Saturday, July 15, 2006

March 6, 2006 Journal Entry

Hager’s Family

I continue to meet interesting people. Yesterday we were invited to have a meal at the home of Hager. Hager has been a family friend since her teens when she and Sami apparently had a thing for each other. Hager married another and moved to Columbia, South America when her first child was three to join her husband who had gone on earlier. Hager’s husband was a successful businessman. They lived in a villa and were waited on by servants. Nine more children followed and then her husband died. He was gunned down by the Columbia mafia in retaliation for his brother’s double dealing. He was shot so many times his body was cut in half. The brother then cheated the widow with ten children out of all her property and wealth.

The children include three sons and seven daughters. One of the sons went to an Israeli jail for destroying the home of an Israeli collaborator and two sons spent time in a Palestinian jail for killing a suspected collaborator. The daughters fared much better. Most have become college graduates and one has a master’s degree from Harvard. Her diploma is framed and displayed proudly on their living room wall.

One of the older daughters, Sameer, helped me when I first arrived in Ramallah by taking me shopping and doing my laundry at her home as the luxury hotel where we were staying had no laundry facilities. She’s in public relations and has the outgoing, friendly personality required by that profession. Rajai, the brother, who served time for killing the collaborator with his bare hands, came with his niece, Aida, the daughter of Sameer, in his car to drive me to Hager’s home in a nearby village. As we sped along the wind blew through the open window on the passenger side where I was sitting. When I attempted to roll it up, Aida explained the glass was gone and was concerned if I was too cold. I assured her I was fine. I explained I was surprised they had arrived so soon after my son told me they would come to drive me to Hager’s house. Leaving my village they pointed out a dirt road they had used that cut through olive trees down the hill from their village across the small valley and up the hill to my village. On the way back we would go a longer way, through Bier Zeit, where I could find a shop that had a copy machine and a fax so I could send Sami’s death certificate to the Embassy in Jerusalem. Two shops were closed. I was told that was because the owners were Christian and it was Sunday. Aida apologized for not having paid a condolence call after Sami died. She had been busy with her studies at Bier Zeit University. I assured her I was not offended and understood. I asked to be taken to a grocery store. Rashid, when he had called to tell me they were at Hager’s already and Rajia would come to bring me, had asked me to bring a box of chocolates as a hostess gift for the family. I noticed in the store Rajia bought beer. I assumed from that they were not fundamentalist Muslims and told Aida I would like some wine. She said Sameer enjoyed wine also. I bought a bottle of Chardonnay made in Bethlehem and the tin of chocolates. We then found an open shop that had a copy and fax machine. Aida insisted on paying the four sheckles due, less than a dollar. On the way home Rajia and Aida told me a joke about Fatah. Electrical extensions are called "robbers" here because they rob electricity from the main outlet. Since the government corruption by Fatah members they have undergone a name change and are now called "fatahs". The corruption of Fatah was so well known and resented by the people it has made changes in their language and resulted in the election of Hamas to the government
When we arrived in the village of Beit Suhal I found the steep hills a little frightening. The ancient car clung to the dirt roads as we passed stone houses standing next to dirt roads that took my breath away as we swung left and right alongside sheer drops into the little valleys of olive trees. It’s common here to find new half finished houses that have been abandoned. People start to build then run out of money. Some were discouraged at the beginning of the second Intifada and moved away. After several more roads and many more stone houses we stopped at Hager’s home, a large stone house with a front porch that was reached by climbing a flight of about ten steps. Most of the large family are there, two of the sons, four of the daughters, and several grandchildren of differing ages. They speak excellent English with Spanish accents. They tell one joke after another. They enjoy each other’s company as much as they enjoy ours. They have gifts for all of us, a small purse decorated with Palestinian embroidery for me, a robe and kifiya (Arab headdress) for my five year old grandson and other items.
Aida is wearing a brightly colored scarf tied in a stylish way around her head with the ends hanging down her back reminiscent of the manner of wearing scarves I've seen in American fashion magazines. She is also wearing jeans and a knit shirt. She starts to talk about the hejab, the scarf worn by many young Palestinian women. She says when you see the hejab worn partially covering the sides of a woman's face and she also has a long dress or coat that completely covers her then the garb is worn for religious reasons and it's the way for her to express her belief in Islam. When girls wear the hejab with tight jeans and a knit shirt it's just a fashion statement. I asked her how her pretty scarf fit into the descriptions she had given. She said she was just having a bad hair day and had covered her hair.

They entertain us with stories about family history. In 1978 Hager returned to the West Bank with her children to join her family. She arrived in Tel Aviv with her ten children begging to be allowed to stay. The Israelis attempted to deport her. She was championed by Felicia Langer, an Israeli attorney, who devoted her career to assisting Palestinians who were being harassed, deported, or tortured by the Israelis. The judge when meeting the widow, Hager, and her ten children, said she, like the biblical Hager, would have to leave. Ms. Langer argued that Hager’s parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and generations before them had lived in her village for centuries and she should be allowed to stay. The judge suspended the deportation for a year. The yearly suspensions stretched out for ten years until finally they were allowed to stay indefinitely.

Miriam, a daughter about 45 years old, was active in the first Intifada about twenty years ago. She was standing next to a teenager when he was shot by an Israeli soldier. She led the boy to a taxi and tried to get him to a hospital. While she held him and he assured her he was okay he died in her arms.

Sometime after the Israelis decided to let them stay they managed to purchase a two room house. One of the brothers was now living in it and they told us how fond they were of the tiny house because it was the first one they had owned after returning to Palestine. The two room house had been home to this family of eleven that had left a villa behind in Columbia and they were speaking of their happy memories of the place. My sons and I felt a bit ashamed on our way home about how we had complained about staying in the three room house in our village.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are a very good story teller.


6:04 PM  

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