The last time I visited Jerusalem, last August, I went with my husband to celebrate our eighth wedding anniversary. The city was beautiful, festive, thronged by tourists. Anyone who has visited Jerusalem knows how beautiful and distinctive its streets are. My husband and I wandered in the Old City’s market, full of people and the scent of coffee, cake and spices.
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The stores sold such beautiful traditional Palestinian clothes that I decided to buy something for my son/daughter, not yet born, not yet even conceived. Stopping in front of one of these stores I told my husband, "I want this." For whom? He asked. For our child, I would like him to wear this when we leave hospital. He smiled, he bought the clothing with tears in his eyes.
Two months later the violence started. Today the city has emptied; it has turned into a city of ghosts.
We had to wait in line to enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, otherwise known as the Church of the Resurrection, or in Arabic, Alqiamah. I remember I lit several candles, candles for ending violence, wars, deportation and murder. I didn`t realize then that this city and its inhabitants would need so many more, so soon.
A week ago was Easter Sunday. I couldn’t visit the Holy Sepulchre because the security situation was so tense. I was frightened that what I'd seen on social media would happen right in front of me.
Palestinians are losing hope
I'm a Palestinian citizen of the State of Israel. I speak and understand both Arabic and Hebrew. I follow both sides’ commentaries on events. I can understand how the two sides think. I feel obliged to use this special position, this bridge, to show empathy and criticism for both sides.
I have no interest in the State of Israel disappearing or in expelling the Jews. I am a Palestinian with many Jewish friends: we work with and respect each other.
But I have my hard moments. When I’m in a business meeting with Jewish colleagues in Tel Aviv, working together, joking around, then I hear about a security incident in Jerusalem, blood flowing in the streets. I try to stay quiet, to continue the meeting, but I run to the washroom crying, asking myself why this is happening.
I denounce all forms of murder. I myself lost two dear relatives from my village, killed by a Palestinian girl who blew herself up at the Maxim restaurant in Haifa in 2003. My pain was intensified by knowing I lost them through the actions of one of my own people.
Ordinary Palestinians are the victims of the complete absence of any political solution to the occupation; they are losing hope. We’re not saints who can shrug off suffering. But none of this justifies a single Palestinian stabbing, nor do the stabbings justify the execution of a Palestinian by an Israeli soldier in the streets of Hebron.
I don’t blame Israeli soldiers for following orders: that responsibility belongs to Israel’s prime minister. Prime Minister Netanyahu gives the orders. He’s the head of the government but we don’t see him working on a political solution. Why are Netanyahu’s solutions only ever military? Doesn’t he realize how much he’s devaluing people's lives, whether they're civilians or soldiers?
And Mahmoud Abbas: haven’t you lost your legitimacy in terms of your people? Why have you told us before that you can’t meet with Israel to find a political solution, when your people can meet with Israelis all the time to coordinate security?
Surely after all the blood that’s already been shed, it’s time for the leaders to meet – and not just to coordinate security, but to work toward a period of non-violence, a peaceful solution.
Burial with dignity
Don’t let the propaganda persuade you that Palestinian mothers want their sons to go out to die. They worry over and love their children like parents all over the world. We’re not a people of terrorism: we just want the simple right to live with dignity, a right we don’t have now.
We’re also asking for the right to be buried in dignity. The withholding of Palestinian bodies from their families by the Israeli authorities is an open wound for many Palestinians, one that fuels more violence and death. Israel is currently holding 15 corpses, defying the state’s basic laws and humanitarian principles. Parents of the dead have approached Israel's Supreme Court: a hearing is scheduled for two weeks' time.
This is what it’s like, in the words of a Palestinian whose relative’s corpse hasn’t been returned for burial.
"We've been waiting for five months [for the return of the corpse]. We feel we're in a continuous bereavement, as if our son died just now, not even an hour or two ago. We who haven't seen our sons' bodies – we think of them as still alive. Every day we visit the open graves that we hope to bury our sons in, that the warmth of the soil will melt their frozen bodies.
"The families live in waiting for a call from the security services that could come anytime, day or night. Sometimes the number of mourners are limited to 11 , not enough even for close relatives.
"When the corpse is finally delivered to the family, it’s been held in a morgue at a temperature of 70 degrees below zero. It’s frozen: no part of the body can be moved, it can’t be bathed or shrouded [as Muslim tradition dictates]. When we carry them to the grave and put them in, we must be careful no parts snap off.
"Who knew a dead body can be broken.”
Death is no answer
It’s hard for me to watch the daily bloodshed in Jerusalem, amplified and circulated by social media. The situation there is even harder than a war, because of the inversion of what it should be: at city of peace and prayer for all.
The Palestinian national poet Mahmoud Darwish wrote that Palestinians are sick of being hopeful. Many of us have lost hope. But he also wrote that we “love life with all our senses.” Life and not death.
Rita Khoury is a graduate of the Technion and an information systems engineer working in hi-tech. Follow her on Twitter: @RitaHKh.