Photography by Dubi Roman
Riham Musa is a law student living in Tulkarm in the West Bank. At the age of 15, she was shot in the stomach by an Israeli soldier as she approached a checkpoint armed with a kitchen knife.
One day, when I was 15, I started chatting to a group of friends about the occupation and about suicide bombings. We all agreed with suicide bombings as a means of resistance, but none of the others would ever have done it. However, I told my friends that I was thinking of becoming a suicide bomber. I was feeling desperate. The life we were living, the economic situation, our education – it was all terrible; we would often be prevented from getting to school for days at a time. All around me I saw young people getting killed. Our whole lives were ruled by the Intifada. It was a culture of violence and there was no escaping it. We tried to find something else to talk about, but there wasn’t anything. How can girls get together in Tulkarm and talk about make-up and fashion?
It was a Thursday, the day when we always visited the family graves, and so I went to visit my father’s grave for what I thought would be the last time. The discussion about suicide bombings had stayed in my mind all day, and when I got home I took the only weapon available to me –a kitchen knife – and went down to the checkpoint without telling anyone. I had a feeling that I was superwoman, that I could kill all the soldiers at the checkpoint without doing any harm to myself. Even though I was a little girl, I felt more powerful than the soldiers because I was the person with right on my side.
But when I actually got to the checkpoint, I was suddenly very afraid. I couldn’t go through with it and just stood there frozen to the spot. The soldiers saw me standing there, staring at them. They thought I was a suicide bomber and started screaming at me. Then they started shooting. One of the bullets hit me in the stomach and I collapsed. I lay on ground for four-and-a-half hours as they checked for bombs. Once they realised there were no bombs on or around me, I was taken to the nearest hospital before being sent to prison. After ten months I was released on health grounds, and because I was young and hadn’t actually threatened anyone with the knife.
I was worried about going back to school because it’s not acceptable for women to be involved in violent action. But in the end it wasn’t so bad, and in fact I started doing better in school than before. I felt as though studying was my way out of this misery, and I chose to study law as a more effective way of defending the Palestinian people.
I believe violence breeds violence and there’s no choice now for me other than to find another way. When I decided to use violence by taking the knife to the checkpoint, even though I didn’t use it, I brought violence upon myself. I now want to use the law and not weapons to fight the enemy. This feels like the right path.
I still hate the Israeli army but I don’t feel violent towards them anymore. I’m a forgiving person and it’s not in my nature to hate people; but because of the way we live in the West Bank, hatred has been forced upon me. There’s no point engaging with the military because for them non-violence can never work, but with ordinary Israeli citizens I’ll use non-violence as a way forward. The citizens of each country have gone through much suffering, and this suffering unites us.
It‘s not easy to talk of forgiveness in the midst of violent conflict, and forgiveness is not just mine to give. There are many repercussions, and it is not for me to forgive my mother’s tears.