Translated by: Ellen Warkentin
Artwork by Miguel Betancourt
We’re heading out of the city. The young woman with me speaks French very well with a charming little accent. She’s in her fourth year of French studies at the University of Nablus. It’s the first time she’s been on this kind of interpreting job. We’re going to meet the mother of a shahida, a woman martyr. A human bomb.
In 2002, Luna blew herself up at a checkpoint. She was twenty-two years old. Her mother greets us and shows us into her spacious house at the top of a mountain. From here, we can see Nablus in all its glory: the grey houses are nested together, interlocked, as though trying to huddle together for strength. The minarets, capped in fluorescent green, point into the azure sky. Overhead, a hundred scattered kites indicate the sun’s highest point. Freedom in Nablus is vertical. Towards the sky.
It’s cool in the house. We’re comfortable. The woman sits, hands on her knees. She’s wearing a long, loose dress, a velvet hijab. Around her neck hangs a golden pendant, an image of her daughter.
The living room walls are sparsely decorated. Two charcoal portraits. I recognize her daughter; the other is a portrait of a young man. “My nephew. Also a shahid.” A human bomb, before her daughter.
Luna was the fourth-born in a family of nine children. She was studying English literature at the university. She was an activist, participated in protests, visited grieving mothers and helped those wounded during the invasions. “All our young people are activists… but Luna was more committed than the others…” It’s hard for her to talk about it.
After her cousin’s suicide attack, Luna’s activism intensified. Her mother started to worry. It was too much. Luna told her not to worry, but that in any case, every Palestinian family had to pay. “You have nine children. You can give one up to the resistance.”
One day, when Luna went out to borrow a textbook from a friend and didn’t come back, her mother expected the worst. They went looking for her. But Luna didn’t come home. Her mother stayed glued to the television. She had already guessed that that was how she would find out.
When the news came on, the main story was a suicide attack on the Amara checkpoint. It had to be Luna. The Israelis had suffered three casualties. “But they always own up to fewer than there really are,” asserts the mother, who has trouble holding back her tears. She stresses how all the witnesses commented on the severity of the destruction. “There were surely more than three deaths,” she tells me, her voice carrying a hint of pride behind the grief.
The family was devastated. The army retaliated by destroying their house.
In the middle of their new living room, the woman pauses. The white walls are still too clean and mostly bare. As though she doesn’t quite dare to live in her new house. To inhabit it like a living person. The space remains defined by what it lacks.
She struggles out of her chair and goes to the kitchen, brings back two cups of coffee. And then leaves again. I hear her rummaging around, talking to herself. She comes back with her arms full. She places a big box on the table and takes out a pile of diplomas. Luna’s diplomas. From high school. And one from the university, awarded post mortem. Written on it in pen: To the Shahida, Luna. Her mother is looking for a paper. She finds it, delicately extracts it from the pile and runs her wrinkled hand over it. She shows it to us: a diploma from Hamas, embellished in gold. She points her crooked finger at her daughter’s name. Luna. In recognition of her participation in the resistance.
The tired mother gets up heavily, taking the time to smooth out her long skirt before leaving the room once more to get an enormous framed picture. It’s a collage, made by Luna’s late father. A clumsily cut-out picture of the inside of the Al-Aqsa mosque provides a background for the delicate, glued-on faces of three young girls. Luna, Mariam and Fatma. The two others are from Bethlehem. All of them human bombs.
“This one,” the mother points her thick finger at one of the faces, “she was a lawyer.” They shot her brother right in front of her. She’d taken first aid classes; she could have saved him. But they wouldn’t let her near him. One month later, she blew herself up in a Tel Aviv restaurant. 26 dead.
“Was it for religious or for political reasons?” I ask.
“Neither,” says Luna’s mother. “It was for life, yanni, for life.”
The living room is enormous. The faces of three well-educated young women printed on glossy paper.
“Is the coffee too sweet?” the woman asks, her voice hoarse.
“No, Madame, your coffee is perfect. Shoukran. Thank you very much.”
Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette is a writer and filmmaker from Montreal, and is active in raising awareness about peace and human rights. Her latest film, Inch’Allah, was released in 2012 to international acclaim. “Luna” is an excerpt from Embrasser Yasser Arafat.
Ellen Warkentin is a Montreal-based translator with a French to English translation degree from Concordia University. She works as a freelancer and translates all sorts of things, but prefers to work on literary texts when she has the chance.