Interviews with mothers of martyrs of the AQSA Intifada.
THE AQSA INTIFADA ERUPTED IN September 2000. This uprising was the second of its kind in the recent history of Palestine following the first one in 1987. What characterizes both of these uprisings is the fact that both started out as an act of protest by the Palestinian people against the oppression of the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. "In its opening phases the current uprising seemed very much like the last one: spontaneous mass demonstrations resulting in clashes between armed Israeli soldiers and stone-throwing Palestinian youths; commercial and general strikes; the formation of a broad political coalition (the National and Islamic Forces, or NIF) to provide direction to the revolt to facilitate political coordination; and its rapid expansion from one region to the next." (1)
Many Palestinians lost their lives as a result of confrontations with the IDF; some of these Palestinians were children. As a result, many Israeli and foreign officials blamed the Palestinians for sacrificing their children so that they could win international support. This criticism, I might add, was voiced in the media on several occasions by several individuals from the "west". It was hard for many westerners to understand how Palestinian mothers could sacrifice or push their sons to die for "the cause." "Even more brazen was a widespread outpouring of condemnation of Palestinian parents and the Palestinian leadership for deliberately promoting the killing of Palestinian children in order to embarrass Israel." (2) It was pointed out on several occasions that these mothers were shown on television rejoicing at the death of their sons.
This research is based on interviews with 16 mothers of martyrs from the West Bank. The interviews were conducted during the period of July-September of 2001 and in January and the summer of 2002. The purpose of this study is to shed light on a tragic event that Palestinian mothers face and the way in which this experience molds and shapes their lives. From this study, it will become apparent that those mothers were not passive in regard to protecting
Nahed Habiballah is a graduate student from Jerusalem in the Women's Studies Program at New York University.
their children. It will also be apparent that there are several factors that complicate their role in protecting their children. Most of the mothers that I interviewed admitted that they ventured out to the streets looking for their children and tried several times to prevent their children from going to confrontation areas where the IDF was present. However, patriotism hindered their effort and they themselves were caught between two extremes; on the one hand, they wanted to protect their children and prevent their deaths, but on the other, the Intifada was a quest for freedom and loss of life is possible in such situations. What complicates things even more is the fact that martyrdom has become engrained in the Palestinian culture in the past two decades and mothers have found themselves trapped in a society that provides support for mothers of martyrs while demanding that these mothers become public figures of steadfastness and pride. These mothers are unable to recover from the loss because they are not allowed to grieve for their children. In Islam, martyrs are considered alive in heaven, and pious Muslims should not grieve the loss because unlike the dead, these martyrs obtain the ultimate prize, which is being in heaven in the company of God and his prophets.
Mothers of the martyrs become the ultimate victims in the tragic situation that they find themselves in and are unable to mourn their martyred sons in a culture which believes that martyrs are to be prized and not mourned for. The mothers, pious Muslims, turn to God for comfort and assurance. They need this comfort because it is the only way to affirm that the death of their children was not a waste. Their martyred children are in the presence of God and they are enjoying life, a better kind of life and these mothers should be happy for their children because, although their children are no longer with them, they are happy and alive in heaven.
Religion becomes the tranquilizer: the assurance that their sons did not die for nothing. They died for their country and religion and it is comforting for the mothers who struggle with the pain, loss and the guilt of not being able to do more to protect their children. It seems that it is easier for mothers who have well rooted faith to accept the fate that God has chosen for their children. According to religion, these mothers should be proud of their children because God chooses the purest people to be martyrs because they are the ones who are privileged and worthy of His company.
These interviews indicate several common themes that are shared among these mothers.
MOTHERS OUTRAGED AT BEING ACCUSED OF SENDING THEIR CHILDREN TO DIE
The mothers affirmed that there is no point in blaming the Palestinian parents because they are the victims; if there is somebody to be blamed, it is the Israeli government and the IDF, which uses severe measures against these children, and they do not differentiate between armed Palestinian gunmen and a bunch of children whose only weapon is stones.
PROTECTING THEIR CHILDREN
There are several reasons why these mothers are unable to protect their children. One is the fact that danger is everywhere. There are checkpoints scattered all around residential areas. Many Palestinian children were martyred when they were walking home from school or from a soccer field. They ended up in the middle of a confrontation that led to their death. Another reason for the mothers' inability to protect their children is that these kids become politically aware at an early age. They grow up resenting the Israeli soldiers that are patrolling around their towns and cities. They witness a lot of humiliation to themselves or their families by the IDF. As a result, they are angry and frustrated by the Israeli occupation.
MOTHERS FACING A DILEMMA
These mothers face a dilemma as a result of the conflicting situation that they are put in as a result of being Palestinian mothers. Should they be patriotic and raise their children with the idea of fighting for their country and never surrendering to occupation, even if the price is the death of their children?
As a result of the tragic event of losing a child, these mothers turn to religion for consolation and comfort. After the first stage, which is the loss of a child, a new stage comes along, which is reality and the rationalization of the loss. For most of these mothers, this is when religion comes into play. Almost all the women give their martyred son the image of a bridegroom who is on his wedding day and that God is waiting to welcome him in heaven. That is the reason behind the lallulations; these martyrs are offered to God as bridegrooms whom He will take care of and award the prizes that He has promised them. Lallulations are not a celebration as much as they are a declaration of pride and honor.
The following are the shared experiences of the mothers as mothers of martyrs:
All the women were pressured by the same society that gave them support. On the one hand, these mothers welcomed the support system that was perfected during the Intifada years (the first as well as the second), yet this same support is the support that often chokes them. These mothers are mothers who lost their children; the pain of losing a child is the same whether he is a martyr or not. It is true that they console themselves by saying that their sons are martyrs and they are in a better place with their God. However, the pain is the same. The mothers need to grieve the death of their sons; they need to vent their emotions in order to sustain their own sanity.
IDEALIZING THE MARTYRED SON
All the mothers emphasized that their martyred son was the better child: he was the best looking, the smartest, the most compassionate and loving of all the siblings.
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INJURIES
All the mothers described the way in which their sons were shot in detail. It is amazing how these mothers went into detail on the effect that the bullets had caused on their children's bodies.
THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THESE MOTHERS
I think the differences between the mothers are evident in the way in which they express their sorrow. Some are stronger than others, and in the beginning it was hard to detect any sign of sadness. The mothers who mentioned religion and faith in God constantly throughout the interview had a better grip over themselves. It took them a longer time to break down, and when they did, it was in small sobs. The following are two interviews selected from the 16 interviews that I conducted with the mothers of the martyrs from the West Bank from September 2001 through January 2002.
Mother D: Area: Refugee camp in the outskirts of Ramallah Age: 17 years old. Was shot Siblings: two brothers 8 and 16, and seven sisters. --Interviewer: Would you like to talk about the way your son was martyred?
--Mother: It was a Friday and he was shot on the checkpoint on the road between Jerusalem and Ramallah. His father and I went to AI-Aqsa mosque to pray, it was the 27th of Ramadan [fasting month]. We left early. His father woke him up that morning and asked him not to leave the house; he urged him to stay at home and take care of his sisters. His father begged him to stay at home because he said that it might be dangerous to go out of the house because of the tension especially when it is a Friday and usually there are a lot of confrontations between the Palestinian youths and the Israeli soldiers. We planned on staying till later that evening when...
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