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Mutual Sharing: This Is What Women Do

15 December 2009 No Comment

Deb Reich, left, with Maha

Deb Reich

Israel

I’m an older Jewish woman, a writer, living in Israel/Palestine. I have a young Palestinian friend in Gaza called Maha; I think of her as my daughter. The hell that Gaza has become  threatens to overwhelm her every day.

Jewish Israelis are supposed to hate and fear “the Arabs,” especially Palestinians. But many of us resist. I believe that a new country of Palestine/Israel, struggling to emerge in blood and agony, will far outshine its parents someday, like any other ambitious offspring. Many of us can envision a new shared enterprise where, together, we shall build something wonderful for all our children.

Maha and I met when she translated my short story “Dudu in Heaven” into Arabic. I wondered how she would experience this tale about the 1967 war, told from an ordinary Israeli woman’s perspective. “A beautiful story,” she said, “but too sad; next time, write something not so sad.” This empathic critique – one woman’s caring response to another woman’s portrayal of bereavement – made me her friend forever. We bonded on the soul level, through that story.

Regularly but infrequently, Maha and I still meet when she accompanies her young nephew Mohammed out of Gaza on a one-day Israeli travel “permit” for treatment of Mohammed’s illness, a brutal genetic disease called CGD, at an Israeli hospital. (The quotation marks signify my protest that 1.5 million Gazans can’t go anywhere without Israel’s OK; lately Hamas, not to be outdone, instituted its own Gaza exit “permit” system.) Israel’s siege on Gaza, plus political gamesmanship around healthcare funding, has compromised the healthcare for Mohammed and tens of thousands of other Gazans, and is jeopardizing the bone-marrow transplant his younger brother Yousif needs for this same disease. The children are blameless! How can we acquiesce for even one more hour in this insanity, while children are made to pay and pay and pay?

Maha, single by choice, a freethinking woman in a conservative patriarchal society, the angel for her nephews’ healthcare, breadwinner for an extended family, keeps house for her elderly parents. She also worked full-time for a foreign NGO until being downsized recently. Maha is almost unsinkable, but she is only human. When she wavers, I encourage her by phone and email. I promise her repeatedly that soon Gaza will be free. I pray that I am right and that the long-sought shift will come quickly and bring real freedom, not just a change of repressive regime from foreign to local.

When Maha is in Israel with one of the boys, we hang out at the hospital; then we go and break bread together. Then I write about all this and readers sometimes send money, with their love, for Mohammed’s medicines (unleaving@gmail.com). Now it’s Yousif’s turn. Meantime Maha supports me, too: She shares her joys and sorrows and fears with me, undeterred by the Orwellian obstacles meant to separate us. Our mutual sharing keeps us both human. This is what women do.

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