Mohamed Khodr’s Column
My name is Lucia. I’m a Palestinian Christian, the mother of five children ranging in age from seventeen to five. We live in Bethlehem, the city of peace and the birth of the Prince of Peace in the occupied West Bank. My husband, Michael, was a good man, husband, and father. He worked hard as a carpenter to provide for his family. He used to love the story of Jesus being a carpenter who gave his life for the sins of humanity and who brought us all peace even at the most difficult times. Despite our troubles Jesus was always the “Holy” in the Holy Land for us. When shells and bullets would come from the Israeli soldiers Michael with Bible in hand would huddle us together and we would all pray. We would often hear them shooting and laughing and cursing all “gentiles” as unworthy of life.
Two years ago I lost my Michael when a Jewish settler shot him as he was driving to Jerusalem to visit his sick mother. Since then I’ve known nothing but work, hunger, sickness, and poverty. I’ve sold everything of any value to feed my children and provide them with food, clothing, medical care, and school supplies. I had no skills or training but I could clean houses so I became a maid cleaning the homes of my neighbors who were also struggling but still helped me with money and at times with clothes and food. My work was hard and long and took me away from my children whom I missed very much and worried about. Yet I remembered how Michael would say no matter what Christ is with us and he’ll take care of us. I was grateful my younger sister dropped out of school to help me with the children. God bless her.
I lost weight and grew more tired each day. Two of my young children had chronic coughs and wheezing often keeping me up all night. It was a difficult existence for me but I was comforted by my good hearted Muslim neighbors who helped me clean the house, do the washing, and often cooked for us. The Priest of the Nativity Church would often pass by us when I didn’t have the strength to go to church. One night while I was working I heard some shooting and then a loud explosion. My heart stopped and I choked on my own tongue. God, please, don’t let it be my children, don’t let it be my children. I don’t know how I ran or what was happening around me but I somehow found the strength to reach the house. Oh, Jesus, God almighty, part of the house was on fire and people were rushing to put the fire out. I just screamed my children’s names over and over again. I then felt an arm around me saying they’re all fine, just shocked, and that my bedroom was hit. I fainted to the ground. I awakened with all my children around me crying and hugging me. All I could do is pray to God and slept with all of them around me. The next morning we all moved to live in the one room left.
The eldest boy, John, 17, was coming home late at night for the past month and I became worried about him, fearing he would be shot or arrested. When I asked where and what was he doing he would only say he was studying with some of his friends. Over time he became more angry, serious, and would often read the Bible late into the night. I could see his rage growing every day as he passed the Israeli checkpoints and be subjected to questions, searches, and pushes and shoves. He stopped going to school and I didn’t know what to do. The Priest finally told me that I should send my son for some counseling. I told him I had no money and didn’t know where to go. He told me not to worry and he’ll pass by me tomorrow.
The next morning the Priest took me to a newly opened mental health clinic. It had the name “Holy Land Foundation” written on its front door. I met a nice young Palestinian woman. She interviewed me for two hours where I just broke down and told her all my problems and worries. She was gentle and comforted me and told me I won’t be alone anymore to face the world and that they’ll help me as they’ve helped thousands of families just like me across the occupied territories. She left to the next room and came back with a big box of food and clothes. Their driver carried the box and drove me and the Priest home. When I got home the children were so happy to see the food and clothes they thought I came back with Santa Clause. Later, I told John that he had to come with me the next day to help me with more things because the Priest is busy.
John and I went the next day to the clinic. While I sat with the young Palestinian woman John went in the other room with a doctor. The woman explained to me that our family has been enrolled into the Holy Land Foundation recipient list and that means we’ll be getting regular food supplies, clothes, school supplies at the beginning of each school year, as well as medical, dental, and mental health care, especially for John. I couldn’t believe it. Michael was right, Jesus is looking after us. I asked her where is all the money coming from. She said that the “Holy Land Foundation” is a charity organization in America that receives donations from American Christians, Jews and Muslims. Those donations then are sent to the Occupied Territories and to Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria. She said many donors often sponsor entire families or orphans and that she would register us as a family in need of sponsorship. She told me how the American government has been so helpful to them but that more importantly that the American people are generous. It stunned me that Americans are helping Israel occupy us and shell us while sending food and money to help us. But, I was finally happy to get some help and some hope. I’ll no longer be alone raising my children.
Two hours later, John, came out with the doctor with tears filling his face. He just simply hugged me and told me he’s sorry he’s not been more of a help to me. The doctor said that John should come to see him everyday for a month. I was also told to bring my two children with the coughs tomorrow to see the baby doctor. As we walked home John and I just held hands with tears in our eyes and smiles on our faces. I let out a “Thank you, Jesus.”
That night I couldn’t sleep. I prayed all night giving thanks to Jesus and God. I also thanked the “Holy Land Foundation” and the many generous Americans who send their charity and good wishes to help us. We’ve suffered in silence for so long without the world even knowing about us that it felt good to have some hope that at least my children will be taken care of thanks to the good hearted generous Americans so far away. For the first time I slept with ease holding Michael’s Bible in my hand.
The next morning I woke up early and fed the children. I heard the Call to Morning Prayer from the Mosque and knew my Muslim neighbors were beginning their fast. My Muslim neighbors have all given me their obligatory Zakat or Charity for the holy month of Ramadan for which I’m so grateful as I’m sure they’ve done in America.
I then took John by the hand to go to the “Holy Land Foundation”. I knew they could help my son and me. They were such good people.
OH, MY GOD!!! my son screamed in disbelief. He read me what a large sign hanging on the door of the clinic said. It said the clinic was closing by order of President George W. Bush who froze the Foundation’s money during the holy month of Ramadan and closed the operation of the charity. I cried and yelled, “Why God is this happening to me, to us, to my children. Why is it that all we ever know is suffering.” I felt someone punched me in my stomach and took my life, breath, and hope away. I fell crying hysterically. The young woman from the foundation came to me and gave me all the money in her pocket and said, “I’m so sorry. Please have faith in Allah (SWT) for He loves those who persevere and have patience.” I looked at her and she knew my question. She finally said: “Sharon just visited Bush and two days later Bush closed us down. For years Jewish American organizations and the American media as well as a Senator you don’t know by the name of Charles Schumer, he’s a Jew from New York, have been after us for years saying we’re supporting terrorism. They finally have a President who listened.”
As we sat talking for hours, I realized John was gone. I called for him. A few minutes later I heard a far away explosion and suddenly I became frightened and dazed. No, it can’t be. It can’t be him. Oh, God don’t let it be him. Suddenly, I saw the Priest walking toward me with tears in his eyes. I let out one large scream. WHY, MY JESUS, WHY????