I haven’t been able to stop thinking about a YouTube video I watched over the weekend, “How to be a Palestinian Supermom.” It features the Palestinian mother Manal Tamimi, describing her determination to provide a loving home for her children in the face of unrelenting Israeli oppression.
Like most Palestinian mothers Manal never knows when her family’s life might be disrupted through night raids, tear gas shot into the home, unprovoked physical assaults, arrests, or even death from the gun of an Israeli soldier.
In spite of the dangers surrounding them, Manal is teaching her children not to be afraid. She takes them to their village’s (Nabi Saleh) weekly nonviolent protest, dating back to 2009, where they stand against Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank,
When criticized for “putting her children in danger,” Manal responds, “No matter what I do they will be in danger.”
In the clips of Manal interacting with her children she affectionately smiles and laughs, admitting to the interviewer: “I don’t want to transfer my fears to my children.” She confesses to being afraid before every protest: “Every Friday I expect the worst.”
Manal was arrested twice; more recently she was shot in the leg, curtailing her ability to participate in the Friday vigils. Now her resistance takes the form of cooking large meals over a makeshift two burner stove which she serves to protesters in her modest plant-filled home.
Elsewhere in the video neighboring Palestinian mothers are shown dwarfed by large, muscular Israeli soldiers who storm into their homes. These mothers fearlessly charge the soldiers, screaming over and over, “Get out of my house!” The young soldiers eventually back down perhaps shamed by women the same age as their own mothers.
In her interview Manal Tamimi tells the interviewer, “90 percent of Palestinian mothers experience having one of their children injured or arrested.” Many sink into depression when their children are sentenced to indeterminate jail terms.
Nor are mothers immune to arrest. Dalal Abu al-Hawa was arrested when her youngest son was just 10 months old.
She was charged with giving Hamas –affiliated prisoners cash inside Israeli detention centers. She denies the charge, claiming she was arrested to punish her family because of her husband’s connection to the resistance.
In jail Dalal was tortured, enduring long hours of cross-examination, sleeping under bright lights in a freezing cell with only a thin blanket. When released from jail, her permit making it possible to live with her family in Jerusalem was suddenly revoked. Now she lives alone in the West Bank facing lengthy checkpoints to visit her six children. Dalal’s youngest son who is now 22 months does not recognize his mother.
Adding to the injustices confronting Palestinian mothers, especially those who live in the Gaza Strip, are the obstacles for receiving medical treatment when they develop breast cancer, which is the biggest killer of Palestinian women in the occupied territories. Women with breast cancer are routinely denied travel permits to Israel to receive treatment.
Palestinian statistics from last year reveal that of the 548 women with breast cancer who applied for a travel permit, 287 were rejected for no reason and 125 were turned down for “security” reasons. These actions find Israel in “flagrant violation” of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which bans the punishment of individuals for crimes they did not commit personally.
In spite of all their suffering, there are beacons of hope for Palestinian mothers and their families as more and more international organizations mobilize in their support. One such organization is “The Never Stop Dreaming Children’s Centre” in Khan Younis, Gaza. It offers children a place to play, in a country where playgrounds are rare, along with services like a rental library.
Additionally there is The Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights dedicated to exposing Israel’s human rights violations in the West Bank, and predominantly Gaza.
A particularly interesting project is The Freedom Theater at Jenin Refugee Camp. Their play, The Siege will be performed in New York City next month. The Siege is based on the 2002 events in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where 200 nuns, priests, civilians and soldiers holed up for 39 days, seeking refuge from Israeli soldiers.
Clearly Palestinian mothers would benefit from more helping hands and caring organizations. Perhaps it’s time to resurrect last October’s “Women Wage Peace,” march where Israeli and Palestinian women marched together through Israel and the West Bank. Sister marches could be added across the globe. It’s a big order but peace is in short supply these days so why not start with a big dream?