I had to stand face to face in front of death, or to choose between
two deaths: to be killed or to see my son being killed. But I threw
the stone out of all-embracing fear for my child. The stone landed
on his forehead. His eyes protruded and set on me. He completely
absorbed me. Did he blame me? His eyes turned into two dead glass
balls. It was horrible. My heart quavered. It seemed to me that the
soldier had lost his eyesight, but he didn't collapse. Was he
scared? Did fear cause a state of nervous breakdown? In a few short
moments, less than heartbeats, could a man see through himself and
bring to his mind all the periods of his life?
He became numb. His hand died on the rifle, and he withdrew to the
military vehicle. I testify that he showed a total lack of reaction
and I became curious despite my fear. He didn't wipe the thread of
blood which gushed from his forehead, covering his head and
reaching the angle of his mouth. Did he sip hot blood? I also bear
witness that he pushed away the soldier who came to nurse him. Was
he raging angry? Why didn't he become a monster like all soldiers?
For a moment I thought I was dead, piled on the ground. A touch on
the trigger and he would sweep the place with lethal bullets,
people would fall dead, massacred in a blink of an eyelid. But he
did not shoot. All I am aware of is that I threw the stone at him,
and that my son Hussam ran away, and the soldiers moved quickly.
The children dispersed. The camp people were infuriated; we smelled
tear gas and took shelter in the alleys whose narrow passages scare
soldiers. The fire became thicker. We sneezed, and so did the
soldiers. As our tears fell, the sting of gas burned our membranes
and stimulated our skin pores, and the havoc increased. People
stood together and the soldiers withdrew. As usual, it was the
crowds which determined the result of the round, but the soldiers'
rifles had a hand in this, too. Stones were hurled at the
microphone which started screeching, cutting through the crowds.
"Attention! Attention! By order of the military governor ... " I
rushed into the house. I shouted: "Where is Hussam?" Haifa beat her
breast. She cried: "My son, did they shoot him?" She fell down. I
ran through the alleys scrutinizing the faces of young kids. They
were jumping up and down in disregard of the warning and the
military governor. They were preparing the camp for the next round.
My younger brother followed me, and asked: "What is wrong? Why are
you wandering about?" "Abdullah, have you seen Hussam?"
"He didn't come home."
"None of the children went back home! How could they see the
procession and go home?"
"Man, I have seen the soldiers aiming at him!"
"The wounded were transferred. No one saw Hussam. Had anything
happened to him, people would have mentioned it." Abdullah
understood my worry about my son, and said, trying to alleviate his
own worry: "Why should it be Hussam and not someone else?" Why
should it be Hussam and not any of the children, and why should it
be David and not any other soldier? Is it fate? Is it war? But,
then, I found myself in the midst of many people. I started to
dissolve, to melt. It is the Intifada! "Attention! Attention!"
Hussam was fast asleep because of his exhausting, hard day. Yet his
smile never left his lips. What is he dreaming of? Will he see
David in a horrifying dream? Don't worry, my child. You're safe in
my lap now, and nothing bad will happen to you. "By God, father,
when he pointed his gun toward my breast, I became scared. I
shouted; and then, as if he was splattered by a poisonous snake, I
jumped away from between his legs!" Haifa said, with her breast
panting alongside her child: "O.K., go to sleep now. May God grant
you health." She smiled, sucked her lips, and whispered:
"Thank God for your safety." Her face reddened and she said:
"Tomorrow you'll see him a man who will make you happy." She winked
with inviting eyes.
"He takes after you, Mahmoud."
She buried her head in my breast. She smelled my skin pores. She
fondled, with her fingers, under my armpits. Her voice became
hoarse. "These kids are genies. Truly, they are curfew
She curled herself in my lap, and licked the hairs on my breast. I
was lost in deep thought about my child, my hope and my future. I
stared at the brick ceiling, where the army's stone-throwing
machine had made many openings which Haifa covered with pieces of
nylon. She pinched me, and she was lusty. A tear came down her
cheek, and she said, resisting her need to cry:
"You're angry because you 'opened' his head ... but what about
Like a snake-bitten person, I put my arms around her. I hid myself
in her, seeking for a shelter, and so did she. We became one, we
quavered together, we bathed in the moonlight which sneaked from
the brick windows. The light is reflected upon us. She was white
and plump and glowing. We were not ashamed of our nudity, and
Hussam was fast asleep. He was still smiling.
The stone skinned the head, and left an open scar. It bounced off
the helmet. The blood gushed and covered the whole face. They
bandaged the face. They called the headquarters to report an
injured soldier in the incidents of Al Shati Camp. Meanwhile, David
sat staring at them with his rifle stretched on the car
A young woman ululated when they passed by her. She made the
victory sign in their faces. The captain was infuriated. He shot
tear-gas canisters to dispel the echoes of the ululation. A soldier
"The boy was between his hands. He let him go ... why?" The captain
"How was he injured?"
A soldier stretched his lips and said nervously:
"Do you think we were in a picnic?"
In the hospital, the doctor emphasized that the stone was thrown
from a very short distance, and could have caused a crack in the
skull. He decided to transfer the wounded soldier to the X-ray
Note: "The evening news bulletin completely ignored the camp's
You came back, David? What a difference between this visit and the
previous one! Your first visit was to bless the birth of Hussam.
Esther was with you, then. You were a bridegroom, and Hussam's
birth present was a new crib. That day Esther was so delighted as
she caressed the baby in his bed, singing, and hushing the flies
away from him.
She was fond of his black eyes. That day she was hanging around
your neck, David, and in a crazy manner she said:
"What if we have a baby girl with Arab eyes!" That day you put your
arms around your wife, and kissed her in front of everybody. My
young sisters reddened with shame when they looked. My father
turned his eyes away so that he'll not commit a sin by looking. We
all laughed a lot.
At lunch, Esther sat cross-legged, so she was half-naked. My
brother Abdullah panted, and my mother threw her shawl on her to
cover her nakedness. You burst out laughing. It was a kind of Arab
shame and fear which you didn't expect. But, then, you continued in
Hebrew, talking to me.
"Next time when we visit, Esther will put on her slacks."
When my mother asked me about your wife's name, she found it
difficult to pronounce Esther. The old woman said:
"Thank God, she is all right."
We laughed heartily again. The younger woman was fascinated by the
In her eyes, questions and speculations abounded. She was as if
discovering things, like a new-born baby. She went around the camp
with Haifa and the young girls. She washed her feet in the sea, and
watched the fishermen. One of them gave her a beautiful fish as a
gift. He put it in a cup of water. She brought the fish with her.
She also came back from her visit with a shell necklace bedecking
her breast, and shell bracelets around her wrists. She was chewing
a hot piece of a taboun - baked loaf given to her by an old woman
who was baking her bread in the clay oven at the side of the
If only you would remember, David! That day, it was a wonderful
visit, and you promised to do it again. I said to myself that it
was the pleasure of discovering a new world. Esther was chewing the
taboun bread so happily, crying out that it was "fantastic," and
she was so stingy that she would not give you a bite out of her
loaf. My mother interfered:
"Give him a bite. He is your husband and darling!"
Esther was like a playful child, learning, absorbing, fascinated by
taboun bread and seashells. That day she visited us wearing a dress
that showed her half-naked and went home, at the end of the day,
wearing a Majdalawi dress - a gift from my mother, and an Arab
scarf decorating her head, a gift from Haifa.
When Haifa, Hussam and 1 visited you, David, Esther welcomed us
wearing the dress and the scarf. The clay pot was placed in the
middle of the sitting room, and in it there was a bunch of white,
fresh roses, surrounded by a necklace and bracelets made of
seashells. Esther took the baby in her arms, kissed him, and asked
"Take his photo, David!"
She kissed Haifa. She told me in Hebrew: "1 dream of a baby girl
with Arab eyes."
1 translated that to Haifa, who said:
"They dream of our black eyes, and we dream of their blue eyes and
white skin. What about that?"
Now, here you are, coming back, David, but without Esther. Did you
ever imagine that such a thing would have happened? That they will
send you to kill me in self-defense. That I would throw a stone at
you to defend Hussam! Did you come to kill Hussam, to break his
ribs, to batter his limbs, then put him to bed? The same boy whose
birthday you blessed! Would you imagine Esther caressing a boy with
broken limbs, a boy whose black eyes are lightless! But you did not
I walk around the camp. I march forward with the people. My pockets
are filled with stones. I run faster than the kids and youngsters.
Whenever we spot a military patrol, we'll shout with full
"Attack them! Attack them!"
We march forward with our stones going ahead of us, and with
tear-gas canisters and showers of bullets racing us. When cars
chase us, I take a side path, attaching myself to the walls of the
alleys. I look, closely examine the faces of soldiers, looking for
a soldier with a bandage on his head. I feel sad. Was his wound
deep? Could we ever meet again? Should I find the clay pot placed
in the sitting room again? And, Esther, would she keep the dress,
and the embroidered scarf? David, do you still remember Sheik
Awad's agreement? Your blessing, Sheik Awad. I received employment
with the famous Israeli building company Solei Boneh. I worked with
a digging contractor; we were carrying out the sewage project for
the housing suburbs on the shore of Ashkelon. David was the company
engineer in charge of supervising the execution of the project. He
was quiet. He would come early in the day, fix the digging spots,
and then come back at the end of the day to register the amounts of
digging and the safety signals and to measure the levels. The
contractor didn't like David. But I felt safe with him around. He
smiled at the workers, and would feel bad when the contractor
yelled at us. The housing suburbs occupied a long space in front of
the sacred Maqam of Sidi - Sheik Awad. When I told my father about
that, he became confused and agitated.
"Over my dead body," he said, holding out his fist. But he soon
cooled down, and brought his fist down.
"Can the fist stand against the awl?" He abluted, asked God for
mercy and forgiveness, and after evening prayer he asked me:
"Will the digging reach the big raspberry tree?"
The big raspberry lies in the heart of the main axis of our work. I
nodded emphatically. Having taken a decision, he said to my
"Haja Safiya, the day after tomorrow, we'll visit the sacred
My father lay in the shadow of the wall of Sheik Awad, while my
brother Abdullah went toward the sea, looking at the waves breaking
on the bodies of the naked women on the beach. My mother lit the
fire under the cooking pot, making a lunch of grain which is my
father's favorite. At the end of the day, when the site was empty,
my father surveyed the place with his eagle eye, then suddenly
Totally disregarding his old age, he went like an arrow to the
raspberry tree. A shiver went into his body and through his skin.
He prayed to heaven and begged for God's mercy. He went down on his
knees submissively, like a man taken. My mother stood behind him
like a fresh spear of pomegranate; her head-cover falling onto her
shoulders, and showing two braids of her thick hair. I realized
that she had put kohl around her eyes, and had combed her hair with
She was getting older but she was still a young woman.
My father stood up, planted one of his feet near the trunk of the
raspberry, took three strides eastward, stopped, then made a turn
towards the north; in the middle of the space between the step
where he began, and the step where he ended, he stood stock still.
He called me:
I hesitated. I looked around surveying the place. What if we were
seen by someone! What if the contractor passed by? His voice came
back again more compellingly:
"Come here, young man!"
He knelt down, scrabbling with his sweaty hands. I felt the pulse
of his veins and I was afraid. I heard a voice from behind, a voice
which I knew well.
"Who is he, Mahmoud?"
David! Exactly what I feared had happened! I poured out my worries
"This is my father, and this is my mother."
My father said, while my mother stood proud and disturbed:
"Tell him we want to save the legacy."
David was stunned. He whispered to himself "fantastic" and gazed at
us, dividing his vision between us and the raspberry trunk. He
hastened to his car. I was sure he was going to do something. I
became afraid for the two old people. But soon he came back with a
shovel, which he firmly handed to me.
The earth responded to the shovel. My father started to pant until
the shovel hit something. The old man raised his hand. I stopped.
He started to move the earth away carefully until the legacy became
visible. My father was in tears. David stood baffled, carried away
by the scene. My father took out a small clay pot and leaned on the
raspberry trunk. David came near, trying to get it, but the old man
clutched it firmly, and my mother stood between the two men. She
prompted Abdullah and myself do to do something.
"What's in it?"
I said: "At any case, it isn't gold."
My father lifted the rag from the mouth of the clay pot, and
inserted his hands checking its contents, while looking at us all.
"This pot is mine!"
David nodded in agreement.
My father drew a paper from the pot. It was folded a number of
unfolded it. Its length was unusual.
"This is the title of the orchard, sealed and signed by witnesses,"
he said. David nodded in agreement.
My father drew another paper, and looked affectionately at my
"This is my marriage certificate, Safiya and I."
My mother was moved, and her patient face was colored with
She smiled to David, and he smiled to her.
My father said: "This is my bride's anklet, the last item of her
jewelry." He then added:
"These are the bullets of my rifle which they confiscated." My
father put his papers and bullets into his vest. My mother guarded
The sun was approaching sunset, its redness changing into an
exquisite purple projected on the yellow sand near by Sheik Awad's.
The sand glittered in warmth. Creatures were praising their
Creator, and were silently praying.
David whispered beseechingly:
"Would you give me the pot as a gift, old man?"
My father resisted a tear that came down his cheek. He handed him
the pot. My father said to David:
"Keep things which are dear to you inside it."
With the first breaths of the morning, waves break at the sand of
the shore. The tide spreads, lightly and hissingly caressing the
low houses. The breath of creatures is enveloped by a delicious
sense of ether. The voice of the Muezzin cuts through the sky,
velvet-like, playing on tired eyelids. The alleys of the camp
welcome the new-born light, and the shadows of masked ghosts
embroider the walls, with their slogans, victory signs, martyr
commemorations. They were assigning the agenda of the coming days.
Workers have an uncertain and elusive work schedule for the day. No
longer would the buses wait for them nearby the camp gates. No
longer would they crowd in the market square. Their steps scatter,
ashamed and lonely, while the needy mouths color the taste of the
alley with a new taste. Mahmoud carries his food for the day. He is
going away to work after a long absence. He said to his wife:
"If I am late, I'll sleep there, and visit David."
His wife didn't welcome the idea. She felt that he might be
betrayed. Yet she didn't let her anxiety stand in the way of his
desire. A military jeep approaches. Its lights overpower the lights
of dawn. It blinds our eyes, and nails our feet in the headlights.
A commanding voice is heard:
He advances, watches those men who went ahead of him. Soldiers move
quickly. Kicks, fists and slaps on the face. Clubbing, silent
groans and painful bones. They lined the men up and body-searched
them even in the tiniest spots. They stole their identity cards;
the faces of the soldiers show great resentment. The morning
breaths didn't change the cruelty of their looks. The captain of
the patrol said, waving his club: "Bring the (PLO) flag down, and
wait till I return!"
He went away. One of the workers said:
"They're making our day from the very beginning." Another answered
him through his pain:
"What do you expect from an enemy?"
A handsome young man who had absorbed a generous amount of blows
"Mercy, of course!"
He burst out laughing but the pain in his bruised jaw was
Mahmoud feels his face. Tears fall from his eye. The damned soldier
hit him because he was slow in handing over his identity card. His
eyelid swells, and blocks his vision. His eye swims in a salty
lagoon, heavily shedding tears.
The flag flutters proudly; a slingshot of two stones and a thread;
one stone ties it to the electric cable, and the other hangs down
to keep its balance. The flag flutters, announcing its birth. The
morning is a birth of a new day. And the workers' day was
terminated before its beginning. Sun rays survey the alleys; the
alleys eject their armies. The children tread the ground. The
workers are ashamed when they look at the kids. A woman brings
along a reed stick. One person mounts the shoulder of another to
add to the reed's length. He approaches the flag's center. The
workers' eyes are fixed on the children, and their minds worried
about the soldiers' clubs and the possibility of getting another
searing beating. Their anger agitates them. The end of the reed
stick touches the thread of the flag. The children hailed the
"By our souls! By our blood!"
A boy threw his slingshot high, and a new flag was balanced,
touching the sun rays, smiling to the cheers of the kids who use
their school bags to beat the manly rhythm of their exuberant
"By our souls! By our blood!" One of the workers said:
"It seems that our I.D.s will not be returned today." Another
"Keep the reed stick for the new flag."
Mahmoud looked at the flag. He had to lower his eyes because of the
burning in his eyes. He leans on the wall to protect himself from
the heat of the sun. He has a killing headache. He does not know
why David insisted.
The building is located at the comer of the market. The first floor
is finished. The neighbors had protested. The Mukhtar
"The building is high, Abu Asi, and its windows violate the privacy
of the neighbors."
The man licks his lips. "It is envy. By God, it is just envy!" But
people of noble descent will behave in a noble manner; he will
close the windows from the east and north sides, and he will be
content with the western side and the sea breeze.
The second floor is erected, and the third, and the building stands
tall in the center of the camp. It becomes a landmark by which one
would be guided to the different passages of the camp.
When the conditions of the camp changed, the market became a
battlefield, with burning tires, sites for assault, and lines of
defense. The soldiers took the building as a shelter. They mounted
it, and posted their (Israeli) flag on top of the T.V. antenna
which the arrogant Abu Asi has used to lord it over his fellow camp
residents. Abu Asi's name was no longer popular.
In the morning, the soldier on duty surveys, with his binoculars,
the mouths of alleys, checking the gatherings of youths, and the
centers from which hostile activities will be launched. He leaves
his binoculars and plays with his machine gun. Wild wind moans
through the sky of the camp. The camp is restless. To break into
the building becomes a daily act, a dream of the young and adults
At night, things are silent. The two things which stand out are the
sea and the dreams of the children under their blankets. The
soldiers are horrified. They give up their sleep and go after solar
heaters and water tanks upon the roofs of buildings. The
neighboring houses get their share of stones, which fall upon the
asbestos sheets, and on old bricks. In the times of curfew, doors
are knocked at, men are dragged to the building, as if hunted. At
the end of the night, the "hunted" hurdle together with broken
limbs, bruises and cuts. The neighbors return them silently to
their families. And in their hearts fires boil silently, too. The
night changes into daylight. The pots of anger stir the hearts of
the people. Angry shouts reverberate, the agitation is directed
towards the building.
The slingshots of the young ones protect the moving procession.
Wireless sets bark in the camp. All the camp moves toward the
building. Bullets are showered in every direction. Hussam cries:
"My uncle Abdullah!"
Abdullah crouches bleeding heavily. Soldiers surround him,
forbidding people from corning near him. A young girl comes quickly
and throws herself upon him. They are both clubbed. Abdullah glares
around. His eyesight is blurred. The sand sucks his flowing blood,
going through the pores of the earth, and taking on the shape of a
red circular mattress. From afar, the U.N. car emerged. The
soldiers dragged the wounded to the military car, while the Red
Cross representative gave first aid to the paramedics.
Abdullah disappeared. He was neither admitted to any hospital, nor
was he reported in any prison or detention center. His tracks
disappeared. The Red Cross went to search but didn't bring back any
news. The frustrated U.N. representative is ready to pull his hair
out, shouting at the military governor:
"I saw him with my own eyes!" The governor replies
"We'll look into the matter!"
My father was haunted by this silence about Abdallah's fate. He
would go about in the alleys examining the people's faces,
absorbing them with his increasing fatherly emotions.
"May God grant him patience!"
The children smile. He turns and turns. He sits where Abdullah fell
He crushes the sand between his fingers, and smells an odor which
he knows well. He weeps, and his tears wet his white beard. It
shines in the glow of the sun. He distributes stones among
children. He returns home, avoids looking at my mother, who has
unbraided her locks, and wiped away the kohl from her eyes,
swearing that she would not bathe before Abdullah's return, dead or
alive. She cries wistfully, and takes Hussam between her arms. She
"Did you see your uncle when he fell on the ground?"
The child nods in agreement. He looks at his grandmother's eyes. He
shrinks beside her silently. The old woman mutters the verse of
Kursi in protection against a night dream that had bothered him
incessantly since Abdullah's fall. Hussam wakes from his sleep
scared. She caresses him. He takes a nap for a while, and then he
calls for help, terrified. She becomes more worried about him. The
house is changed into eyes which look at one another, and tears
that hang on the eyelashes. Conversation becomes a long silence and
a dumb hope.
The renunciation, which was pronounced by a passer-by, was like a
dream. "Abdullah is alive!"
Has this been a dream or a reality? How and where? "He is at Tel
He was found by a guard watching over an orchard. He was naked,
unidentified, and stabbed. He was taken to hospital (in Israel) on
the assumption that the background to the incident was criminal. I
was almost driven mad. How did I fail to catch an item of
information in the news bulletin about an unidentified person who
was found in one of Ashkelon's orchards, and whose identity was
still being investigated.
The doctor was dumbfounded.
"He's recovering quickly. His body is responding unusually well to
A man lying in a nearby bed said:
"God be blessed for He is the One who brings back life to dead
The man was a citizen of Khan Younis waiting for a cartilage
surgery in his back. He said:
"We didn't know his name, except after one week, when he was able
to speak. They thought he was a kidnapped soldier, but no one
reported him missing."
Abdullah was comfortable and pleasant-looking. He was contained by
my father's looks which penetrated the pores of his skin, conveying
a glow of affection. This was projected onto my mother who braided
her hair and put kohl on her eyes, and stood looking like a fresh
branch of pomegranate. Hussam was hanging around his uncle's neck
murmuring and laughing. Abdullah remembered and whispered:
"Esther visited me two days ago!" I was stunned by the
"She was accompanying David in a visit to the neurologist!"
Abdullah pointed to a vase in which there is a white rose, and
"They asked about you!"
My mother asked, seeking reassurance:
"The wife and her husband, Abdullah!"
She let go a twinkling ululation which awoke the patients and set
them babbling in several languages. They smiled, each in his own
way, for the happiness of safety. My mother's face turned rosy. She
winked to Haifa and they both ululated simultaneously. They went
around distributing candies for the safety of Abdullah to all who
were present. The patients accepted the candies and chewed them
with enjoyment. They were happy. Peace and safety fluttered around
people. My father murmured to himself:
"If you only knew how Abdullah fell!" A tear dropped down the old
Between one strike day and another, there are confrontations. We
sneak around looking for a job to protect ourselves against the
coming unknown days. During the confrontations martyrs fall, and
the people are deeply agitated. With the news of the strike, the
camp remains tense. It moves willingly, like an arrow, with the
confrontations. People carryon and wait for the results with a
collective feeling of optimism. Haifa is busy with Hussam who
renews his slingshot every day. Father and mother welcome and bid
farewell to those who come to visit Abdullah to congratulate him on
David was recovering from a state of depression which lasted for
several months. It left a long scar in his forehead, whose jutting
end plastic surgery failed to hide. He refuses to answer the
question of his fellow soldier, "Why didn't he grab the boy?" "Why
didn't he shoot him in spite of his injury?" Haifa collects shells
and forms them into an exquisite necklace and jingling bracelets.
She misses Esther. How would the meeting be? How would the
questions and answers be, David?
I hesitated, my heart beats with feelings and emotions that are
mixed up with Haifa's words: "I'm afraid you'll be betrayed." But
Haifa, beautiful and graceful, goes in front of me, confident and
insistent, like a bride with her Majdalawi dress and her
embroidered white shawl. She stands by the door holding Hussam's
The door was opened. It was David himself. We faced one another,
and Hussam stood between us. I was afraid for my child. I almost
decided to go back. But David went ahead, kissed the child, and
took him inside. Haifa rushed after him. She was strong. Esther's
voice could be distinguished from within.
The two women hugged and kissed. I was mesmerized while David
caressed Hussam's hair, and whispered, "Wonderful."
I took him in my arms. I kissed him on the scar over his forehead.
I felt the mark of the scar between my lips. I wetted the scar with
my saliva, trying to avoid the wound's swelling. He was pleased. He
was quiet, and I looked into his eyes, searching for answers to
questions that were ringing in my head. But he looked at the old
clay pot surrounded by a necklace and bracelets of shells. We went
into a deep silence while Hussam went around the house as if he was
born in it.
Esther emerged wearing her Majdalawi dress, and her white scarf.
Haifa was decking her with bracelets and necklaces. They stopped
behind the pot. Each carried a white rose. Esther said
"David, take a photo!"
She kissed Haifa. She whispered, licked a tear, and said:
"I'm still dreaming of a baby girl with Arab eyes."
I looked for Hussam. He was gazing from the verandah, his eyes
following a number of soldiers waiting at the bus stop. He looked
at me, and sighed. I saw him like an armless giant. He was looking
He said: "I wish I had my slingshot!"
My heart beat quickly. David's wound was still open. Hussam sat
quietly in my lap. He gave David a white rose from the clay
Translated from the Arabic by Dr. G.K. Rishmawi