Daily Archives: January 24, 2019

2 posts

HerView: The Women of al-Am’ari

By Margaux MacColl

Night time brings chaos to the al-Am’ari refugee camp.

Almost every night, Israeli security forces storm beneath the white, key-emblazoned arch, guns in hand. They navigate the cramped alleys and enter Palestinian homes, sometimes by force. There have been reports of soldiers waking families by gunpoint.

The al-Am’ari camp is located in city of Ramallah, located in the West Bank.

B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, reported that between February 24 to March 23, Israeli security forces “made at least 49 raids on towns and villages” in the Ramallah District where al-Am’ari is located. During these raids, they arrested at least 73 Palestinians, including 18 minors. Most, if not all, were men.

Men in the refugee camps can get arrested for almost anything, from opening fire to throwing stones.This is a result of Israel’s use of “administrative detention,” which, according to B’Tselem, is a method the government uses “to incarcerate Palestinians who have not been convicted of anything for years on end.”

Administrative detention gives the military commander of the West Bank the power to arrest individuals for up to six months (with an option to renew their sentence for another six months at the end) without telling them what they’re being charged for.

Therefore, al-Ama’ri exists in a state of constant fluctuation. The nightly raids result in Palestinian men being taken from their families and put in jail for months, even years, at a time.

In the wake of these arrests, the women of al-Am’ari remain.

The sign-in camp.

When a man is taken to Israeli prison, the women of al-Am’ari gather in his absence.

“If one of the sons is arrested, all the mothers will go to sit with her. She will be crying. We sit to comfort her,” Im Nidal said. “If one of their sons is being released, we will go and have a party. We continue to visit her just to comfort her.”

Two-year-old Nidal was forced out of her family’s village near Jaffa in 1948. She has lived in al-Am’ari ever since, raising her many sons in the camp. At least five of her sons have been to Israeli jail.

Although it’s one of the smallest camps in the West Bank with about 6,100 refugees, the population has more than doubled since its establishment in 1949. The boundaries of the camp cannot change, so the homes continue to grow shakily upward as the residents continue to have large families.

When the men in the camp are arrested, there is a vacuum within these households, and the community as a whole, that needs to be filled.

Wendy Pearlman, a professor at Northwestern University who has written extensively on the Palestinian movement, said that conflict can “sometimes leave a space for women when the men begin, in some ways, disappearing from the scene.”

“If the father’s no longer there,” she said. “Then the mother is the ‘head’ of the household. Economically, socially, emotionally and so forth.”

Nidal’s granddaughter, Rema, is a perfect example of a Palestinian woman growing beyond traditional roles. She’s currently enrolled at Al-Quds Open University in Jordan studying business management.

“Many have come to ask for Rema’s hand to get married,” Rema’s father, Emad Katriya, said. He rejects the men for now, telling them that “it’s very important that my daughter continues her education.”

Emad Katriya, father of Rema, standing in the living room of his home.

In fact, all of the Nidal’s granddaughters are getting an education. While the girls in the camp are typically married off in their teenage years, there is a growing trend to educate their daughters before marriage. This serves as form of security. If something goes wrong, the daughter is still able to find a job.

Rema has used her classes to good use, starting a business where the al-Am’ari women make small purses to sell to visitors of the camp. The proceeds go to widows to help them sustain themselves financially.

Rema selling purses made by al-Am’ari women to visitors of the camp.

All of this— Rema’s business, Nidal comforting women as their husbands go to prison— are crucial to keeping the community of al-Am’ari intact. They are crucial to creating a liveable life within unimaginable circumstances.

Pearlman said that women’s roles in resisting the occupation are often “overlooked because they’re less visible.”

“But if you think of protest widely, and especially when protest becomes so widespread– becomes not just events on the street, but an entire system of life, of people rebelling,” Pearlman said. “Women as members of societies, as backbones of families and as part of the economy, are vital in that.”

She described women’s act of surviving as “a different kind of protest.”

Walking through the al-Am’ari camp, there is photo of a man in a suit hanging on the wall. It is a memorial for a man who was shot by Israeli security forces; he is wearing a suit because he was killed a month before his wedding.

His fiance lives on in the camp, alongside thousands of other women in the same struggle, the same ceaseless protest against an occupation that started before some of them were born. Their survival, their women’s clubs, their sewing and embroidery, their strain to keep their families unified, could be considered a protest in itself. It is a protest they did not choose; it is a protest they are forced to live.

When asked if she would like to return to her village near Jaffa, Nidal sighed.

“I wish, I wish, I wish.”

Margaux MacColl of Westport is a journalism student at Northwestern University. If you have a journalistic story or essay that you’d like Connecticut NOW to consider to post on our blog, please email the manuscript to president@now-ct.org.
Share Button

Lunch Ladies Serve More Than Food

Tricks of the trade: This is how a lunch lady packs for a day on her feet.


I took my son back to college for second semester.

The sight of his bags always chokes me up, but I’m better than a few years ago when his departure made me an emotional wreck. I know he’ll be back with his dirty laundry. Besides, there’s a chopped salad waiting for me once we get to campus.

We have this little deal: I drive him 100 miles to the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA., if he agrees to get a chopped salad with me at the Hogan Campus Center. It’s a pretty even trade: he gets a free ride and I get a salad before the 90-minute drive home.

One of the things I’ve noticed is his rapport with the women who prepare and serve our salads. They know him on a first-name basis – no real surprise there – and have a genuine interest in him and what he’s doing. As a mom, this is very reassuring. The more people we have looking out for our kids, the better.

I didn’t think much about it until I hung out with a bonafide lunch lady last weekend. After spending a day with Barbara Paight, I’m convinced lunch ladies are the unsung heroes of school systems.

Barbara Paight upon our arrival for the Women’s March on Washington.

They’re on the front lines with kids every day, providing meals so they can go into the classroom with full bellies and learn. They see the kids every day, and can tell when they’re upset, anxious or a little off because they’re not eating. They see who’s eating alone, on the fringes or causing trouble. If they’re not part of school “teams” watching for troubled students, they should be.

I first met Barbara about 30 years ago at my first reporting job at a small newspaper. Barbara was on the business end while I was on the news side, but we had something in common: we both met our husbands at the newspaper. I guess it wasn’t a bad deal: we’re both still married to the same guys.

We moved on from that paper, which closed several years ago. Barbara worked office jobs until her elderly parents got sick, and she stayed home to care for them. After they died, Barbara heard about an opening for a cafeteria worker at a public school, and applied for the job. Today, she splits her time between a high school and a grammar school. At 65, she’s on her feet all day and logs 10,000 steps without trying, but she wouldn’t change a thing.

“I love being a lunch lady,” Barbara says. “I love the kids, and I look forward to seeing them everyday. They’re what keep me going.”

img_3049 (1)

I connected with Barbara last weekend at the Women’s March on Washington, D.C., where we both represented the Connecticut chapter of NOW. After wrapping me in a bear hug during a rest stop at the Delaware line, Barbara invited me to join her and her friend Dom for the day. I knew they’d be lively companions because they talked the entire way down while the rest of us tried to sleep.

If the tote bag she brought for the trip is any indication, Barbara is ideal for her job. Bananas, tangerines, crackers and mozzarella sticks were neatly packed in a square clear plastic tote that she carried cross-body style. She also carried a couple of bags of baked potato chips in her hands in case anyone needed a snack.

As a mom, I’m usually the one responsible for feeding my family, so it was a relief having someone else in charge of food. When I couldn’t open a mozzarella stick at the end of a long day, Barbara took it and showed me how to open it by grabbing the long end. I’ve never really known how to open them, even when my kids were little, so I appreciated the lesson.

I know some kitchen workers can be testy and mean, but I think it takes a special person to work in a school or college cafeteria. You must love kids and food, in that order, and you must tolerate deadlines, chaos and noise on a daily basis. I couldn’t do the job – the cacophony of the cafeteria would drive me insane – but I’m grateful that Barbara and others have found their calling.

Like many women who put their careers on hold to care for children, spouses or aging parents, Barbara’s priorities shifted when she re-entered the workforce. After a career as an office worker, she wanted something that would tap into her role as a natural nurturer. Her job as a lunch lady plays up to her strengths, which is why I think she finds it so rewarding. I think the longer you work, the more important it is to love what you’re doing.

I wish every kid could have a lunch lady like Barbara because she cares about the kids. She said that she can often tell when students are upset when they lose their appetite and stop buying lunch. She said she’s often aware when kids are going through tough times when they can’t afford breakfast or lunch. She’s genuinely sad when she learns that a student will be transferred because he’s too disruptive.

She’s keenly aware of the ups and downs of the kids she serves. I don’t know about you, but I’m grateful that some schools have workers on the front lines who take the time to notice and care. And if they’re not required to contact guidance officials when they suspect something is off, I think they should be.

Barbara told me she often uses her role to build rapport and put kids at ease. When a new child entered the district and was uncomfortable, she told him that she was once the new kid and understood how he felt.

“I was the first class to go to this school and I’m 65 now,” she told him. She said the boy got quite a laugh over the fact that she was the same age as the school. She said she’s glad she could break the ice for him and he’s a lot more relaxed now.

As we walked toward Freedom Square for the march, I asked Barbara why she was marching again for the second time since 2017.

“I’ve got four granddaughters,” she said simply. “I’m doing this for them.”

Carolyn Milazzo Murphy is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to the Connecticut chapter of NOW’s blog.


Share Button