My name is Achlas Ashtaya and I live in the village of Salem in the Nablus District
Osama Abu Ayash - "With High Hopes"
My name is Osama Taleb Abed El Magid Abu Ayash. I was born and live in the village Beit Omar, Hebron. I was born on the 11th of February 1966, had a usual childhood and went to primary school in the village. I learned to read and write and many other things about life. I got to know my relatives and my mother's family who come from Nablus (Shechem). I came to know my country, my national home Palestine.
When I was eight years old I learned that my father did only light work as he had a heart condition as a result of having lost his father in the war on the 12th of May 1948 on our land in Etzion together with two of his uncle's children and six fighters from the village.
My father told me of the pain and bitterness he felt after his father had fallen and the land was occupied by the Jews. He told me about the occupation of all of Palestine, about the ‘48 war and the '67 war. I was then one year old and he carried me and walked with my mother, my grandmother and me to the cave, which existed on the land owned by us in the name of Abu Ayash. The cave still exists today. My father was sickly and I was always worried that I would lose him. I loved him very much and could not imagine a situation that I would have to live without him.
I was nine years old in 1975, my father had a second stroke, which left him partially paralyzed. Life became unbearable and my father's imminent death was closer than ever according to the doctors. I remained at school and worked after school with my mother on the land. We had many different fruit trees and we sold the fruit for our livelihood. My mother began to work at home on a manual–weaving machine and the burden of upkeep of our large family was hers alone. The burden was heavy. Our family consisted of our father and mother, five sons and three daughters. I am the eldest. Our standard of living went from bad to worse until we barely had bread to eat due to the expenses of the treatments that my father needed. He died in 1982. He was born in 1922. I was seventeen and in the eleventh grade so I left school and started to work in difficult jobs such as driving a tractor and the like. With my salary we bought a new electric weaving machine and then I went back to school and continued working. I continued to study and worked as a plasterer. I obtained a diploma in psychology but did not work in that profession.
Life was not easy. Everything was difficult because the occupation did not leave me in peace. I was arrested three times, the last time in 1990, an event I remember well and will never forget because the investigators invented all sorts of ways and means to hurt me mentally and physically. The methods used were: to leave me naked, put me into a small cupboard, they used electricity, hot and freezing water, tied my hands and feet while I was standing, not letting me go to the bathroom so I dirtied myself. They suspected me of having taken part in shots that were fired on a settlers' bus on the way to Hebron. The perpetrators were apprehended and I was released and the investigator apologized to me for the torture I had been through. I did not belong to any political organization and did not participate in resistance to the occupation. I was investigated simply because I was busy trying to feed my large family. I started to take an interest in the Fatah movement after they chose the path of Oslo and peace.
I got married in 1992. My wife is from a simple and good family from Nablus consisting of 6 sons and 4 daughters. One brother, Louis, was wounded by a dumdum bullet which burst in his breast when he and his sister, my wife, were watching the soldiers from the window of their house. He was 10 when he was wounded in 1988. My wife's eldest brother was not present at our wedding as he was imprisoned for four years. He was released a year later. A second brother, Kamal, was 20 years old when he fell on the 6th of April 2002.
Kamal's story and his joining the resistance in Nablus began when he was 18 and worked for a garage not far from his home. He used to walk to work, and one day on the way home Israeli soldiers stopped him and checked and interrogated him. They asked for his I.D. They asked where he had come from and what his destination was and he answered. One soldier asked: "Why are you laughing?" And he answered: "I am not laughing. I just have a smiling face." He soldier insisted: "You are laughing at me and besides what is all the black stuff on your hands, were you preparing a bomb or a belt?" "No," Kamal answered, "it is dirt caused by my work at the garage. You can come to the garage and see." The soldiers started beating him with their hands and feet and their guns until he fell on the road. They left him bleeding and went on their way.
Kamal did not die but he was badly wounded and lost a lot of blood from his ear. Eyewitnesses and passersby took him to the hospital in Nablus where he told his family and friends what had happened and what he thought about it. He decided to take his revenge on these soldiers even if it would cost him his life. He said to his friends that he has a job, and he has money with which he will buy a gun, that he will search for the soldiers and take revenge. He felt that he would never forget their villainous faces.
Kamal was released from hospital and did what he threatened to do. He bought a gun and started looking for the soldiers. Everyone knows that the soldiers are rotated and Kamal did not find the same soldiers. He did not shoot at other soldiers even after a year of carrying a gun. However, because he was armed he became a wanted man by the Israeli forces who had heard that he was armed from collaborators. Kamal was wanted until he was slain on the 6th of April 2002 when he was 20. He was killed, but they were not successful in disarming him. Tayseer, his brother, aged 19 inherited the gun and he decided to revenge his brother, Kamal. Tayseer fell a year later for the same reason and by the same method.
The importance of the above story is what happened to my wife after she lost her brother Tayseer on the 1st of May 2003. On that day I was working on a cement truck. Shaab, also my wife's brother, called me and told me what had happened to Tayseer and had asked me to bring my wife to Nablus, but to tell her that Tayseer was badly wounded and not that he was killed for fear that she will collapse on hearing the bad news. I immediately returned home and found her crying because someone had told her that Tayseer was wounded. I took our four daughters to my mother's house and we left for Nablus. The journey was difficult because of the curfew, the checkpoints and the obstructions. It took us 10 hours to get to Nablus as opposed to the two hours it normally takes. We transferred from vehicle to vehicle and walked until we reached the family home. We saw lots of people milling around the house and my wife felt at once that Tayseer was not wounded but was dead. Tayseer's body was still in cold storage in the hospital. My wife broke down completely and we called a doctor who gave her a tranquilizer and other pills but she insisted on seeing her brother. In the hospital, she saw her dearest and best loved brother for the last time. On the following day we took the body from the cold storage to be buried. We stayed one more day and returned, with the same difficulties, to Beit Omar.
At home, the real problem began. The tranquilizers had lost their effect and Antisar, my wife, became befuddled, screamed, cried and called for Kamal and Tayseer. She began to act wildly. Our little girls saw their mother's behavior and also started shouting and crying. We again called a doctor to give her more tranquilizers. I left my job and stayed with her because she was in a very bad state. The social worker was no help. As I had stopped working and we had no money our lives became very difficult since here in Palestine there is no one to help the many victims.
A few months later, my wife's condition improved and I wanted to take her out in the car for a drive. Outside, I saw an Israeli car parked nearby the house of my sister and her husband Razi. I asked who the visitors were. When I heard that they were Jews I said to Razi: how can you bring home Jews who killed your brother, have you forgotten his blood? He told me that his visitors had lost dear ones in a terrorist attack. Please, he said, they are here enter and speak to them. If they don't find favor in your eyes you can leave. I said that I will not leave and it is they who will go and not return. However, when I entered, I met someone by the name of Rami Elhanan who respectfully stood to greet me. He shook my hand. I felt as though he was about to kiss me. I asked: "What are you doing here? Aren't you afraid?" He said: "Aren't we all human beings?" He started to tell me how he had lost his beloved daughter and how much he missed her. He encouraged me to speak about our pain. He told me that he recognizes the Palestinian pain and feels that it is imperative that a Palestinian state be established. It is necessary to put a stop to the occupation. He told me that he is working to that end with the Forum of bereaved families from both the Palestinian and Israeli sides. Rami spoke about the Forum, its members, objectives and activities. His words were strong and convincing. I also told him about our loss. He invited us to join the Forum, to become members. I said I would join but that my wife is in a bad state. I agreed to become a member of the Forum at that moment. Later I told my wife about the meeting with Rami and told her that there are Israeli families who suffer and cry when they lose their dear ones. She did not believe me and said they are murderers who don't cry, but who make the Palestinians cry.
In time I got to know about the Forum more thoroughly and believed in their message. I was invited to participate in a conference under the heading "Conciliation". The participants were from Israel and Jordan, people who had chosen the path of Peace. I persuaded my wife to join me and my sister and her husband, Razi, also accompanied us. There we met additional bereaved families. My wife was amazed to see Salma the Israeli Druze who lost her brother and two sons who were serving in the Israeli army and who were killed in Lebanon.
On the second day of the conference, my wife Antisar wandered amongst the participants chatting to them in English. When we met at the end of the day, she told me she had spoken to bereaved Israeli families and heard their stories. She felt, for sure, that the pain was the same pain, the suffering the same suffering, and the tears the same tears with the same salty taste. I couldn't believe that this was my wife talking. She asked how could she become a member of the Forum. She did not know that I had become a member from the first meeting in Razi's house, and I explained that I was unable to tell her at the time because of the difficult state she was in. Thus, we both became members of the Bereaved Families' Forum.
My wife succeeded in enlisting her parents, brothers and sisters as well as tens of bereaved families in Nablus as members of the Forum.
This is my personal story and I pray to God that we will be able to pass on the message of the Forum, to prevent bereavement that the nations of the area are suffering from, and to solve the Israeli–Palestinian conflict in the manner which we believe in and will reach an agreement which honors the national rights of both sides.
With high hopes,
Osama Abu Ayash