In this year’s run we are looking at stories of separation. Here Mushier, chair of Palestine Solidarity in Sheffield, tell us how he struggled to get to his mother’s bedside before she died. Through this we can see how long lived is trauma, how typical it is to daily Palestinian experience and how needed is our work in Khuza’a, building a centre to help children recover from trauma.
I was born in Khan Younis, the second biggest town in Gaza trip. When i was 6 years old Gaza was occupied by Israeli army after the 1967 war and I started to be aware of what was happening around me: curfews, army patrols, resistance.
Fear was terrible during this time – people feared a repeat of what happened in 1956: when 276 people were shot dead by the Israeli army. My uncle and cousin were about to be shot as the order to stop came through. I remember clearly the army shooting resistance fighters over a nine period. Not yet the policy of house destruction from Rabin.
In spite of the occupation, generally i remember being happy as a child. We were close and i was the youngest and closest to my mother.
My mother was very charitable; she was always giving things to other families. An amazing community oriented woman who had come to Khan Younis as a stranger (her family were not Palestinian but Circassians who fled from Russia – Tsar Nicholas II was insisting all minorities converted to Russian Orthodox Church), she threw herself into Palestinian and Khan Younis life, proud of her new home. She became a headteacher but described herself as an educator.
I left Gaza at 16 to study. With no Universities in Gaza at that time Palestinians went abroad for further education. These were in the days when free education was available in Egypt for Palestinians under the Nasser regime. So this seemed the best place to go. And then to get a Masters , I came to Britain and stayed.
During this time, I would visit regularly to see family and friends. By the time of the first intifada – 1987 to 1993 – there was a curfew between 6pm to 6am. Yes this lasted for 6 years! Visiting was made hard because at 5.30 you would be suddenly struck with the idea that you had to get home and a fear would run over you. Less than a month before my father died suddenly, i had visited Gaza; i could not get in to Gaza to be with family then because under Israeli military law people under 36 years old could not return if they had been in Gaza less than a month previously.
In 2007, my mother was bedridden, old and very frail. At this time the siege was very strong. People would spend 6 days on the Egyptian side trying to get in, so i would not go as often as i would want. She would say it was too hard to travel to see her. A whole year had passed since i had seen my mother.
In July 2007 I heard news that my mother was dying. My sister Mona and myself wanted to visit of course; to do this we had to get special permits to go in via the Erez crossing. We contacted the British Embassy, who were no help, the Red Cross and Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI). For nine days we tried to get permission to go and see her. I heard my mother had died at 5pm and 5 hours after that we heard that we had permission to go.
To be honest, at this point, i had lost interest in going , i had not been able to hold my mother’s hand. My sister said it was important but we did not ask them to delay the funeral so she was buried while we were travelling. Every step of the way things were made hard for us to travel. At each checkpoint we had to ring through to get the permit confirmed.
I was born in the same hospital as my mother was taken to when she died and i was denied the right to be with her to give her last kiss as she died. This was really painful; when we achieve freedom it may be something i can forgive but i will not forget. My mother used to joke with me ‘I promise you i will live long if you promise me you bury me with your own hands’ and i say to her ‘I am sorry mum an angry occupier stopped me from me doing this’
This is a mild suffering in comparison to what others have had to deal with. This kind of hurt is happening across a whole generation and the psychological impact is as bad as being hit by a bullet; it stays forever.
Permission to leave was as arbitrary (and as necessary) as permission to enter. When i was there, after she died, my permission to leave was given suddenly and could be withdrawn as suddenly too; so i was given permission to leave within a 6 hour window, 4 days after arriving. Unless i took it, i could have been there for months and months, away from my family in Sheffield. So i had no time to set her grave stone.
But in 2008 Musheir went back in August the year after in the first boats to break the siege :
These were moment to remember. We achieved in half an hour a true feeling of freedom; 25000 people received us in the port. When i stood by my mother’s grave to lay the stone i had not been able to set the year before I cried and said
‘Mum i am here, despite their militarily wealth i am here, i have my head held high, i am happy and i am free’