Our Jewish Israeli Writer in Ramallah Is Ready to Reveal Who She Is

Lawyer and human rights activist Sari Bashi explains why she wrote under the pen name ‘Umm Forat,’ and why she’s done hiding behind it ■ Post #32

Umm Forat
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Lawyer Sari Bashi, also known as Umm Forat
Lawyer Sari Bashi, also known as Umm ForatCredit: Clara Podhany
Umm Forat

I'm an Israeli-American lawyer, Jewish, married to a Palestinian resident of Ramallah, and author of the book, “Maqluba – Upside-Down Love” (Hebrew), which describes how we met and fell in love. This blog is about raising our two children, 7-year-old Forat and 3-year-old Adam, in the West Bank and more recently in the U.S., where we’re spending a sabbatical year. We are trying to lead ordinary lives in an extraordinary and unforgiving reality, one that I will share with you. I have changed people’s names to protect their privacy. "Umm Forat" means "Mother of Forat" in Arabic. I invite you to visit my website: www.ummforat.com.

I began publishing this column in December 2019, seven years after I moved to the Ramallah area to live with my partner. As a Jewish woman married to a Palestinian, I live in two worlds, and I wanted to write about life on the other side of the separation barrier, from the point of view of a mixed family.

I wrote about how people in Ramallah respond when they hear me speaking Hebrew in the supermarket, at a child’s birthday party and also at home, when I lose patience and yell at my kids. I wrote about encounters with Israeli soldiers on morning runs with my toddler in the stroller, while trying to cross a flying checkpoint in order to get home and as part of my partner’s efforts to travel abroad and then come home. I wrote about our attempts to raise our children to oppose restrictive social norms such as disapproval of women wearing bathing suits or boys who like dresses. I also wrote about the closure of the Gaza Strip, where my in-laws live, which makes visiting a family member or getting to a hospital nearly impossible.

I chose the pen name “Umm Forat,” meaning “Forat’s mother,” to maintain privacy. I had professional and security reasons to remain anonymous but also personal and family reasons: I try to write about my personal life directly and honestly, and the pen name provided a measure of protection. More importantly, the pen name protected my family, who didn’t ask for me to write about them in a newspaper.

Despite all that, I have now published a book, “Maqluba - Upside-Down Love” (Hebrew, Asia Publishing), under my own name: Sari Bashi.

So … it’s nice to meet you. I’m a 45-year-old lawyer, human rights activist and runner, raising two wonderful children, Forat, 7, and Adam, 3, in the Ramallah area.

The cover of “Maqluba - Upside-Down Love”Credit: Design: Nadav Shalev / Asia Press

I began writing “Maqluba,” which means “upside-down” in Arabic, 11 years ago. I wrote it out of a sense of wonder at the world my relationship with Osama exposed me to. I wrote it during difficult periods, when Osama and I struggled with external pressures – military prohibitions, travel restrictions and also the overwhelming, unwanted but also unavoidable difference in the power dynamic between us, because I belong to the occupying society, and Osama belongs to the occupied society. Sometimes I wrote in order to overcome the interpersonal, ordinary challenges that we, like every couple, experienced. There were times when I wrote the book to heal after a break-up with Osama or in order to find my way back to him.

The book is written in two voices, Osama’s and mine. It describes our attempts to allow Osama to remain in his house in Ramallah, despite opposition from the Israeli military authorities, and also the journey our connection took, from a lawyer-client relationship to a love relationship. We couldn’t find room for our love in Israel or in Palestine, so we built a space within the non-space, where the two of us could meet as human beings, as a woman and a man, as Sari and Osama.

It’s easier for me to reveal my identity now, while we are on a sabbatical year in the United States, far from a place where the fact that I’m Israeli and Osama is Palestinian dictates whether he’ll join the children and me for a visit to the sea or a family dinner. But I’m also grateful for the opportunity to continue this dialogue with Haaretz readers openly, without anonymity. Throughout the life of my column, I have felt gratitude to readers who responded, including those who politely and respectfully disagreed with what I wrote.

I’ll continue writing here under the pen name, but now without hiding behind it. Although the column is meant to be about raising our kids in Israel-Palestine, I’ll write occasionally from my current, temporary place of residence, in green and pretty Raleigh, North Carolina.

And I’ll continue to thank you for reading it.

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