Nabi Saleh, West Bank | Women from the village circle around an overwhelmed Nariman as music blasts from speakers in the overcrowded balcony. In a labored smile, Nariman catches her breath while trying to inconspicuously sneak glances at her son. Her young Waed has finally been released from Israeli prisons after nine and a half months. He is home, a fact that is difficult for a mother to process after such an arduous journey.
When Waed arrives near Attara checkpoint in a small car, he is surprised to see a parade of orange ford mini buses and cars extravagantly decorated with flamboyant flags ready to greet him. His friends and cousins run to him first. Initially, he seems hesitant to embrace them and then his grips become tighter and longer. He really is home.
The entire route from Attara to Waed’s home in Nabi Saleh the youth were singing from their windows and honking noisily to mark this joyous event. An Israeli jeep cuts through the parade and drives amid the cars. The youth respond by honking more and shouting even louder, as though giving the proverbial middle finger to their occupier. This is their moment to be glorious. The jeep kept driving in front of the parade until the village entrance. Unabashed, they all used this moment to taunt the uninvited intruder with thunderous laughter and dancing flags, and most importantly with their celebrations of life.
We laughed, and laughed, and cried all at once.
It was heartwarming to see Waed smile from ear to ear as he re-introduces himself to his home, friends, family and mother. The women greeted him with chants and songs of resistance about overcoming the prisons. The rest of the crowd was running up the hill, past the cars and the flocks of laughing children in an attempt to catch a glimpse of the moment Waed finally sees his mother. Nariman was flustered, and yet had to contain herself as she shares her son’s hugs with everyone else that joined her that evening.
Change and theft of time
Much of the Tamimi’s home has changed since Waed last saw it; the way the furniture is set, the renovations and additions to the home. He was not able to witness the process of his home growing and expanding, just as his family and friends were not able to witness his own growth over the past nine months.
Nariman, exhausted from the celebrations sits in a chair and sighs “I love my children, I love life, resistance and hope.” Staring at her son as he converses with the friends he’s missed she whimpers “they (Israel) took almost a year from his life for nothing.”
According to Defense for Children in Palestine, Israel is the only state in the world which prosecutes children in military courts lacking “basic and fundamental trial guarantees.” Since 2000, more than 8,000 Palestinian children have been prosecuted in Israeli military courts.
While Waed is no longer classified as a minor, it is important to note that this is not the first time he had been arrested. In 2012, when he was a minor, he was arrested during a demonstration in Nabi Saleh as his sister, Ahed, stood in front of the jeep attempting to stop his arrest to no avail.
Waed’s eyes seem labored as though they have aged exponentially over the past months. “They don’t just steal time from us, they try to steal pieces of our spirit” explains Waed’s aunt, Nawal. The Palestinian NGO, Miftah, reports that approximately 85% of Palestinian prisoners are subject to systematic torture during their imprisonment. The effect this holds on prisoners can result in long term trauma and difficulty in returning to life before incarceration.
Waed seems to enjoy the gathering of friends and family. He was already taking selfies of “freedom” and teasing his cousins about how different they appear. However, the effects of his experience may never leave him.
Laughter and realizations
With the lights from Halamish settlement visible in the horizon, Nawal filled with sweat from dancing stares at the illegal settlement and whimsically confesses “it feels good to be genuinely happy.” Taking a moment to catch her breath she continues “we, Palestinians, have endured such hardships and horrors but when we see something beautiful we know how to appreciate it. We know how to love the banalities of life.” Everyone that evening in Nabi Saleh was smiling from ear-to-ear, as though their hearts are imploding with a little magic.
The children were running around from room to room trying to play amid the loud music and plethora of people gathering to see Waed. Nariman and I look at the children for a moment and a young Palestinian woman interrupts our silent contemplation “so, that’s the new generation, ah?” She jests pointing toward the children. “They’re future Waed, Bahaa, Oday, Louay” We burst into laughter, the three of us.
We laugh as we realize that indeed it is the next generation. And if nothing changes, sometime from now, we may be at their very own welcome back party– if we are lucky. If we are not so fortunate, they may be the next Mustafa or Rushdi Tamimi, and instead of dancing and singing, we’d be crying and hovering over their lifeless bodies.
But that Thursday evening in Nabi Saleh, we danced under the stars and sang until our lungs gave out. We stuffed our bellies with food and sweets and Waed came home. The young boy is home, with labored eyes and an experience he can never erase from his memory, the young boy is home.