One midday in July of 2000, in Hospital Meir in Kfar Saba, a Palestinian boy was born before my eyes.
When I entered room #5, I met Fatma and Ali. I asked if I could stay to help as a doula. Ali said yes, that anything I could to help his wife lessen the pain would be welcome. So I stayed as a kind of physical therapist.
Fatma didn’t answer, not because she couldn’t say anything, but because she only spoke Arabic. Ali spoke perfect Hebrew and this way we could communicate. When I needed to work with Fatma, the only communication possible was through her looks, her sense of feel, breathing, the perceptions of anguish, pain, and whatever lessened the pain. Fatma’s eyes were glued to mine from the time she hugged me until the time she let go. Ali was doing the best he could, and I wanted him to feel that he was helping her. The most important thing was that Fatma felt supported.
Just a few moments before his son was born, Ali told me that Fatma was 33. They had been married 18 years, and this was their first son. Although Fatma had had seven pregnancies, five ended in miscarriages. And yet, despite the doubts that the doctors had about a healthy birth, there was this feeling — you could sense Fatma’s determination — that she was going to bring this child into the world alive no matter what.
During the last few contractions, Ali on one side and I on the other, we gave Fatma a single big hug to give her strength. And then there was a chanting that reverberated through the hall — Allahu Akbar. Fatma received her child on her breast. She kept repeating Allahu Akbar as she nursed the baby.
Ali and I collapsed into a hug, giving into a cry of emotion, brotherhood, and pain. Afterwards, all three of us hugged. I don’t know how long this hug lasted, but I can still feel Fatma’s and Ali’s tears falling together with mine.
After two hours, when everything indicated a successful post-partum, Fatma left with her baby to a room where they’d stay two more days. I gave Ali a final hug. His words still sound in my ears: “Todá ahjí. La Salaam Aleikum,” a mix of Hebrew and Arabic. I answered “Aleikum Salaam,” peace to you. I never saw them again.
Back at home, in one of the most treasured days of my life, I thought: What a shame there weren’t TV cameras, international journalists, and political pundits bearing witness to that moment. Perhaps then they could’ve captured that hatred between people doesn’t have to exist. When we have the opportunity to treat each other with respect and love, the people always win.
Since this time I’ve attended other births of Palestinians and Arabs and accompanied various others in this same hospital, but this was the most symbolic. We’re not born enemies, we’re simply people. Nothing more, and nothing less than people.