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Justice, Revolution and Homeland. A Glimpse into the Life of an Ordinary Woman


By: Manal Hashem, social activist.





At the age of fifty, of average height, with wide eyes, adorned in her white hijab and floral dress, the beautiful yet weary woman was neither a revolutionary nor a rebel. She paid little attention to what unfolded beyond her home and the lives of her children. Her social interactions were scarce, limited to infrequent visits, and she only knew the world within Darayya (her hometown) and the capital city, Damascus, which she visited out of necessity for official matters. Illiterate, her focus was primarily on her children, dedicating herself to preparing their favorite meals.


Engaging in conversation with her was something I cherished. Despite the predominantly somber tone, she narrated matters in an endearing way. What I liked most was her description of food and its benefits. I would sit with her in the courtyard, in the sun with her plants around us. There, in the kitchen, she would prepare ful medames, passionately emphasizing the importance of having onions with it: "A large onion, onions are very good for anemia, with ful, a squeeze of lemon, pomegranate molasses, parsley, tomatoes and olive oil from your aunt, Umm el-Ezz. Mmm... delightful!"


She once spoke of her dreams with respect to passing on her bequest. Her paramount commitment was to ensure equality for all her children, regardless of gender. She wanted them to have the means to live in their own homes. She aspired to buy a shop to lease and sustain herself, harboring mistrust towards her husband in times of illness or need. She also refused the thought of burdening any of her children in her old age. She would not do like her father who, in retribution, had sold his properties, denying his children their inheritance, leaving only a meager estate. She did not receive her rightful share of inheritance. Her brothers, although disagreeing with each other, agreed to invent a way to exclude their sisters from inheritance. She would assert, "No, I will never differentiate between my children." Her neighbor once remarked, "Ay, it just needs patience!" Amused but with sadness in her eyes, Umm el-Ezz replied, "Patience? Beyond patience lies only the grave and the shovel!"


In her town, many women have faced inheritance deprivation. In hardly better cases, brothers would bestow their sister with a piece of land that is neither sellable nor even cultivable. Alternatively, they would designate a property as her inheritance, but would prohibit her from utilizing it, claiming that she would mismanage her finances and would ultimately benefit “strangers” – her children and husband!


Following the outbreak of the revolution in March 2011, her eldest son participated in the initial protests and was subsequently arrested. It was her brothers who were the first to exploit her distress, making her pay money to know her son's whereabouts, describing various forms of torture he would endure unless she paid. She believed them, but she lacked the money, shedding many tears and relying on her reservoir of patience.


She wasn't like other mothers of detainees who went to demand the release of their sons at the Air Force Intelligence branch, or even participated in protests. She feared her husband, feared the regime, and feared that her other son would be arrested. Expressing her dismay, she remarked, "It's unjust. Even if he went out to the streets and spoke out about the children of Daraa, couldn't they just caution him and let him go? Why subject him to such torture! And as for him, may God guide him, why does he instigate the oppressors? They don't fear God." She cried a lot, shedding buckets of tears.


During the days of the Darayya major massacre on August 25, 2012, she left with her middle son and his family, while the eldest remained in the town, and the youngest headed towards Sahnaya (an adjacent town). Later on, people returned to their homes after hearing that Iranian militias and regime forces had left Darayya, leaving behind a trail of death, arrests and torture, along with barbaric graffiti on the walls across the town. Umm el-Ezz also returned home, standing fearfully with a myriad of questioning expressions on her face – pallor, shock, what had happened?! She couldn't comprehend why the regime committed such a massacre. She said, "I saw people in the protests carrying flowers. How could this be met with all this killing!"


I did not hear from her during the displacement period; in late 2013, the regime invaded Darayya, and most of its residents left, while the remaining were trapped inside.


In late 2014, I visited her in her displacement location at her relative's place, in Naher Aisha, an area of Damascus close to Darayya. I brought with me a plate of the ful medames she loved and jokingly said, "I know you've been displaced, but just to make sure you don't forget to make ful for me, I brought the ful, but I need the onions from you!" However, she didn't laugh or even smile! She cried, and I cried, for reasons unknown. She told me that she no longer ate ful; her youngest son loved it, and the last thing he ate before being arrested was a plate of ful with onions. She had forbidden herself from eating it until his release so she could eat it with him.


In her new dwelling, where neither sunlight entered the room nor a window refreshed the air, nights seemed endless for Umm el-Ezz and her grandchildren; she was awaiting her son, while the two young ones longed for their father. After being afflicted with cancer, she endured both the repression of the regime and the wrongdoing of those closest to her. Her husband couldn't bear her being sick; this wasn't the time for illness! Displacement and a meager pension were insufficient for the basics of life, and on top of that, she fell short in fulfilling her duties towards him! He would sometimes say to her, "Come on, toughen up a bit. Are you the first to get sick!? Or are you the first to have a son arrested!?" She cried without tears, without sound.


Between 2014 and 2015, she attempted to claim her inheritance from her deceased father, who had passed away years ago, so as to afford medical treatment. Obviously, she didn't manage to get it, being unable to navigate the legal complexities as she lacked knowledge of the law and her rights. After her son's arrest, she lost faith in the homeland, the legal system and even her relatives. After I knew about her cancer diagnosis and the required radiation treatment, I spent several days beside her, accompanying her to the Al-Muwasat Hospital where she received treatment. She would refer to the hospital as a "slaughterhouse," remarking, "This country has no hospitals; it has only slaughterhouses".


One day, after a grueling radiation session, on our way back in crowded public buses, waiting for over half an hour, scrambling to catch a bus, we boarded but remained standing. No one offered her a seat. One of the regime's thugs rudely said to her, "Well, ma'am, you need to be patient." In response, she whispered to me, "God willing, the grave and the shovel are near!"


Umm el-Ezz passed away after selling her two pieces of gold jewelry, having kept them for the dark days when brothers, sons and husband abandoned her, living near her but emotionally distant.


She passed away without ever receiving her rightful inheritance, without realizing her dreams of passing on equal inheritance to her children. She never saw her arrested son again; he had been killed under torture. She remained unaware of his fate as we learned about his death two years after she passed away, when the regime started registering those killed under torture in the civil records. It was her daughter who had gone to the Registry Office and obtained a civil registration document, stating that Ahmed had died of a heart attack! She died without knowing, without sharing a meal of ful with him.


The story doesn't end there. Umm el-Ezz's husband remarried immediately after her death, buying gold for his new wife – a gift he had never been able to afford before. Yet, this money came from his share of Umm el-Ezz's inheritance, which her middle son managed to partially claim. Umm el-Ezz, however, never knew that she had received her inheritance; it was granted a year after her death. Nevertheless, her husband did not spend any penny, not even of his late wife’s inheritance share, on his grandchildren from his arrested son.


The regime also displaced her eldest son from his town after a five-year siege, during which she never saw him. He couldn't bid her farewell before her death, either.


The injustice perpetrated by her father and husband, coupled with the broader oppression within the extensive prison that is Syria – where Ahmed, her son, was killed under torture – ultimately led to her death, extinguishing any flicker of hope that might have saved her. The doctor repeatedly told me, "Your patient doesn't want to recover!" Will Syrian women's patience with their suffering and the repression inflicted by the ruthless regime end only with the grave and shovel? Or with the slaughterhouse hospitals? Or is there yet a glimmer of hope for justice?


By: Manal Hashem, social activist.


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