Guest contribution by Jana Daoud
I walked ahead, expecting to find our family friends waiting for us by their car. Instead I heard someone call my name. I turned right into an embrace. I didn’t know this woman –– she visited my family when I was away for college –– but she knew me. As soon as I was in her arms, I felt lighter. I wasn’t carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders alone anymore.
I jotted those words down nearly two years ago about my first visit to Palestine, my first time going home. The woman whose loving embrace greeted me right as I entered my home — she is the strongest woman I have ever met and probably will ever meet. I call her Khalto Um Omar, just like mama told me to.
Khalto Um Omar is a Palestinian woman who has given her all to resisting the occupation. Her home has been and still is regularly raided by the Israeli military, yet she does not sway from her firm principle. She refuses to leave her home and she vows time and time again to keep resisting.
She has been married for over 23 years though her husband has been imprisoned for 19 of them. She raised her six children as best as she could while her husband was hidden away in Israeli prisons or Palestinian Authority jails. The two are now imprisoned together after being detained in mid-February. There are no formal charges and there is no declared jail sentence.
The following seven months were certainly long and grueling for Khalto and her husband. Seven months of not knowing when they will return to their family. seven months of wondering what landed you in prison. seven months of demanding a trial or, at the very least, a list of charges against you. seven months of being kept in the dark.
But finally, by the end of that seventh month, Khalto walked out. She returned home. She slept in her own house that night surrounded by children and family.
What did Khalto have to say to the cameras that greeted her at the prison gate? “My happiness is not complete. My husband is still in prison, and my friends that I left behind.” She was finally reunited with most of her family, but it wasn’t complete. I wished I could help her feel the way she helped me feel — lighter.
Khalto probably doesn’t know that she was the one who made my first trip to Palestine extra special. I didn’t think that someone who was already carrying such a heavy load could carry someone else’s. I didn’t think that a person this selfless could exist. I didn’t know that there could be so much generosity, strength, and kindness in a human soul.
Khalto, you opened up your home and your heart to me. I hope that one day I could carry some of the loud that you’ve carried for us all. I hope that one day we won’t feel like we’re carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders. I hope that one day you could take your weekly trip to Jerusalem on Fridays and then watch the sea waves in Akka and Gaza. I hope that one day soon, you will see a free Palestine.
Jana Daoud is an undergraduate student at Roosevelt University in Chicago where she is majoring in International and Social Justice studies.