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Saturday, October 21, 2000

Dear Diary:

I feel a change in me today. I look at everyone around me and each person holds a special beauty in my eyes.....I pay close attention to people in a way I've never done before....their eyes, their hair, their clothes, the way they cross their legs when they sit, their shoes, the color of their socks.....details I never cared for before, but details that now seem so significant and oh, so very valuable.

My neighbors Um Ra'ed, Ibrahim and Firas come over. I ask them to drop by so I can show them the latest graphic photos of martyrs I received via e-mail. They're dumbfounded by the sight of the ripped open heads and arms.....the torn flesh...the visible bones.....the bright, bright red blood. Ibrahim moves away and sits at the end of the room. I, on the other hand, have looked at these pictures several times today.....obsessed with the extent of Israel's brutality.....not wanting or wishing to forget it or let it slip my mind, not even for a fleeting moment.

Perhaps opening that particular graphic e-mail at 4:30 a.m. this morning was a mistake. Maybe it screwed up my mind...!!!

But hey, wait a minute mind doesn't feel screwed up. In fact, it was after watching the graphic photos that everyone suddenly appeared so beautiful before my eyes.....They're killing beautiful people for God's sake.....and any day now, any day now, it could be someone I love, someone I know, someone I ran into, someone I shared a bus ride with....a human being who didn't deserve to die......didn't deserve to have his life cut so short, so soon after finding a bride, or becoming a father, or graduating from school, or getting that one great promotion, or furnishing that new house.....

No one in the room speaks as I flip through the photos. They watch in silence, disgust and pain...

Afterwards, as we sit to watch the news and drink Nescafe, I pay close attention to Firas's facial expressions and his hand gestures as he speaks....and I think, ever so quietly, and without anyone hearing me think, that I should memorize how he looks. Then I glance over at Ibrahim and think the same.....and then I turn my eyes to Um Ra'ed. God! the cloth of her embroidered dress seems especially bright today....did she just wash it? What sort of detergent did she use? Or has it always been so bright and I just didn't notice before.....!!! I wonder.

I wonder if these people that I care about will still be here in the next days and weeks. I wonder if I will be here too. I don't understand why I'm not afraid. I feel such a variation of emotions in the span of a single day...but not fear. Why God!!!! Why aren't I afraid?

Is it because for three weeks now we have been so saturated with the sight of death that it doesn't frighten us anymore? I don't think that's the reason. So what is it then?

Oooooh! it is the people around you, stupid Muna!!! It is the children, the women, the is all these beautiful people around....all these beautiful human beings who need to eat each day, and sleep, and use the toilet, and earn a living, and bathe, and go shopping.....and do everything that distinguishes them from the dead.......from the dead, you stupid, silly, goofy woman......

It is all these beautiful, unprotected people around you that you cannot help....that you cannot protect.........that you can only love, and laugh with, and share pain with......and enjoy being alive with. For tomorrow may or may not be another day.

Marianna runs over to me, jumps in my arms, and starts squeezing my cheeks with her small fingers. Who is my love? she asks me as she rubs my nose with hers. Your grandma Um Ra'ed, I tease. She closes her eyes, throws her head back, broadens her face with a big smile, then throws her arms around my neck, kisses me on the lips and says: No, no, no.....I am your love. I hold her tight and feel a surge of strength move from her body to mine...the strength of undemanding, unselfish, unobtrusive, un-hurtful love. Oh Marianna.....oh my sweet, darling little Marianna.

Yesterday I couldn't write, didn't have time to write. It being Friday, I made myself turn off the computer at 10:00 a.m.....I so needed to spend my day differently than I had spent it these past three weeks. Watering the plants and feeding the birds was my second plan of action. My first was turning off the radio and listening to the news for me today. What could happen anyway?

But the phone keeps ringing...friends who want to talk, and foreign journalists who need help with one thing or another. I make an appointment for 2 p.m. to go with an American journalist to Beit Jala to interview someone from Tanzim Fateh. Until that time, I occupy myself by doing nothing.....nothing at all. And all the while, I feel so proud that I managed to not listen to the news.....Oh! so proud.

By 4:30 p.m., I'm done with the American journalist. I say goodbye at the Beit Jala-Bethlehem intersection and decide to walk the several blocks to Maher and Marina's house. Maher is my husband's cousin and Marina his Russian wife......both very close friends of mine. The sky is black and rain appears to be on the way.....maybe if it comes, it'll wash away Israel's aggression with it.

As I walk, I realize just how deserted the streets are....deserted in a very gloomy kind of way. Bethlehem has been in mourning following the death of two Palestinians in the explosion at the Force 17 headquarters in Bethlehem on October 19. No shops are open, no people are around, and a lone car every now and then drives past me.....the area feels eerily empty....and then the light drizzle starts touching my face. I never realized what a soothing effect drizzle could actually have on my eyelashes, my lips, my cheeks, and my neck......I never noticed these tiny little drops of life...

As I walk through the door, Marina asks me if I've heard the news....and I tell her, ever so proudly that I hadn't listened to the news all day. "But there are six martyrs already today," she gasps.

For the next three hours, a heavy headache overtakes me. I sit on the couch quietly, watching the news, chain smoking, drinking coffee, and listening to, but not participating in the conversation around the room. Hind, Maher's cousin, can't stop talking about the 1st and 2nd graders she teaches at school. They're too terrified to walk home from school and don't want to carry their school bags on their backs. They think the soldiers will shoot them like they shot 12 year-old Muayad Jawarish the other day. One of the kids in my class saw him as he laid there on the pavement with his brain spilled out on the street......

My headache gets worse....and worse.....and worse. Tawfiq lifts his one and a half year old grand-daughter. Dalia is blond and very pretty. She wiggles in her grandpa's arms....he picks up a pretzel from the plate on the table and brings it close to her mouth. She giggles, grabs the pretzel and bites on it. He hugs her and puts her down.......and they say Palestinians don't love their kids and that's why they send them off to throw stones and die!! how come all I see around me in the room is love, an ever so ordinary family sharing love? How come? Tell me you damn Israeli soldiers with your missiles, tanks and guns?

Events start developing rapidly in many parts of the West Bank and Gaza. Clashes everywhere and Apache choppers shelling Beit Sahour. We watch the bullets whizzing by in the sky and we watch the explosions live on Manger TV. Then we hear a real Israeli tank just fired a shell on Beit Jala.

At 7:30 p.m., shortly after the bombing, my husband, Maher, Marina and I get in the car and drive to Beit Sahour. Along the way, on the dark streets of Bethlehem, we see tens and tens of Palestinian policemen and security forces.....young men, so very young. Unable to sleep at their military headquarters for fear that they would get bombed, they seek shelter in vacant buildings, and doorways....those poor guys.

As we approach Beit Sahour, we see many cars parked along the sides of the roads and people standing there watching the clashes down the hill. I don't know why these scenic points in the States come to mind. Remember? These places you drive to, to get a wonderful view of a breath taking spot......that's what came to my mind. Except the scene here was different. We were watching a town, engulfed in darkness as Israeli Apache choppers fired away......and away.....and away. Nothing moved....there was no people running away. Mommies, daddies, babies, boys, girls and grannies sat in their homes and endured the shelling....

There is no other place to go.....and if you're lucky you're not hit, and if you're unlucky, you're hit.

As we drive from Beit Sahour, to Beit Jala and then back to Bethlehem, Marina moves closer to me in the back seat, puts her arm in mine, rests her head against mine and says in her broken Arabic: "Oh Muna.....we here today..but tomorrow maybe we not here....we die."

"So lets go home and eat," I say. "This way if we die, we will die on a full stomach."

Marina caresses my belly and smiles, "hungry, are you?"

"Famished," I reply. "So let's not die on an empty stomach."

"Maher and I should move to Moscow and you should take Ahmed and go to America," she tries to sound optimistic.

"But what will the people who can't go anywhere do Marina?" I ask her.

She shivers and moves closer. "Oh Muna! Are we going to die?"

"I don't know Marina. We might. Are you afraid?"

She shakes her head and looks out the window. I look out the other window. We both sigh.

Later at night when I get home, I drop in to check on Um Ra'ed.

"I don't think I have my wits about me anymore," she tells me.

"Why is that?" I ask.

"I used dishwashing liquid to fry eggs for my son tonight. I couldn't figure out why the oil was so foamy and wouldn't heat up.....can you believe it?" she laughs.

"Don't worry about it," I smile. "I go to the toilet and then five minutes later, I forget that I went already, go back in and don't remember what I'm there to do."

We are normal.......!!!! Dishwashing liquid makes the eggs taste better.....and if they're sunny side up, then oh yummy, the Palmolive brand makes them even sunnier.......with a more shiny yellow....the type of yellow that warms even the coldest of hearts....but not the dead ones.....not the ones that are already in the darkness under the ground....Oh no! not those....for down there, there are no colors, no sunny side-up eggs and no souls on the verge of losing their minds..

Muna Hamzeh-Muhaisen
Dheisheh Refugee Camp

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