Monday, June 25, 2012

Aisha, Alive and Well

Aisha watching a game of soccer belo
From behind a barred window, chained for added protection, seven year old Aisha watched outside. In the small sports gymnasium two stories below, young boys wearing kippa with face-long payot played a game of soccer, surrounded by high walls and barbed wire. 

The boys are children of Jewish settlers living in Hebron, a city with roots predating the biblical era and archaeological records as old as the Bronze Age. Their parents are some of the most extremist Zionists in the West Bank, choosing to live in the only Israeli settlement located in the heart of an Arab Palestinian city. In order to discourage violence between the 500 settlers and 165,000 Arab Palestinians living in Hebron, Israel maintains a presence of an estimated 4,000 soldiers who oversee 116 roadblocks, closures and checkpoints and man several military stations for each home inhabited by settlers (TIPH). The enforced segregation of the city has resulted in the closure of 1,829 Palestinian businesses located near settlements, 77% of the Old City’s Palestinian-owned markets (ACRI).

Aisha’s walk home through the Old City requires her to pass through two Israeli checkpoints where armed soldiers have the choice to question her extensively or allow her to pass. On this day, joined by her foreign friend, travel was a breeze. 

The Old City’s ancient corridors are full of life, with vendors beckoning passersby to buy their fresh produce, fragrant spices, colorful ceramics and tapestries. Above the open-air market, Palestinians have installed a roof of nets and fencing to protect themselves from propelled objects and waste thrown by settlers living in apartments above. 

Aisha running through a checkpoint
Aisha held my hand while flitting through the market, propelling me quickly through the ancient streets and tunnels, dodging food carts, donkeys, and pedestrians. 

As we neared Aisha’s house, her older sister Sundus pointed out their uncle’s home, located in the shadows of a Palestinian home illegally taken by Israeli settlers who have ignored Israeli eviction orders for months. Her uncle’s roof now serves as a permanent home for Israeli Defense Forces who have built a watch tower over the family room. Sundus whispered to me that two days ago, the soldier in the tower yelled explicit profanities at her. 

Without warning, little Aisha picked up a stone and threw it toward the tower.

“Aisha, what are you doing?!” I screamed, knowing how many children are shot and killed in the West Bank for throwing stones. 

For a moment, I thought she had understood the fear in my voice. Then, I saw her bend over again, pick up another stone and throw it. 

“Aisha!!” I yelled, as I saw the soldier turn toward us with his gun, “We have to go now!” 

 As we retreated from the soldier’s post, Aisha closed one eye and formed her arms in the shape of a rifle. “Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop,” she mimicked, pointing her arms back toward the soldier and the settler’s home behind.

When we finally made it to Aisha’s home, her mother greeted us, “alHamdu lillah,” “Praise God.” 

In Arabic, I later learned, Aisha means “alive and well.” Born during the Second Intifada and raised in an environment of incredible tension, everyday Aisha makes it home safely is a day worthy of giving thanks to Allah.  

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