Gaza, December, We grow up being lectured about courage and taking risks and how exhilarating it is. They make it sound like the right thing to do. Until we become adults and we start getting lectured about not taking risks and hearing pro-cowardice sayings like this Arabic one that says: “Cowardice makes two thirds of manhood”, meaning: “When shit hits the fan, RUN”.
“Manhood” and many other terms are being deformed recently in the Arabic region and also the world, but I will come to that later on in future posts.
I saw a man in the street, exiting his house, arguing with his wife then BAM. He smacked her across the face. It was like a scene from a movie. She held her face and started crying, he had visible signs of anguish on his face, they both saw me standing there, and I myself was frozen. Stunned, perplexed, speechless and thinking.
Gaza is like most Arab countries\cities. A little society that is conservative and mainly fueled by traditions. Old, very old ones, that are usually confused with religious rituals. Long story short, if you are a smart person and you saw what I saw, DO NOT INTERFERE between a wife and her man. Just walk away. Unfortunately, I am not smart enough when it comes to domestic violence or violence against women. I was never beaten up as a child and never saw my family or friends use violence against women or each other so I refuse all kinds of violence.
I thought to myself: “So whats the worst case scenario Omar “The Hero of Stupidity”? You say something to the man and you end up getting into a fight which might turn ugly since he can call on his sons and neighborhood backup males. I would appear wrong for interfering and get beaten up. Or he would be a gentleman and just give me a black eye. Or he might listen to me (Ha Yeah right)”. So I decided whatever the outcome is, I am going for it. I would rather get beaten up than feel bad about not saying anything. (Don’t judge, I said I am not smart enough)
I found myself uttering: DO NOT HIT HER, AGAIN”. And hell opened. I distracted him from her but now he got all angry, red faced, cursing me loudly and heading towards me. “Don’t flinch or move a muscle, treat him like you learned how to act around a deadly snake”, I said to myself.
He came and stood right in my face, screaming and spitting. I acted cold and calm as quiet ice (quiet ice? Whatever).
“Uncle, I am not trying to interfere. You are a respectable man and your wife is a good woman, you don’t want people to misjudge you. Consider me your son”, I said impressing myself but he wasn’t impressed. “You are not my fucking son”, he spat. I knew this means trouble.
I saw his wife making signs to me from behind telling me to stop this and just leave. He saw her. She then told me she doesn’t need my help, she loves her husband, its ok if he hits her and begged me to leave.
The man started going back and forth. Furious. Brushing his hair. I think he was considering his next move. So I jumped in quickly telling him I don’t judge him and I will not tell anyone but its obvious how much he loves his wife and that hitting women isn’t cool. Then I regretted saying “cool”. Like he would care about what’s cool and what isn’t.
To my surprise, he invited me to his house. I thought of politely declining. I knew it has to mean that I am either gonna get killed or kidnapped or beaten. But then he looked into my eyes and suddenly I trusted him. (Again, I am sometimes idiotic, don’t judge). Besides, we live in the same neighborhood, its not like my family wont figure it out and claim my body. (I hope they do)
He asked me all the formal questions, told me he knew my dad (Phew maybe a good sign) and begged me not to call the police or report him to anyone. I said I wouldn’t. But I got scared because it felt like I will end up sympathizing with him and that’s bad. Then I will start finding excuses for him and for every other man who lays a hand on a female.
We started discussing the environment the person grows up in, how he is raised, what he witnesses and ofcourse how occupation ruins everything. I usually get irritated of how much we try to blame occupation sometimes for things that we should blame upon ourselves. But this time he was right. As a dad of 7 children, he witnessed all Intifadas and wars. He is trying hard to make a living, fighting Gaza’s impossible living conditions and yet didnt lose his mind.
He is double my age now, 54, he was my age when the first Intifada happened. He was happily married with one child. He had so many dreams and ambitions then it got all screwed and ruined. Since then, his life has been one big ugly rollercoaster and his main goal is to constantly have food on the table to feed his kids. And education, it’s a very important thing for him to educate his chilldren since he holds a Bachelor’s degree. He worked pretty much in everything. He is responsible for a number of families including his own, his married son, his dead brother’s family and his dad. His brother was shot during the first Intifada. Too much mouths to feed, as he said it.
His wife loves him to death. So on the day this incident happened, the man was sick and his wife was trying to bring him back inside telling him he should rest and she will go out try to make a living. She admits: “He smacks me sometimes, but out of love”. He looked like a tortured soul, a man who endured hell and yet still tries to keep standing and make a living. Still, I reminded myself, whatever the situation is: IT IS WRONG TO HIT A WOMAN.
He told me that his grandson was sick and he couldn’t skip work. He needed to work so he could afford taking him to the doctor. And he wouldn’t let his wife work. “My son graduated a few years ago, he is my eldest, he tries to work, but as you see Gaza is the spring of unemployment”, he said while his eyes turned red. “Do you believe that I hold a Bachelor’s degree? Yes. Me. Yet, I have to work in anything I can find just to keep everyone going. Its exhausting and humiliating but its worth it. And I will never humiliate my wife or let her go and beg for work”, he chocked as tears rolled slowly down his eyes. I couldn’t help but shed a tear as well. But his wife broke down and hugged him. I felt weird. I looked like a foreign journalist who is there to interview them or write their story.
Weird enough, he asked me if I was a journalist or foreign. I said I am Palestinian and I haven’t written in a while and I don’t use people for stories unless they let me or ask me to share.
They insisted I stay for lunch but it was too awkward so I made up an excuse and left. But before that, I talked to him about domestic violence and hitting women. I tried not to sound like a lecturer but I did. “You need to understand uncle, hitting women isn’t right no matter what excuse you tell yourself. I will not ask you to go the gym to release negative energy, just walk it out or read Quran if you are too tired to walk or just sleep it off. Anything but hitting women. I know it anguishes you and it hurts your wife so why not just stop it?”, I said embarrassingly.
“I never laid a hand on my daughters. But sometimes I get angry, I don’t do drugs like other men here, I have a family to feed, I need to be sober and save money. I need a release or I will die. My wife is a good woman, she tolerates me and I swear I don’t smack her hard. I suspect my son is doing the same with his wife and I feel guilty.”, he said while looking down. I was saddened but understanding. He clearly appears like he wouldn’t do anything to his sons in law if they hit his daughters, he will feel like a hypocrite. That’s just wrong.
Before I could respond, his wife hurried to chip in. “Yes, it hurts more mentally than physically, I feel humiliated but at the same time I feel like as a good wife I need to help him get a release. Or he will die. So I let him hit me and promise myself to stop him next time. I never did. I love him too much. I overcome my shame and pain and anger for him. But inside, we both know its wrong. Atleast he never hit me infront of the children, right?”, she asked me. I didn’t answer because she knew the answer and wasn’t herself convinced that it was “right”.
He promised me never to hit her again. He realized its wrong. But I didn’t believe him, he knew it was wrong all along but did it anyway. She promised me she will stop him if he did it again, but we both knew it will never happen.
I left feeling overwhelmed, thinking about children who see their dads hit their moms and how they follow the same pattern. Wondering why women are considered second class citizens in their own home? Why do we tolerate that? Why do we shove it under the rug and act like our societies are strong and religious?
I still see him around sometimes. He waves his hand to me and all I can think of is the memory of waving his hand to land on his wife’s face. He smiles, but I cant smile back.
I faced the sad truth. Arab women are oppressed, degraded, abused and underestimated.
Ofcourse, many Arab women broke the cycle and soared to success. They fought against all odds, although it shouldn’t be so hard for them to become achievers. In Gaza too, many women revolted against traditions and violence and oppression. They became a beckon of inspiration, hope and success. Yet, many others are still suffering, still being hit, still being degraded and still being forced to shut up about it or lose their house, family, kids or even life.
Unlike the western world thinks, Islam honored women and actually emphasized on their rights more than men’s rights. Women should enjoy equality and all kinds of freedoms, including the freedom of choice.
Women aren’t only our moms, sisters, wives and daughters. They are our friends, colleagues and peers too. I see men here go from opening the car door for their wives to being there for them and helping them succeed. Some men here even stay with the kids or work under their wives to make sure their business grow. And so many other sweet stuff. Unfortunately, those are the exception to the rule, and not the rule itself.
Its nearly 2015, and you still hear about so many cases of honor killing and beating up women in the Arab region and the world. Its not acceptable one bit. And this global new trend of promoting sexual violence claiming women love that, its beyond disgusting and sick.
If you think hitting women makes you a better man, you are wrong. Manhood is about respecting women and treating them right, not the opposite. Don’t make excuses up.
Your action shouldn’t just stop at not hitting women. It should extend to reach much higher actions like standing against domestic violence and violence against women. Your duty is not only to stop yourself from laying a hand on a woman, but stopping from doing it too.
Be strong by protecting women, not hitting them.
From Gaza with love,