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The story of "Um Khadr"-al-Sayyida Fatima Husayn-forms an extraordinary and exceedingly strange scenario, a scenario that no writer, however clever and however he may have searched the world of romance, could ever have imagined.

-Raymonda Tawil, Women Prisoners of the Prison Country


The stranger-than-fiction story of Um Khadr tells the life of a Palestinian woman living under Israeli occupation. When she had been married for ten years, Um Khadr's husband, Abd al-Rahman, traveled to Brazil where he hoped to earn enough money to support his wife and their two sons and two daughters at home. Um Khadr did not hear from the man she married for another thirty years. Her youngest daughter is a deaf mute. Her first daughter was abandoned by her own husband who left her behind with five children when he married a Syrian woman. Khadr, the Palestinian mother's eldest son, is in an Israeli prison, sentenced to ninety-six years behind bars. His younger brother Ghazi spent ten years [End Page 29] in Israel's prisons. Um Khadr was herself arrested at the Allenby Bridge while returning home from a visit to Amman. Following her release from prison, her husband reappeared, unannounced, ailing and debilitated, from his thirty years absence in South America, only to be deported to Jordan by the Israeli military occupation authorities.

The next day they took him to the bridge. I sent my youngest daughter with him. I stood with tears in my eyes and watched as he disappeared into the crowd of travelers. Then I went home, like I've always done, alone, but with my head high and strong in my faith and resolve to look for the springtime sun. Life has made many hardships for me, but what is there new in all that has happened?1

Already her son Khadr from behind bars had reminded his mother that there was nothing improper about his being in prison. Following his detention, Um Khadr had searched the Israeli prisons for an entire month to locate her missing child. When finally she found him in the Ramallah Military prison, she visited him wearing black and weeping, only to be gently reproached by her prisoner son: "What are you wearing . . . where is your love for me that I should have to welcome you in that dress? I thought you would be proud of your valiant sons. I didn't think you would be dressed in mourning" (Women Prisoners 182). The many hardships that life made for Um Khadr, she reworked into a biography of resistance, a narrative that took her from outside the prison walls into its cells, where she rejoined her sons in their collective struggle. Arrested at the Allenby Bridge, prison no longer held any threat for her: "I was neither angry nor sad. I didn't lose my faith in Allah. I will disappear behind the bars, but what does that matter? I will be like Khadr and Ghazi. Prison will bring us together" (184).

The story of Um Khadr is told in Raymonda Tawil's Women Prisoners in the Prison Country that recounts the personal and political histories of twenty-six Palestinian women political detainees. From Terese Halsa, who left home at the age of 15 to join the resistance in Lebanon and was arrested in 1972 and who became one of the senior prisoners who strength continued to provide support for the younger detainees, to Ra'ida Shahada, a schoolgirl arrested for throwing stones at Israeli soldiers, these individual women and their separate stories are part of an emergent historical compilation. Together with the popular committees, writers' unions, prisoner associations, research centers, and other institutional structures, formal and informal, they represent the combined textual and infrastructural rudiments of the foundation of what may yet be a Palestinian state, declared at the 19th meeting of the Palestine National Council in Algiers in November 1988.

Women Prisoners in the Prison Country was published in the spring of [End Page 30] 1988, in the first year of the Palestinian intifada, the popular uprising against twenty years...


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pp. 29-46
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