Cultivating Hope | Machsomwatch
אורנית, מהצד הזה של הגדר

Cultivating Hope

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Wednesday, 6 April, 2022
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Is a 29-year-old woman from the village of Zeita in the West Bank. She runs a private kindergarten and lives with her parents. She is a graduate of Al Najah University in Nablus where she studied history. She is the youngest of 8 siblings.

Rachel Afek and Riki Shaked-Trainin have kept up continuous contact with Naama for years. They met at a center run in the village a few years ago, and continued with the Sea Days project. They also helped care for Naama’s sister during her illness, often driving her to Tel Hashomer Hospital in Israel, and visiting the family at home and at the olive harvest.


When I wake up every morning, I tell myself that today is a new day and something good is going to happen. I never wake up and think that something bad will happen today. I believe that this internal optimism influences reality. If God forbid something bad does happen, I keep going and forget about it.


My life is marvelous, but I had a hard time when my sister Mawaheb became ill in November 2015. I took it upon myself to take care of her. I accompanied her to hospital in Tel Hashomer for surgery. The family tried to intervene but I would not let them, although personally I am afraid of sickness, afraid at the sight of blood. Illness is not something you choose. It comes to you and you decide how to deal with it. That’s the moment when one has to stop being afraid. There is something empowering about it. It also helps in giving care.

(Mawaheb passed away on February 12, 2022, R.A.)


In February 2019 we went to Mecca. Mawaheb had been there three times before. This time was very special. Mawaheb received the pilgrimage as a gift from the Palestinian Authority after graduating with honors from a religion course, and she very much wanted to go. I joined in order to help her. There I felt that in spite of all the difficulty involved, the atmosphere was peaceful and calm. No disturbing thoughts. We were outdoors all day, out of the hotel; we chose where to go, without anyone telling us what to do. It was a wonderful time.

Although pictures of Mecca show great crowds, and it looks difficult and suffocating, it really is not like that. It is such a huge place. Lots of people from all over the world. People are very open to talk to each other. Men and woman are together, only prayer is held separately.

One makes the pilgrimage to Mecca for spiritual reasons. Prayer is God’s demand. One has no room in one’s mind to deal with male-female relations. There are essential things to think about. Each person comes for their own reasons, and uses this time for this purpose.


I am committed to religion, but not greatly – and I do have some doubts. I am a religious woman. I wear a head cover and traditional dress. But I have studied in the university, I travel to Israel, to Mecca – on my own. I have a driver’s license. The Prophet Mohammad (570-632 CE) said that a woman should read, study, work, and do anything she likes. Not just stay at home. But she must live by the rules, the customs – such as how she dresses, and keeps herself safe as a woman and have the right kind of relations with men. On the other hand, there are rules that create inequality, such as inheritance rules, by which the son receives a greater part than the daughter. Or a man’s ability to marry four wives, while a woman is forbidden to do that. These are rules that make me uncomfortable, and do not let me totally accept religion.


Many Palestinian women do not work. Some men forbid their wife to go out to work. They are few and it is done for a lack of understanding of religion. Ignorance. On the other hand, many men prefer to have their wife work. Life is expensive. One salary just isn’t enough. Everything’s expensive. A home costs 100,000 NIS, a small car costs 50,000 NIS. Some husbands are   glad when the wife helps with the family’s livelihood.

I dreamed of establishing a kindergarten


As a child, I dreamt of founding a kindergarten. I was the only one in my family who went to one. After graduating university, I knew I wouldn’t wait for the PA to offer me a job as a teacher, and with my two sisters I founded a private kindergarten. Our first difficulty was the family’s opposition to the idea. Work with children demands great responsibility, as well as great expenses which we couldn’t afford. However, we insisted until the family accepted it and helped us establish the kindergarten.

We rented a place, cleaned and painted it, and made it special. We called it “The Smurfs’ Kindergarten”. We painted Smurfs and flowers on the white walls. We equipped it with everything necessary. We took complementary courses. Then we publicized it in the village. We were successful very soon. The number of children grew and within two years we moved to a large facility that provides for about 80 children. Now I feel a lot of strength and pride in myself and what I have achieved.


More than one person has asked me why I chose to become a kindergarten teacher, which is difficult and exhausting. I educate the children, so that they – like the little ants in Mahmoud Darwish’s poem – would do everything to grow hope.*

Nothing comes ready – we make history, create our memories, build our castles and cities, all through a lengthy process. We must produce it all ourselves – but together. Each person is important and special, but people (and most animals) live in families, in communities, and learn from one another. Naturally, a healthy body needs healthy food and physical activity, in kindergarten too.


Many women are glad to see someone like me. A woman who is working hard and doing something special. One of the mothers at the kindergarten said she wished to work with embroidery, and was not encouraged to do so. With my help, she opened a Facebook page and began her project. It is progressing nicely. Every opportunity is important, and pre-planning is needed. One has to initiate, be a trailblazer whenever possible, and eventually succeed. Women can succeed.


When one thinks about the future, everything seems difficult, economically and politically. However, there is no meaning to life if we think this way. The things we love are always lost, but love always returns one way or another. I live happily now without pain. Why be afraid of tomorrow? Fear leads nowhere; peace in the world is the goal for all of us in our lives.


Many Israelis think negatively of Islam, thinking that it is violent and warlike. One must understand that there is much lightness in religion. It is free. God said: do not force anyone to be religious.

There is a verse in the Koran: “There is no problem between Muslims and non-Muslims”. You have your religion and we have ours. We shall live together in freedom, each in her own faith; you are free to be Jewish. I am Muslim, and we are friends.


*  Written by Rachel Afek during Zoom talks with Naama Jamus



Under Siege

 by Mahmoud Darwish


Here on the slopes of hills, 

facing the dusk and the cannon of time

Close to the gardens of broken shadows,

We do what prisoners do,

And what the jobless do:

We cultivate hope.


Translated by Marjolijn De Jager

Rachel Afek