for Um Mazen

A Palestinian friend in East Jerusalem sent this email on Tuesday to me and to a number of others. I have not altered a single letter. These words do not come from another planet or another time - they describe our own world, today.

Hi friends, I just finished having lunch and felt a strong urge to write this. With us today at the lunch table was Um Mazen, a woman from a West Bank peasant community God knows where. She's been working for us for years now. She comes and helps my mom with cleaning the house once a week. She comes around 8 and leaves after lunch. Today was sort of different. Earlier, some British reporter interviewed Um Mazen. My mom, who runs a charity society that helps poor Palestinians, was receiving him upstairs in her little office when she mentioned Um Mazen's stories of hardship. He was interested in learning more about this woman, and asked to come downstairs to meet her. This happened while I was trying to prolong my sleep. (I went to bed after 4 am this morning.) My mom and her secretary translated the Brit's questions, and Um Mazen told her stories. I was not there to hear what she said, but I can guess what stories because I know about Um Mazen. Stories about waking up at 4 to bake bread which she brings us some of every week; about her good-for-nothing husband who smokes a lot and does nothing; about supporting her ten or so children and how they support her; about walking hours at dawn around checkpoints to reach the Jerusalem households she works for; about having done this work for years; about staying overnight yesterday in Jerusalem because all roads (I should say dirt-roads, trails, Torra-Borras) back to her town were closed or patrolled by soldiers; about how other things in her life are unbearable and how she deals with them. I heard them moving around outside my door at the end of their talk. The reporter took a picture of Um Mazen to take home. Back to lunch which just finished. Mom was telling Dad and I about the brief interview. Then Um Mazen said what she said. "You think he believed and was convinced?" It broke me to hear those words out of her mouth. This is a 40-something woman who was worried perhaps she didn't appear convincing to this Westerner. That perhaps her stories sounded too far fetched. That it must be that Westerners don't believe our stories and that's why they don't help us; because if that was not the case then how can it be that they don't do anything to help us? Because if that was not the case then why would someone interview her when her story is repeated thousands of times a day? Isn't it to make sure it's true? This woman, whose life is totally dictated by the sum of all the forcefields of oppression in our region, thinks that she has a credibility problem. All this was not alone in keeping me from sleep. There was also a bulldozer outside my bedroom window busy terracing land for the upcoming attraction to our neighbourhood: an overhead road that winds its way between houses to serve a nearby Israeli settlement (by connecting it with another). Looking at a plan for this road obtained from our local council one wonders what the hell made it necessary. It is completely redundant. But we know why it will be built. Because: the world believes them and not us.


[many thanks to Anees]