Bonnie Genevich (Brooklyn, New York)

Reflection after a home stay at the Dheisheh Refugee Camp and after stops at striking prison support tents in Bethlehem and Ramallah:

While in Bethlehem we visited LAYLAC: The Palestinian Youth Action Center for Community Development that adjoins the Dheisheh Refugee Camp, one of the camps Palestinian refugees were forced to live in after 1948. Having spent the majority of my professional social work life working with teens and young adults, I was particularly interested in learning about this center and its approach to youth development in the midst of structural oppression that limits, on all fronts, potential development of empowered young leaders.

Touring the refugee camp, we turned corner after corner and each turn revealed the beautiful faces of children and young adults painted or posted on walls, door frames, or windows. Face after face - youthful, proud, expectant. Each picture was that of a Palestinian child of the camp, killed in colonized Palestine occupied by the Israeli Defense Forces.

How could there be so many? Many had committed no crime. It's estimated that at over 80% of Palestinian children arresed by Israel have been accused, with or without proof, of throwing stones at some symbol of colonial power. 

After the tour, learning about LAYLAC's philosophy, strategies, and programs, and enjoying a delicious dinner, I and two other delegates went to spend the night at one of the camp's host families. As we were assigned to our homes, the LAYLAC director, gently whispered in my ear, "You are going to a very special place." We were then driven to a house shrouded in darkness and asked to wait while our young driver went to a house several doors away. He returned with the resident of the darkened house who escorted us to the apartment we were to spend the night.

Once inside, we learned that this was her home. A home she found entirely too painful to be in as it was the home she had shared with her son, before he was killed by the Israeli army in October 2015. Pictures of him filled the space. Her entire body conveyed grief. It was as if time had stopped for her. The most indelible image was of her eyes, dark, penetrating, sorrowful, forcing back tears as we offered condolences. 

I immediately recalled one of the walls we had seen earlier during our tour with a picture of four children, and a fifth space, with just a question mark. Which mother would be the next to stare through tears and mourn? In the days that followed I would see those eyes again and again on the faces of mothers who sat in the tents in town squares holding pictures of their lost sons while supporting the prisoners on hunger strike to gain improved prison conditions. 

So mothers will continue to mourn, but at the same time resist the structural oppression they and their children are subjected to. As we joined the demonstration in Ramallah in support of the prisoners' strike, I carried images of those eyes as I watched the young people rise up in non-violent resistance, a powerful wave asserting their right to live free and equal. Their mothers’ strength propelled them.