Occupied Palestine from A to Z: Arwa’s Dream | My Palestine

Arwa, little Arwa with the long dark hair and the large eyes, pressed “play” on the old battered CD-Player and the minute traditional Palestinian songs filled the room, she started dancing alongside her two younger sisters. She loved the dabkeh and was a member of the dabkeh group at the refugee camp’s cultural centre. She sang along the words she often heard and long memorized, her legs moved as if by magic, in total harmony with the beats. Watching her, you would think she was living in a world of her own; a magical world, a happy one filled with music, dancing and laughter. And she would infect you with her happiness, and you would feel the urge to join her and her little sisters, feel the urge to stand, put your hands in their little ones, and join them in their dabkeh and they would grant you entrance to their magical world. You would feel happy. And only the abrupt breaks, whenever she would stop dancing and singing to instruct one of her sisters and correct their moves, would bring you back to the reality of the little house, cold dark walls, and the outworn clothes of Arwa and her sisters … the bleak reality of a refugee child seeking refuge in music and songs and dabkeh.

Arwa is a lively girl, a beautiful young girl who loves life, is full of life, with a smile that brings sunshine into a cloudy day. She loves playing, dancing, singing and watching romantic soaps on TV. Arwa is a clever girl, with a mind of her own, one who doesn’t allow anyone to bully her. She loves going to school every now and then, except on the days when she has exams, but loves the dabkeh classes after school more than anything else. And every day, after school and dabkeh practice, she would come back home to a simple lunch, do her homework and then hurry, laughing, to remove the mattresses aside, clear the “ground” and press the “play” button on the CD-Player to practice her newest dabkeh moves. That was her favourite time of the day. But as the hours pass by, Arwa would throw quick glimpses at the window. She would watch, with worry in her beautiful large eyes, as the day light slips away and darkness replaces it, she would watch anxiously until darkness engulfs the place.

Arwa is a lively angel, energetic, not easily subdued and rarely knows rest. But when the night comes, as the house drowns in darkness, Arwa’s smile vanishes with the last rays of light. Arwa does not love the night, she fears the night. She watches with anxiety as the lights are lit in the house and as the time for bed nears. She becomes restless, she becomes annoyed, shouts, fights with her younger siblings, throws her books and copybooks against the wall, because beautiful, little lively lovely Arwa fears the night. Whenever her parents have relatives or friends staying in for the night, Arwa knows they would spend the whole night in the sitting room chatting, talking about politics and all sorts of things. She would lie near her mother on the couch, covered with a light blanket and try and catch sleep while the lights were still on and while the voices of her parents and their guests were still heard. On other days, she would rush to bed before the usual sleeping hour of her younger siblings and pray to fall asleep before her parents turn off all the lights and go to sleep. And if she laid up in herbed, unable to sleep while her siblings around her were fast dreaming, she would sing to herself in a very low voice, whisper songs of comfort, until her parents come to check on her and her siblings. She would then beg them to stay up late a little bit longer, just until she slept. Many are the times, when her mother or father had to spend the whole night by her side. Many are the times when her mother or father would come and sit beside her bed, comforting her, until she slept. So great is her fear of the darkness and what it brings.

Arwa fears the night. She fears the night, because it is during the night, when it is dark, when her parents are asleep, when her siblings are asleep, when all the people in the refugee camp are asleep, when everyone is asleep, it is then that the sound of bullets kill the silence of the night, that the sound of bombs thunders throughout the refugee camp, that the cries of neighbours, friends and loved ones pierce your heart … it is during the night that the Israeli military raids begin, that the occupation soldiers come banging on the doors, beating mothers and children, kidnapping fathers and uncles. They come when it is dark, when Arwa and her siblings and parents are asleep. They wait till they are all asleep, they wait for the darkness to kill Palestinians and commit massacres.

It all started during the second intifada, when the war criminal Sharon, the butcher whose hands are drenched in the blood of Palestinians and Arabs, sent his criminal militias to massacre Palestinian civilians, to maim and kidnap Palestinians, to destroy Palestinian homes, schools, clinics, mosques and churches. One evening, after the sun had set and darkness came, Arwa was standing near her mother in the kitchen. She watched as her mother fried potato slices for their simple dinner. They always had fried potato slices; for breakfast, for dinner and for supper. Potatoes were cheap and he father, whose first Intifada injury prevented him from finding a full-time job, had to do with small jobs here and there, and thus could only afford potatoes most of the time. Potatoes were cheap. And while the potato slices sizzled in the hot oil, a whizzing sound shot across the room from outside. … A round of shooting had just begun and before they could realize what was going on, a bullet had broken through the glass window, flew just above Arwa’s head, hit into the opposite wall and stuck there. Within a flash, within a second, or so it seemed, Arwa heard her mother scream, was scooped of the ground and carried into an inner room. She saw her parents hurriedly collect her other siblings into that small inner room and close the door. The room was a sort of a small room within a room and thus had no windows to the outside and was somewhat safer than all other rooms in the house. And while her little siblings were crying and her parents trying to comfort them, she sat hugging her mother, listening to the rush of bullets, to the sound of shelling that seemed to be pounding their house to the ground, to the screams around her and outside in the darkness … and then Arwa started to sing to cover up the deafening sounds. It was useless, her voice was low, was shaking and the bullets and the bangs outside were getting louder and louder. She finally buried her head beneath the pillow, held it tight around her ears and started singing the lines her mother so often sang to her and her siblings, the lines she so often whispered in the night praying they would summon sleep:
“Sleep, sleep, oh little one….. till we fall asleep on the mat”
“Sleep in the darkness… till the cloud passes away… and we have a great light … that shines on the whole neighbourhood”

That night was only the beginning, many night raids followed and with every raid, bullets, explosions, bangs, screams and crying accompanied. Every time, the sounds of F-16s and Apaches, the rushes of bullets and the bangs on doors during house arrests rape the silence of the night, refusing to give Palestinians a moment of calm, a moment of rest, a moment of sleep. And as if not enough, since a couple of months, dogs are released into the refugee camp at night. The residents say the dogs don’t belong to anyone from the refugee camp; they are huge, are released at certain hours in the night and are never seen during the day. The dogs bark all night, scary deep barks that bring even more fear to the hearts of little children and to the heart of sleepless Arwa.

One afternoon, Arwa was on her way back home from dabke practice when she saw many people standing outside her aunt’s house, some were shouting, mostly women, elderly and children. She ran and squeezed through the crowd into the house. There she saw a dozen or more Israeli occupation soldiers; some were standing at the entrance pointing their guns at the neighbours gathered outside, others were shouting at her aunt, her cousins and some women, and in a corner she saw some five or six soldiers surrounding one of her cousins. Her 16 years old cousin was handcuffed and two soldiers were kicking him while one kept slapping him and another was hitting with his rifle butt. His mother, sisters and a dozen other women were trying to free him; some tried talking calmly to the soldiers, begging them to let him go. “He is just a child! Why are you taking him? He was here at home all day!” Others were yelling at the soldiers, telling them they are monsters, who beat and kidnap little children, too cowardly to confront men so they beat little children. “What if this was your child? Would you treat your child like this?!” screamed someone. And as the occupation soldiers, armed from top to bottom, dragged her cousin away from the house and while the women still held on to him, still pleading with the soldiers, shouting at them, Arwa rushed and clung to her cousin’s leg. She shouted at the soldiers: “leave him, go away, leave us, this is our home, this is our country!” she shouted and screamed at the soldiers, kicked at their feet, but not one minute did she fear them or their machine guns. One soldier kicked her away, she stood up and ran to cling again to her cousin. She wasn’t afraid, she felt strong, powerful.

That night, when it was time to sleep, Arwa begged her mother to keep the lights on. “But I heard you were brave today, you tried to protect your cousin, you didn’t fear the soldiers”. Arwa wrapped the blanket around her and said: “Yamma, I don’t fear them during the day … and their guns and bullets don’t scare me. But they come at night, while we are sleeping, while we are unaware, I fear them when they come while we sleep and can’t defend ourselves.” Her mother looked at her, she understood what Arwa was talking about, how she felt, she herself often prayed before falling asleep that her family be spared the next air raid, that they survive the night, that they should be spared being buried alive under their shelled house. “We will always protect you, your strength will protect you, your courage will protect you.” Arwa hugged her mother: “Yamma, I want to sleep at night without bullets, without helicopters or tanks, I want to sleep and not wonder if I will wake up in the morning or if you will still be there or if our house will still be there. I want to sleep and dream of friends who are not killed or who are not in wheel chair, I want to sleep and dream of classrooms that are not bombed and desks that are not full of blood. I want to sleep and dream of you and papa and my sisters packing our bags and leaving this refugee camp and going back to our village and rebuilding my grandfather’s house. We promised him that!”. Arwa’s mother hugged her tightly and kissed her forehead. She knows that the day will come when Arwa will no longer fear the night, will no longer fear the darkness, will face it and face the armed monsters who are too cowardly to face us in the daylight so they come at night while we sleep. And until that day comes, she will continue to sing for Arwa until she sleeps:
“Sleep, sleep, oh little one….. till we fall asleep on the mat”
“Sleep in the darkness… till the cloud passes away… and we have a great light … that shines on the whole neighbourhood”

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via Occupied Palestine from A to Z: Arwa’s Dream | My Palestine.

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