On the 14th of May, the U.S. embassy in Israel moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, coinciding with the 70th anniversary of Israel’s Independence, known as Nakba (which translates to “disaster’ or “catastrophe” in English) to Palestinians. This monumental occasion brought back memories of time I had spent in Jerusalem — specifically, memories of a little girl I met there, someone I think about often, someone who will always hold a special place in my heart. Her life, her world, and her conditions feel even more relevant to me now as I embark on the journey of motherhood myself.
Last January, I had the privilege of spending 10 days in Jerusalem and the West Bank. During that trip, I visited Hebron, which marked one of the toughest experiences of my life. To be honest, I didn’t know much about the city or its tumultuous history before I went, so it was heartbreaking to learn more about it during my time at the contentious Ibrahimi Mosque. In 1994, 29 Muslim worshippers were shot dead and over 175 were injured by an American Jewish settler at that very site. Since then, the mosque has become heavily guarded. It’s located at the bottom of a slope on a fortified street with two Israeli Defense Force (IDF) checkpoints, where I witnessed Palestinians, young and old, being mistreated by Israeli soldiers. The IDF has also erected a bulletproof wall that divides the Muslim and Jewish sides, though neither is happy with the partition of such a holy site. The visit to the mosque left me emotionally conflicted, with many questions about the daily checkpoint crossings and the treatment of worshippers by the young IDF soldiers.
Afterward, I was welcomed into the home of the al-Husseini family, who had lost two children at the hands of IDF soldiers at the Ibrahimi mosque checkpoint. The mourning mother and father recounted to me the fatal day as I sat and listened in horror, not knowing what to do or say. During this visit, I met their youngest child, a girl about eight years old, named Amal. She and I became fast friends, and though I’m not really sure why, I felt honored by the connection. Amal sat next to me and smiled as we took selfies and played games — it’s funny how iPhones require no translation.
I am ashamed to admit that I had never thought about this eight-year-old’s — or any Palestinian child’s — reality before this day. While listening to the stories of the al-Husseini family, it hit me like a ton of bricks. When Amal and I bonded over Connect Four, she was a normal eight-year-old without a care in the world. But when her parents and older brother began describing what had happened to her two oldest siblings, describing how they died, she changed completely. She started to shake. She was emotionally shutting down, and her beautiful smile was slowly turning to an empty gaze. It was at this moment that I realized that she has no one looking out for her mental health.
“Amal” means “hope” in Arabic. I’m sad to say that I don’t have much hope for her future, or that of the more than two million children living in the occupied territories who make up over 40 percent of the Palestinian population. Yes, 40 percent. Most people talk about Israel and Palestine in ways that obscure the human stories, but the people are the ones who suffer, lose loved ones, and are left traumatized for life. Imagine being under the age of 18 and having war consume all that you know. Who is looking after your emotional well-being? Who is making sure that you receive a proper education? Who is keeping you, your desires, and your dreams safe?
War has consequences. The day after my visit to Hebron, my Israeli hosts listened to me vent for hours. Then, after taking a break, I sat down again and listened to them vent. One of my hosts said, “I’ve been to more funerals for my kids’ friends than I have for my friends.” In that moment, I understood the pain. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to experience that as a parent.
May 14th, 2018, will have consequences for future generations, just as May 15th, 1948, continues to impact those living in Israel and Palestine today. It is my hope that we can begin to see the conflict through the eyes of those who are suffering on both sides, rather than with fear and in absolutes. How else will Amal’s beautiful soul survive? As a new mother who is head over heels in love with her son, I wrestle with immense guilt over all of the children that have been forgotten. All they have ever known is war.