When the phone rings and I see the name “Nasser” on the screen, I tense up even before hearing his voice, and already see and hear bulldozers and soldiers in my mind, and cries of pain and loss in Susya and elsewhere. That is why I begin our conversation with “What happened?” The day before yesterday he called. “What happened?” I ask, and he reassures me: “Nothing, I just wanted to congratulate you on Mother’s Day. Here in Palestine today is “Mother’s Day” he added, and I stay silent for a moment, swallowing a tear that has slid down my throat. I send him a loving hug and kisses to the children.
Yesterday he called again. And I, as always: “What happened?” (After all, Mother’s Day is only one day a year). “There were demolitions in Jinba and in Taban”, Nasser says. I ask him for details in a stifled, pained voice, and he says: “But I didn’t call about that. I called to tell you that Hajje Sara passed away”. I was struck dumb.
I visited her not quite a week ago. She has not been in Susya for some months. I met her at her son’s home in Yatta. She was sitting on a bed in a room prepared especially for her – thinner than ever, constantly coughing up the violent cancer that spread in her lungs and does not let her breathe. We came to see her, Ehud, Danny and I. I went in first. When she saw me, she said: “I’m going”. Meaning: I’m done with my life. The doctors instructed the family not to tell her about her real condition but after all, one knows when the time is near. I hugged her. During our visit she was in full control as always and even got a bit annoyed (I said to her: “Hajje, now I really begin to feel I’m visiting you”). She smiled. Her daughters-in-law and grandchildren gathered in her room and we sat there as we used to in her tent, as she conducted the occasion and urged the daughters-in-law to hurry up and bring us the migele she planned for us as a reminder of the mutabak of the days we used to visit her in Susya and she would bake for us. (Migele and mutabak are Palestinian pastries). Between coughs she asked about my children and grandchildren.
A special friendship was struck between the two of us ever since I first began to visit Susya in 2003.
Hajje Sara was a determined woman, and if I may, I would dare say she was a hard woman – hard as life is in Susya. Hard like the ground she tilled and sowed and harvested, and like the harsh hours of freezing winter cold and exhausting summer heat during which she herded her flock alone ever since she was widowed about 11 years ago. Sara and the earth were one – in her life as in her death.
Sara bravely withstood the unfriendly visits of settlers from the Jewish settlement of Susya who came to her land. This woman – who, in her youth (1950) experienced her first expulsion from the Gariten region where she was born and raised, and then survived the Susya expulsions – would not agree to be expelled yet again. When it comes to Sara, “holding on to her land” is no literary metaphor. Hajje Sara’s hardiness and obstinacy sometimes affected her human relations. At times she behaved with people close to her in a way that pained them. It would anger me (although it was never aimed at me or in my presence). It was precisely this anger of mine that validated what we both knew – that our relationship was personal and human, neither patronizing nor political.
My last visit was a leave-taking. Sara surrendered to the conciliatory, compassionate massage I gave her stiff back. We had closed a circle between us. This woman was powerful. I see her standing in a brittle, dry field in the middle of a droughty winter, I hear her old voice crack as she sings an ancient prayer to god begging for some rain…
I don’t know if olive oil can be preserved. I would like the bottle of olive oil she gave me at our meeting – knowing it was our last – to last forever as a souvenir…
Rest in peace, Sara. Rest in peace from your life struggles, from your worries, rest in peace from the settlers’ harassments, rest in peace from your loves and hatreds.
Everything is now open and loose like the ground after plowing…
In deep appreciation and gratitude for years of friendship,
Erella and Ehud