An Open Letter to A Palestinian Child
I’m writing you because your 12-year-old big brown eyes and serious mouth have made me feel as though there is something I need to explain. That questioning look of yours has made me wonder if I am not living up to the bargain I struck when I came to live in At-Tuwani.
When I arrived back in At-Tuwani after two months in the United States it wasn’t just my limited Arabic that prevented me from expressing how happy I was to see you. It was the beginning of June, just starting to become unbearably hot and dry, and you and your younger sisters came to visit with us on our patio. You sat down on the chair next to me, offered me your hand to shake and made me promise to come to your house for tea the next day. I know adults aren’t supposed to say things like this, but your parents would have been so proud to see you! My heart swelled and all of the reasons that I love my work and I love living in your village rushed in and filled me up. I know I smiled like a fool because you made me so happy. And then, Sahmeha, you said the words that have slain me.
“While you were in America, there were many, big problems in Tuwani.”
You told me the story of one of Tuwani’s worst days in recent memory. It was May 2nd, my birthday, and settlers came into at-Tuwani and attacked several of your neighbors. You and I both know what happened, so I wont write of it here. But Sahmeha, I pray that you forget the fear you described to me. Though I’ve heard many different tellings of the events of that day, your account was by far the most haunting. I want for you to forget everything that you told me - how you and your cousins ran back home, how you hid in your house, how you watched as Israelis settlers and soldiers hit people you love. I’d erase all of it, but I know neither one us can forget.
It’s September now and I’m once again far away from you for a spell. I keep thinking about how your father tells us that he is working hard to tell the stories of At-Tuwani under Israeli occupation. I know how right he is. The stories of what happens in your home every day are important and precious. Still, I can’t figure how to describe what the situation. Sometimes I’m feel as though I’m in a glass telephone booth, surrounded by raging violence. I’m trapped inside and I can’t do anything to help my friends outside. All I can do is yell down the line and hope someone is listening.
I know how my feelings pale to nothing in comparison for what you hold for each other, in the face this injustice and violence that sickens me, it’s only my affection for you and your family feels solid and describable. When am I away from Palestine, daily life in at-Tuwani seems so far away. My memories of the terrible things experienced by you and your parents - the stones thrown and the bullets shot by Israeli settlers, the closures, arrests, and harassment at the hands of Israeli army, the uncertainty that constantly lurks- start to blurr.. They linger like a half remembered nightmare that is scarier in waking than sleeping. This letter to you is the only thing that I can put on the page.
I want to tell you that I love you and that I’m trying. You, your family, and the rest of At-Tuwani have given me a gift - the privilege of living in your community. You’ve extended so much kindness and hospitality to me. I will do my best to tell to tell your stories while I’m away. In the meantime, Sahmeha, I know that while I am away many bad things will happen in Tuwani. There will still be big problems. And you are in good hands. Your mother, your father, your grandmother, and your aunts and uncles are taking good care of you. Take care of them too.
I can’t wait until I see you again.
With love and gratitude,