As I arrived at the tent, I felt that there was something strange going on. I asked a friend what had happened earlier. She answered while pointing, “That woman, Najiyya, just fainted when she learned that her husband is not included in the swap deal.” I kept sympathetically following her with my eyes wherever she went. She lifted my spirits up as she walked toward me and sat in an empty chair next to me. She smiled at me, despite her sorrow. I wish she knew how much people like her give me indescribable spiritual power with their incredible strength and steadfastness. Seeing her smile again, while knowing that she was broken inside, brought life to me. I couldn’t help but smile back with a look of admiration and appreciation.
“I waited long enough for him to come back to me; 19 years of forced separation between us. I’ve always fantasized about our unborn child, as the imprisonment of my husband after less than one year of our marriage prevented me from ever having one.” She said after I asked her whether she feels better. “They broke into our house in October of 1993 and kidnapped him very late at night from inside our home in an excessively violent way.” She continued while tears are struggling to fall from her eyes. She looked in a different direction and fell in silence trying to hide that feminine character inside her.
I learned that her husband was sentenced for 99 years inside the Israeli prisons. I was amazed at her ability to stay strong and optimistic for a day that would come when she would be united with her husband in a warm house full of love and harmony and bring up their first child. My sympathy got even deeper for her as I knew that she was very close to deliver a child. She was 2-months pregnant when the Israeli army attacked her house and turned everything upside down and kidnapped her husband. Her experience was too much to tolerate. The Israeli army didn’t only take her husband away but also killed the fetus who was growing inside her. If she didn’t go through all these horrific circumstances, maybe this fetus would have turned to be 18 year-old man by now and take care of her while she is bravely fighting her harsh destiny.
My affection for her has been increasing as I knew more of her stories. She is on a hunger strike for the sixth day trying to share with her husband and other Palestinian Detainees their battle of empty stomachs. She has refused to break her fast despite of all the attempts which people did to persuade her to, especially after she fainted. However, she insisted on going on demonstrating: “Salama, my husband, suffers from more than merely hunger. Let me at least feel like I’m living some of his pains even though I know that I’m not even close!”
I suddenly realized that I ran out of time and it was the time to go back to my lecture at university. I had to go there only for the attendance check and be in the class only in body but I knew that my mind would stay with the prisoners and their families. I couldn’t wait till the lecture ended to return to the Red Cross.
I thought that I would go back and see the usual sight of people sitting in the tent chatting while songs for freedom for our detainees are playing. But that wasn’t the case. There was like an emergency; people were running inside the Red Cross; the alarm ambulance was very loud and its red light was flashing all around the place. My heart skipped a beat as I realized I had missed something during the hour I was at university. My fear of the unknown overcame me.
I was trying to pass through the crowd to discover that the same woman Najiyya lost consciousness again. She couldn’t bear the psychological conflict she had inside her: whether her husband is going to be released or not. At first, she heard that her spouse is included and then discovered that he was not. She was swinging between facts and illusions to realize later the fact that her husband will stay jailed inside the dark cells. I learned that she was walking around while talking to herself unconsciously and she suddenly stopped and looked at a big banner that includes the picture of her husband, and then fell down.
I know no matter how strong and how much of a fighter she is, she is a human at the end of the day. Besides, the fact that her husband is not going to be free is very hard for her to accept especially that she was lingering with hope which the swap deal brought her.
This is only an example of the Palestinian women who have no equivalent in any other part of the world. The Palestinian woman will be always an example of strength, faithfulness, challenge and steadfastness.
Shahd Abusalama lives in Gaza and blogs at Palestine From My Eyes.