Seventeen-year old Ilham Karim sat at the edge of her bed reading a book while running her hands through her long, dark hair. Her big brown eyes looked up from her book toward the high gray wall outside her window. Ilham was a Palestinian Christian living in occupied Bethlehem. She had lived in Bethlehem her whole life, just as had her parents, Anima and Hafiz, and her grandparents, and their grandparents, as far back as anyone could remember.
Bethlehem’s climate was usually warm, even in the midst of winter. Now it was spring, and the flowers should have been in bloom. But because there was little water for the residents of Bethlehem, there was brown vegetation everywhere she looked.
Ilham often walked over to the high wall encompassing Bethlehem, the wall that was her prison. Graffiti was written all over it, words and pictures that expressed the hope for a better day to come. Yet even though her name meant “inspiration,” it was hard for Ilham to feel hopeful. She longed to visit Jerusalem again to see her cousins, but, like most people who lived behind the wall, she was not allowed to leave.
llham thought about her brother, Jari, who was paralyzed. Doctors had diagnosed him as suffering from cerebral palsy. Ilham was Jari’s protector and he looked up to her. She thought about how frightened Jari had been four years earlier when Israeli soldiers had barged into her house in the middle of the night. She had tried to be brave and to comfort Jari, but she had been afraid too.
“Open up!” the soldiers shouted while banging on the heavy, wooden door.
Her parents were asleep, and before they could get to the door, the soldiers barged in.
“Where are the weapons?” they shouted angrily.
“We do not have any weapons here. We are peaceful,” her mother told them as calmly as she could.
“We do not believe you!” the soldiers said as they pushed past her to where Ilham was standing.
They stomped through the house over the cold stone floors.
Ilham’s mother, seeing how frightened she and her brother were, began singing an Arabic song about peace.
After awhile, when the soldiers had found no weapons, they prepared to leave. Ilham’s father told them to be careful, and said good night to them as they left.
“Father, why were you so polite to the soldiers? They barged into our home when they had no right to,” Ilham asked her father when the soldiers left. “Honey, Jesus said to turn the other cheek. We must try to do the same.” he explained to his daughter.
Though that episode had happened long ago, Ilham could not forget it. She still dreamed about it at night.
When she returned from her walk, Ilham went to her room to continue reading her book. Before long she fell asleep. But a few minutes later, her parents heard her screaming.
“Ilham, wake up,” her mother gently said. “You are having a nightmare.”