It was one of those rare moments when I could easily have killed
But to kill Dr. Hisham, the only vet in Ramallah (probably the only
one in the whole district), would have been a national scandal. It
probably would have caused a rural uproar, perhaps not one as
important as the renowned 1834 Peasant Revolution against Ibrahim
Pasha (the son of Mohammad Ali Pasha, the ruler of Egypt).
It all started in the peaceful town of Jericho, where Salim and I
spent most of our weekends away from troubled Ramallah during the
We were driving along Khidaiwi Street (I wonder if the name has any
connection with the Egyptian Khidaiwis, the descendants of Mohammad
Ali Pasha) when I glimpsed two puppies cuddled up in a ditch at the
side of the road. I quickly stopped the car and rushed out towards
them. One was dark and one blond, and they were sitting on top of
one another, keeping each other warm, in the already very warm town
of Jericho. I held one in each hand and, with great excitement,
looked at Salim. With a very worried expression, he looked me
straight in the eye and said firmly, "NO."
"Poor little things - sooner or later they'll be run over by a
car," I replied.
"No, they won't," insisted Salim.
"Look at them, they are so absolutely cute," I said as they dangled
with their soft tummies exposed.
"I know," Salim replied, looking away from them.
"Why not, then?" I insisted.
"Who is going to take care of them?" asked Salim.
"I will, of course," I said joyfully, seeing that I was starting to
win the case.
"You're busy and traveling most of the time. Dogs are worse than
babies, they need constant attention… and affection," he
Oh, God, how this argument reminded me of the many arguments Salim
and I had had over having or not having children.
But this time I was not willing to compromise.
It was heartbreaking to make the choice. There was no way I could
have convinced Salim to adopt both puppies.
The dark brown puppy was left behind, and 'Antar the blond (of
course) accompanied us home to Ramallah. The joy and excitement
over acquiring 'Antar was for a long time mixed with a lot of
guilt. Perhaps that's why 'Antar behaved the way he did. He
probably never forgave me for separating him from his brother (or
"You can tell how big a dog will grow up to be by the size of his
paws," said a friend of mine as he held two of 'Antar's huge paws.
That was not reassuring, as 'Antar's paws were one-third of his
size. He also told me that I should change the name ('Antar bin
Shaddad, a classical poet hero in Arabic literature, was known for
his chivalry and heroic military deeds - in other words, a symbol
of machismo), as 'Antar turned out to be a she. But it was too
As a matter of fact, for years we continued to treat 'Antar as a
"Is four in the afternoon a good time? I'll be there," said Dr.
Hisham when I had explained to him 'Antar's need for an anti-rabies
It was four o'clock sharp when vet Hisham rang the bell. I quickly
opened the door and ushered him into the sitting room. There
followed half an hour of typical Palestinian small talk: complaints
about the terrible political situation, how selfish Palestinians
had become, especially the younger generation, and about the lack
of vision (except, of course, for Dr. Hisham and me) in the whole
Another quarter hour was spent bragging about Dr. Hisham's success
stories: saving the sheep of Abu el-'Abed in the village of Surda,
and the newly born twin cows in the village of 'Atarah (I had
absolutely no idea how many cows are born at a time and did not
dare ask), and Abu Nizar's sick horse, which Dr. Hisham brought
back to life after Dr. Khaldun, from Nablus, told the owner that
his five-thousand-dollar animal could not be saved.
I was quite reassured by his successes, but I also took note that
none of them involved a dog.
"Dr. Hisham, I need you to give 'Antar an anti-rabies vaccine," I
found myself interrupting.
"Yes, of course," he replied, suddenly recognizing my growing
"What breed is 'Antar?" asked Dr. Hisham authoritatively as he
sipped his coffee.
"Ahh… breed… mmmmm… I am not so sure he has a
breed. Can one consider a baladi* dog a breed?" I mumbled
To me he is 'Antar, a lovely, mischievous, rambunctious
As Dr. Hisham stared at me, I thought to myself, Why can't a baladi
dog be a breed? "Never mind, Doctor, can I bring 'Antar in? Or
shall we go out to the garden?" I was trying to rekindle Dr.
Hisham's interest in the mission he had come for.
"Doesn't matter - bring him in," he replied.
In no time 'Antar was all over the place. After knocking down the
tray with his long wagging tail, and splashing coffee all over the
place, he rolled over on his back and waited to be patted on his
very round tummy. Typical 'Antar, I thought to myself.
I could see Dr. Hisham looking at 'Antar's genitals.
"'Antar is a bitch," said Dr. Hisham with great
"You mean she is a female," I tried to correct him.
"That's what I meant," said Dr. Hisham.
"So…?" I said in an irritated, high-pitched voice.
"Do you really want to waste a thirty-dollar vaccine on a baladi
"I can't believe this, Dr. Hisham," I said, my anger
I kept quiet, amazed at how defending a female dog had aroused in
me national, feminist and pro-animal rights emotions.
As Dr. Hisham bent down to give 'Antar her vaccine, I was on the
verge of breaking the tip of another rabies vaccine and sticking it
in his big, protruding backside.
A Few Years Later
It was almost 10:30 at night when I heard squeaking sounds outside.
I opened the garden door, and immediately jumped back as a tiny
black creature came running in. In no time, it disappeared behind
the many plant pots in the front veranda. I switched on the light,
and cautiously started looking behind every pot. It was not long
before I spotted two huge, bat-like ears stuck on a tiny little
black puppy. I stretched out my slightly trembling hand to pick up
an even more trembling puppy. She was the size of my palm.
It took only a few hours for Nura and me to become forever
inseparable. She became my tiny, nervous shadow. Nura, who grew to
be a little bit bigger than my two palms, still accompanies me
everywhere: to work, to construction sites, to my mother-in-law's
house and to some but not all of my friends' houses.
Soon I had a huge collection of books on dogs: All You Want to Know
About Your Dog, Admit Sleeping with Your Dog, Loving Your Dog More
than Your Husband, Can My Dog Become My Heir?, Cheating on Your
Dog, What Breed Is Your Dog? My latest book was Growing Up with a
I also subscribed to Bitch magazine.
Unlike the late 'Antar, Nura was obviously of a very special breed:
a toy Manchester terrier. Reading and learning so much about Nura's
special breed obviously did not change the one reality on the
ground: Nura still needed the anti-rabies vaccine and there was no
one else except Dr. Hisham who could give it to her. Because he was
so openly sexist and undoubtedly racist, I had taken a decision not
to deal with Dr. Hisham ever again.
After a few months of not knowing what to do, I had to make up my
mind. I did not know which was more difficult: to end my boycott of
the sexist Doctor Hisham, or to start dealing with an Israeli vet -
probably racist against Arabs but not dogs - located in 'Atarut, an
Israeli industrial zone (illegal Jewish settlement) built on
Palestinian lands on the Ramallah-Jerusalem road. The Society for
the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was located just a half mile
or so away from the Jerusalem checkpoint established in March 1992,
at a time when the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks were taking
place in Washington, D.C.
"She is a toy Manchester terrier," I bragged to Dr. Tamar, an
Israeli vet with an English accent.
"She is absolutely gorgeous; what is her name?" asked Dr. Tamar as
she cuddled Nura.
"Nura," I say proudly.
"Isn't she absolutely cute?" I said, trying to act as calmly as
possible despite feeling nervous that someone I knew would see me
sneaking into 'Atarut's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to
Animals. Looking at the sign, I was relieved that Arabs were not
"Let's see now, we need to check her eyes, her ears, and her tiny
teeth, and then give her the rabies, flu and cocktail vaccines,"
said Dr. Tamar as she placed Nura on a special operation table in
the middle of her clinic.
"A nonalcoholic cocktail, I hope," I joked nervously.
"What about her blood pressure and diabetes?" I added.
Dr. Tamar totally ignored my remarks and walked out of her office.
Maybe I was stupid to make such silly remarks, but I wanted to
release some of the tension I was feeling.
It was not long before Dr. Tamar came back empty-handed.
"Suan, we seem to have a little problem here," she said in her
rather serious English accent.
"What is it, Doctor?" Wanting to know what the problem was, I did
not correct my name.
"Did you say Nura lives in Ramallah?" she asked.
"Yes, with me of course," I answered nervously.
"But the Jerusalem municipality vaccines are only for Jerusalem
"But you know it is illegal for us to live in Jerusalem, Doctor, as
we have Ramallah IDs," I said, interrupting Dr. Tamar in a
"No need to change residency. Would you be willing to pay for the
vaccine?" she asked.
"Of course I would," I said, enthusiastically taking all the money
out of my purse.
"A hundred and twenty shekels," she said, and I handed her the
money. She took it and walked out of her office again.
I cuddled the trembling Nura and collapsed onto a chair next to the
window. I looked at the surprising number of Palestinian women and
men who had come in with their dogs and cats to seek vet Tamar's
help. I wondered if they were also running away from Dr. Hisham.
They all looked much more relaxed and self-assured than I
"We still seem to have a little problem here," I heard Dr. Tamar
say before I even saw her.
"What is it?" I asked, nervously standing up.
"Well, this certificate is issued by Jerusalem municipality, and I
am not sure whether it is recognized by the newly established
Palestinian National Authority in Ramallah."
She must be kidding, I thought to myself, but unfortunately Dr.
Tamar looked damn serious (at that time people were still taking
the Oslo Agreement seriously).
Not knowing what to make of Dr. Tamar's English seriousness, I
could not help laughing.
"Don't worry, Dr. Tamar. It would be good enough if the Palestinian
National Authority recognized its own certificates, let alone Arab
dogs holding Jerusalem certificates."
I jealously watched Dr. Tamar filling in Nura's yellow and black
First name, name of father, name of mother, age, own breed, breed
of father and mother, a list of vaccine types, date of injection,
date of next injection, remarks, doctor's name and, lastly, owner's
"Do you have a photograph?"
"My photograph? Or Nura's?" I was hoping it would work.
"Nura's," answered Dr. Tamar.
Neither Nura nor Dr. Tamar realized how damn serious I was about
replacing Nura's photograph with mine. I don't think either of them
knew how difficult or impossible it is for Palestinians to acquire
a Jerusalem ID, let alone a Jerusalem passport. I was thinking of
my Jerusalemite friend Nazmi Jubeh, whose wife, Haifa, had spent
sixteen years waiting for her Jerusalem ID.
I'd definitely have to hide Nura's passport from Samir Hulieleh,
who after twenty-four years of marriage to Sawsan, a Jerusalemite,
had not yet succeeded in getting a Jerusalem ID.
I did not want to think about adorable little Yasmin, Sawsan and
Samir's only child. The Israelis would not give her a Jerusalem ID
because her father had a Palestinian Ramallah ID, and the
Palestinian Authority would not give her a Palestinian ID because
her mother had an Israeli Jerusalem ID.
If Jewish and Arab traditions were respected, Yasmin should have
two identity cards, one after her mother and one after her father.
But she has none.
I was also thinking of my dear friend 'Attallah Kuttab, who had
recently lost his Jerusalem ID because he married Ebba, who is
German. I was thinking of the tens of thousands of Palestinians who
have lost their Jerusalem IDs, and the many others who have been
waiting in vain for years to acquire a Jerusalem ID.
And here was little Nura with a Jerusalem passport.
"Lucky you, baby." I picked her up and gave her a big kiss.
"Don't lose it. Take it with you when you travel abroad."
"You mean the passport?" I was just checking.
"Yes," Dr. Tamar replied.
Both Nura and Dr. Tamar gave me a strange look, as neither of them
was that political. It drove me crazy how both took being a
Jerusalemite for granted. I walked out, carrying tiny Nura in my
left hand and her passport carefully in my right.
"You know what, Nura? This document will get you through the
checkpoint into Jerusalem while I and my car need two different
permits to get through."
Nura looked at me, slightly tilting her tiny head, wagged her long
tail, put her head out of the car window and sniffed.
It was not long before I decided to make use of Nura's
"Can I see your permit and the car's?" requested the soldier
standing at the Jerusalem checkpoint.
"I don't have one, but I am the driver of this Jerusalem dog," I
replied, handing the soldier Nura's passport.
"Maze (What)?" asked the soldier, making a funny face.
He looked pretty amused by the thought. He took Nura's passport and
started flipping through it.
"I am the dog's driver. As you can see, she is from Jerusalem, and
she cannot possibly drive the car or go to Jerusalem all by
"And you argh hergh dghiver?" he said, rolling his r's in the way
that Israelis do when they speak English and dissolving into
"Yes, somebody has got to be her driver," I laughed back.
The soldier looked closely at me, patted Nura's head, which was
still sticking out of the window, handed me her passport and in a
loud voice said: "SA'A…Go."
I pressed my foot on the accelerator, Nura stuck half of her tiny
body out of the window, and to Jerusalem we both flew.
All it takes is a bit of humor, I thought to myself as Nura and I
passed the same soldier when we drove back to Ramallah that same
"A Dog's Life" is reprinted from Sharon and my Mother-in-Law:
Ramallah Diaries (London: Granta, 2005) with the author's