|10-year old boy in Bil'in, Palestine|
I dare you to look into the eyes of a mother I met in Bil’in and not feel something shift deep inside your core. Her name is Suhaer Khateib, a Palestinian woman whose indescribable raw wisdom, honesty, and intensity were beyond all languages, beyond all words. Although we did not speak the same language, it was the pain and courage in her eyes that rocked every moral fiber in my being as she told me her story.
Suhaer grew up in the village of Bil’in, a Palestinian farming village that is on the front lines of resisting the occupation through non-violent resistance. Bil’in sits amongst the mountains and the olive trees that have supported the families there for hundreds of years. The occupation is visible in every corner of the village. The remains of burnt olive trees cover the surrounding hills while the wall, the same wall that snakes through Israel and Palestine, separating farmers from their land, children from their schools, Palestinians from their roads…and Muslims from Jews, slices through the village’s land.
As Suhaer answered my questions and told me her story it was impossible to not absorb the demoralizing starkness of my surroundings. An old door supported by two slabs of concrete served as a bench, the stench of waste and urine stung my nose with every inhale, and the precious water that was graciously served sat nearby, stored in old plastic soda bottles. All around me signs of palpable destruction lie in juxtaposition to the sweet, innocent music of children’s laughter. The children giggled with delight with the few small toys we brought as gifts. At one point I found myself horrified by the sight of these beautiful children using empty tear gas canisters as toys, playing a game on the ground amidst broken shards of glass and bullet shells.
I was sitting amongst mothers, amongst fellow women, amongst friends. Suhaer sat across from me, wearing a long sleeved blouse and jeans, her hair covered with the traditional hijab. Her three-year old son colored in the coloring books we had brought by her side. Suhaer’s intense gaze never left mine as she described attending Bizet University earning her degree in Arabic. She met her husband at University and slightly grinned as she teased “he was the one that fell in love with me.” They married and returned to Bil’in only to face poverty, unemployment, and homelessness due to the occupation.
I asked Suhaer how she felt towards the people, who have stolen her family’s land, traumatized and kidnapped her children in nightly interrogation raids, and have occupied every aspect of her life. She looked at me, her eyes screaming with resilience as a single tear rolled down her cheek and said without an ounce of anger in her voice, “I used to be a different person. You used to be able to hear my laughter from the streets. But now, the reality is the wall is here. We live here and so do they. We must learn to respect each other.”