Dalal, my second-oldest daughter, was named after my mother. She was a second-year student at the same university as Bessan, where she was studying architectural engineering. She was a quiet, studious girl, shy like most of my daughters. Her architectural drawings were remarkable to me - a sign of the precision she demanded of herself.
Shatha was in her last year of high school and hoping to score the top marks in the class when they took their exams in June so she could fulfill her dream to become an engineer. The three girls were best friends and slept in the same room of our house in Jabalia City, a five-story building that my brothers and I had built. Each of us had a floor for his family; my children and I lived on the third floor. One brother lived apart from us in a separate house. When we constructed the apartment building, he said he wanted to be near but in his own place. So we built another house for him. The first floor of our house was reserved for our mother. (My sixth brother, Noor, had become caught up in the conflict of the region and has been missing for decades.) Mayar and Aya, who were in grades nine and eight, were almost painfully shy. Sometimes they even asked one of their older sisters to speak to the others for them. But they were clever girls. Mayar looked the most like her mother, and she was the top math student in her school. She entered school competitions in Gaza and usually won. She wanted to be a doctor like me. She was the quietest of my six daughters, but she was not shy about describing the impact the strife in Gaza had on the people who live there. She once said, "When I grow up and become a mother, I want my kids to live in a reality where the word rocket is just another name for a space shuttle." Aya was never far from Mayar. She was a very active, beautiful child who smiled easily and laughed a lot when she was with her sisters. She wanted to be a journalist and was very determined in her own quiet way. If she couldn't get what she wanted from me - permission to go to visit a relative or to buy a new dress - she'd go to her mother and say, "We are the daughters of the doctor; you must give this to us." Aya loved language, excelled in Arabic literature. She was the poet in the family.
Raffah, my youngest daughter, with eyes as bright as stars, was an outgoing child, inquisitive, rambunctious, and gleeful. She was in grade four that year.
Mohammed, named after my father, was our first son, a young man of thirteen. He needed the guidance of a father, and I was worried about that because I was away four days a week, working at the Sheba hospital in Tel Aviv. He was to take the grade seven exams in June. His little brother, Abdullah, our second son, who was in the first grade, was the baby of the family. Watching him running to his sisters on the beach, kicking up the sand as he bounded over the dunes, I felt a special pain for this motherless boy: How much would he remember her?
That day they all sat for photos beside their names in the sand. Even Aya and Mayar smiled into the camera. When the tide came in and washed their names away, they wrote them again, farther up the beach. To me, this action w as highly symbolic of their tenacious, determined nature, one that I recognized in myself. They had the ability to look for alternatives when situations seemed impossible; they were claiming this tiny piece of land as their own - because they believed that they belonged here and did not want to be erased. Wasn't this the same determination shown by Palestinians who'd had their land stripped from them and wanted to reclaim it? It reminded me that their mother's memory will never wash away, but that they could keep rewriting it in a different light. They rushed from playing in the surf and riding the waves to climbing into a boat that was moored on the beach, from building pyramids in the sand to racing back into the water; the camera click, click, clicking, recording the joy, the laughter in their faces, the bond they had with each other, their shared reality. As I watched the jubilance of my eight children, I thought, "Let them play, let them escape from their grief." While they cavorted on the dunes, I drove back to Jabalia Camp to get the kebabs. There had been such a long line at the butcher early that morning that I'd decided to go to the beach and return for the meat once the children were settled. While driving, I thought about Nadia and the changes in our lives since she had died. At first I'd believed that I would have to stop the research work I was doing, since it required me to be in Tel Aviv from Monday to Thursday. But the children insisted that I continue. They said, "We'll take care of everything at home. Don't worry." It was the way Nadia had raised them. She was the example they were following. Nadia managed the house, the children, the extended family, everything, while I went away to study, to work, to try to make a better life for all of us. Sometimes I was away for three months. When I studied public health at Harvard from 2003 to 2004, I was gone for a year. But how could these children manage without a mother if their father was away more than half the time, even though they all told me that I needed to go on? This is why I was so happy they had agreed to move to Toronto; there we could all be together, with no border to cross every day.
Excerpted from I Shall Not Hate by Izzeldin Abuelaish. Copyright © 2011 by Izzeldin Abuelaish. Excerpted by permission of Walker & Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
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