to deal with humans and with animals, how to give love. If you become more human with animals, you will learn how to be more humane with other humans. You won't think about the bad things. You will think about the good sides and do what is good for the sake of the community. 

Success

I have reached a stage where I have found out that we have succeeded in rescuing a lot of dogs, and I can see the difference in how the dogs we have rescued once were, and how they have become. 

Many times I have thought about stopping and giving up. I am fed up of working alone, putting so much effort into it, paying a lot, and not finding people who are interested in helping us. It's a heavy burden and a big responsibility. I have had to handle everything by myself, and sometimes I have thought of opening the dog cages and letting them free. But then I think of what will happen to them when they're not used to the streets. They are neutered, clean, and would have dismal futures if I were to let them go, and I can't tolerate the thought of them suffering again. 

Many times I have thought that I would continue, even if I'm by myself, for the same of the animals. Hopefully one day people will be convinced of the benefits for the animals, also for their children and their community. It will contribute to more safety in the streets. 

Dogs at Diana's Bethlehem Animal Shelter and Administration Unit (BASAU)

Dogs at Diana's Bethlehem Animal Shelter and Administration Unit (BASAU)

A lot of tourists come here, and they go out at night. But it's dangerous for them too if a sick animal attacks them. The work that we do creates safety, and it's good for the environment and for the animals. 

Some people say, "You're nuts. You're wasting your time, your strength, and health in doing such a thing." To those people, I say that they don't realize that this is very important, and if this person feels like doing something for the community and for the sake of the people living there, he should help the association. 

A lot of people are still against the idea, but I've seen many local people here who visit the association's Facebook page, and who are happy to have such an association. They say that at least this association takes care of the animals and doesn't kill them, and instead tries to solve the problem of the stray dogs in a more human way rather than poisoning and shooting them. 

And people in Israel, in Gaza, and from Europe support our work. Many people donate money, give food, and volunteer. When you see that people get involved with the work that you do, it gives you a push to continue. I get a lot of pain in my hands, back, and shoulders from feeding, cleaning and medicating the dogs. It's a big burden, but we've crossed a great distance up until this point.