I read with great sadness the comments you made about your lack of sympathy for Palestinian mothers.
Palestinian mothers live their lives in total misery, pain and fear for their children that are either hungry, in prison or may never return. They endure occupation, poverty, humiliation and the killing of their children and husbands, but they continue on. All of this pain is more bearable than the outright negation of their motherhood by comments like yours and those of our media.
You say it is “so easy to empathize with Israeli families” that are afraid to send their children to a grocery store or bowling alley. What about innocent Palestinian children who are starved, humiliated or killed under the only occupation remaining on earth? Aren’t children all worthy of love, happiness, and sympathy regardless of their religion or ethnic background?
How can you then say, “Can I empathize with a mother who sends her child out to kill herself and others? No.”? Were your eyes not filled with tears, and your heart filled with agony at the pictures and stories of Palestinian children buried alive under the rubble of their homes in Jenin and Nablus? Were you not as outraged as the rest of world at Israel’s success at defying the international community by blocking the inquiry into what Amnesty International called “clear evidence of war crimes”?
Why could 462 Israeli reservists, who are career Israeli soldiers, sympathize with the suffering of Palestinians, but you can’t? Did their courageous statement “We shall not continue to fight beyond the 1967 borders in order to dominate, expel, starve and humiliate an entire people” not compel you to think: What makes teenagers, who are supposed to be full of adolescent self absorption, shallow egos and worries about the next pimple appearing before the prom, decide to kill themselves and others in such a painful and horrific way?
The answer, Mrs. Bush, is a ruthless 35-year-old occupation that continues to rob people of their dignity and denies them their basic human rights. The vast majority of Palestinian mothers – and I – do not by any means condone the killing of innocent people on either side. But to stop these desperate acts we must address the human rights and security of Palestinians and Israelis.
We must condemn suicide bombings and other unacceptable methods of resisting occupation. We must also condemn the inhumane occupation; the disproportionate force being used to enforce this illegitimate occupation in violation of tens of UN resolutions; and the carrying out of collective punishment and summary reprisals against those who object to being occupied and try and fight back with the paltry, impoverished means available to them.
I cry for the suicide bombers and for their innocent victims, for they are both victims of the occupation that takes a horrible toll on Palestinians and Israelis alike.
You were a teacher, so you probably know that there are millions of Palestinian mothers in this world, but there are at most hundreds of actual or would-be suicide bombers. I am sure that, in your days as an educator, you taught children that stereotyping and collective characterization of an entire people as being faceless statistics is a very dangerous thing that leads to horrific acts like the Nazi Holocaust. Mrs. Bush, you too handed out the collective punishment of marginalizing and dehumanizing all Palestinian mothers for the actions of a few desperate people.
For Palestinian American mothers, it is especially painful when the First Mother of the United States of America dismisses our ability to be loving and nurturing mothers. I want to tell you about Palestinian mothers, for I speak from experience.
I am a Palestinian American mother, my mom was a Palestinian mother, and so was her mom and so on. I know first hand the amount of love and caring that Palestinian mothers try to give their children under the most extreme of circumstances.
My mother and several others in our town took all of the children to caves in the mountains during the 1967 war to protect us from potential massacres like Deir Yassin. My mother stayed up all night when one of us was sick. She cried when we were late from school for fear that soldiers had arrested us. She panicked when one got hurt playing outside. She stopped her social life completely when we had exams, she stayed up making tea and snacks as long as we were studying, and gave us hell when our grades were not up to her standards.
My mother dressed us in our best clothes to visit our Palestinian Christian friends to wish them a happy Easter or Christmas, carrying all kinds of gifts and goodies. Christian Palestinian mothers did the same during our holidays. Our Christian friends complained about their Palestinian Christian mothers not allowing them to eat ice cream cones in front of us during the month of Ramadan, because we were fasting.
My mother taught us by example the duty and honor of respecting and caring for our elders. She took excellent care of her immobile mother-in-law; our Palestinian grandmother. She fed and bathed her; she put arthritis cream on her aching body; she stayed up with my grandmother all night when she was too scared to sleep during the war.
My mother fell into a deep depression and her health spiraled downwards when her oldest daughter married an Arab American and moved far, far away to America. She swore she would never let me do the same, but then she willingly broke her own heart to allow me the opportunity of a good education in a safe environment. She was willing to cry over my departure every day until we reunited, to save me from going to a Palestinian university where soldiers attack on a regular basis whenever there was a student protest against the occupation.
My mother lived a horrible childhood, she and her family became refugees, fleeing their home in Jaffa in 1948. She went back with us some twenty years later as a tourist from the West Bank and knocked on the door of her old home asking if she could go in and take a quick look. The man that opened the door said no, but the Israeli mother said yes. Mom sobbed the whole time we were there, and so did we.
On the way out, as my little brother reached for a lemon from an old lemon tree, the man yelled at him. My mother shouted back “How dare you yell at him for picking a single lemon from a tree that was planted by his grandfather?” The Jewish mother seemed embarrassed by her husband’s actions. My mom signaled “thank you” with her red teary eyes and a nod of her head.
I did not understand at the time why the Israeli mother allowed Arab strangers in her home, nor why my mother was thanking her for allowing us into our grandfather’s house. I was not a mother then, which is why I did not understand. The lady did not speak Arabic and my mom did not speak Hebrew, they both spoke a Universal Motherly Language that goes straight from the heart, bypassing vocal cords and lips. Now I speak the Universal Motherly Language, so I understand!
My mother sounds great, doesn’t she? She certainly does not fit the profile of a mother raising her children to blow themselves up and kill other civilians. If she did, why bother with education or good grades? The truth is, she is very ordinary and typical of the vast majority of Palestinian mothers, who dedicate their entire lives to their children’s health, education and safety. If you ever get the chance to go and visit them in their homes you will have nothing but admiration and respect for their miraculous dedication and perseverance, much like mothers all over the world.
Nahed Alsous is a Palestinian mother and co-founder of Mothers for Peace-International, a coalition of mothers of different religions, ethnicities and national origins working for global peace and justice starting with the conflict in the Middle East. To subscribe to Mothers For Peace-International, please send a blank e-mail to: [email protected] . She lives in the United States.