Photo of women are protesting about the arrest and mistreatment of Palestinian youths.

Women protesting about the arrest and mistreatment of Palestinian youths, Gaza, 1988. Image: Robert Croma.

I sit at a long conference table with around twenty women from a few of the villages surrounding Nablus. We do a relaxation exercise to begin, ‘so that everyone feels they are here’. Rawda, one of the women leading the group, translates for me. Soothed by the rhythmic Arabic and peaceful atmosphere, even though I don’t understand the words, my palms facing upwards on the table, I prepare myself.

Each woman’s story is told. Every one of them is missing a loved one: a husband killed by the Israeli military, a son martyred at a demonstration, a child imprisoned for no reason. Some faces smooth, some creased by life, all eyes speak suffering and strength.

I will relate just one of their stories.

Nour Ila is now a teacher, and a widow. As the second intifada was nearing its close in 2003, her husband, a journalist, was shot in the head.

The murder was a deliberate, targeted assassination by the Israeli military. Their eldest son watched his father’s brain splatter onto the street.

Nour was at home with their three month old baby when she heard the news. She said that she can’t describe the sense of shock and terror.

In the following months she could not understand the world. Her children were always crying. She felt helpless to ease their suffering. The loss engulfed her.

“I thought that my tragedy was the biggest in the world. I had no husband. No work. No money.

“I had not only my own problems, but also the problems of my kids.

“My son, who saw his father shot in front of him on the street, did not speak or sleep.”

Nour was contacted by the Women’s Studies Centre who offered her support. She was hesitant at first: her husband was killed, what help would attending a meeting be? She describes the first time she came to the Centre; she didn’t speak, she spent the whole meeting crying. “I didn’t say a word, but I saw that the other women were feeling with me.”

During that period, of “not understanding”, as she describes it, the focus was on releasing and weeping. “I didn’t need more than that, than a hug from a woman to say ‘we are with you’”.

Before coming she was given tablets to numb the pain, but no support to really face what had happened. Nour could not hear her children, she suffered from constant headaches: “I was a drowned person.”

“When you weep, when you express yourself, you go back home and you are stronger.”

“The wound needs time to heal”, but with the continuous support of the women’s group, Nour felt a change. “I became strong, ready to lead my family, ready to work.” She became a teacher, and now volunteers her time to support other women suffering from bereavement.

After passing through the toughest of life crises, she now helps other women overcome theirs. “I learned to speak with each woman differently from the other…you have to be creative, caring, and careful”, but with the right words and the right approach, it is rewarding work.

“If we help a mother, she will help her family, her neighbours, and everyone around her.”

Nour’s story must be shared not to make her into a hero (although she is) but because sometimes the situation here feels fucking hopeless. These women, suffering every day, and denied tranquility and happiness by a nonsensical occupation, have overcome so much through mutual solidarity and support. Her story shows just how extraordinarily strong people are.

The nightmare of occupied Palestine is smashing people down. But they endure.

We all need a reason to keep treading this water. While Palestine is waiting for the world to wake up and stop funding Israel’s military, the women of this land are struggling and succeeding in circumstances nobody should have to face.

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Emilia is contributing to our on-going series of articles from writers in Palestine, click here to read more.

Emilia Crewe

About Emilia Crewe

Emilia is an activist living in the West Bank, Palestine.