“We need windows to the outside world – windows to let our story out, to let in the light. We need you to be our windows. Will you be a window? Will you? And you, and you?”
The finger that points at me, the eyes that meet mine, the voice that locks itself into my consciousness, is that of Amal,* one of many Palestinian women who have opened their hearts, their homes, their stories to us.
She lives in Deheisheh, one of several United Nations refugee camps for thousands of Palestinians who have been forced out of their villages by government order but who refuse to leave their home country – the “internally displaced.”
Located within Bethlehem, Deheisheh is a maze of narrow, tangled streets and alleyways. Drab cement-block walls serve as canvas for painted murals, some depicting ancestral villages that exist only in the memory of the camp’s oldest residents. Razor wire surrounds a kindergarten playground. Here and there, a fig tree grows next to a fence covered with photos of young men who have “disappeared.”
The lined faces of women like Amal tell stories of suffering, endurance and resistance. Theirs are stories of protesting walls, and removing roadblocks; of surviving physical and verbal abuse, dignity intact; of homes vandalized, stolen, or bulldozed then rebuilt; of wells poisoned, services denied, olives groves cut down and re-planted. Theirs are stories of arbitrary laws, arrest and imprisonment of children as young as fourteen. “Is it any wonder,” Amal reflects aloud, “that Palestinian women have become light sleepers?”
The reasons for, and history of, the present conflict are complex and far-reaching, but it is clear to all of us who have been meeting and living with Palestinians during this delegation that those who have called this region home for centuries want to exist in justice and peace with their neighbors – Jews, Muslims and Christians alike.
“Will you be a window?” Amal looks at me. “Will you tell our story?” I am still pondering her question, aware that I have already raised the sash.
*Not her real name