The Carpenter’s Wife

Why did Haifa Hindiya, a 38-year-old married woman and mother of five, stab a soldier at a checkpoint on the first day of the month of Ramadan? Was it because she was battered and humiliated by her husband, as her family claims? Or because she was mentally ill, suffering from depression, as her husband alleges? Did the fact that her parents’ house was demolished three years ago, even though her parents had done nothing wrong, have an effect, as her brother claims? Was it because of the occupation, as claimed by Fatah, which immediately adopted her into the movement’s fold and declared her a shahida (martyr) after she was shot and killed by the soldiers at the checkpoint?

Two homes in Nablus are now in mourning for Haifa Hindiya. The mourners in a home in the neighborhood of Upper Dahiya, high up on Mount Eival, are her parents, sisters and brother; the mourners in a home on the edge of the Balata refugee camp are her husband and children. Each group is hurling serious accusations at the other, but both homes agree that Haifa wanted to die. She was finished with her life. “She wanted to rest,” says her mother, who saw her for the last time on the evening before she went to the checkpoint, a fateful evening whose events are also in dispute. The husband says that her mother threw her out, the mother says that she implored her daughter to go home to her husband ahead of the holiday.

It was the first day of Ramadan and the woman from the edge of Balata apparently succumbed to fear of the holiday. A month of festive family meals evening after evening to break the fast can be an oppressive and threatening burden for a shaky family and an equally shaky women. So, the only way out that appeared on her gloomy and stifling horizon was to take a knife and go to the checkpoint that closes off the city. There is nothing easier than committing suicide at an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) checkpoint. All you have to do is take out a knife and inflict a light wound on a soldier – in this case a female soldier – and your body will immediately be riddled with bullets. That is exactly what happened to Haifa, the woman who was finished with life. Her last wish – to die before the holiday season – was fulfilled by IDF soldiers.

To Israeli eyes, the Balata refugee camp, situated on the slopes of Nablus, looks like an evil place. It is a collection of wretched, densely packed shacks dominated by the color gray. The carpentry shop of Munir Yaish is located on the first floor of the building on the edge of the camp, and on the third floor – a makeshift space reached by a wobbly staircase – is the family’s home. It was here that the carpenter Munir Yaish and his wife Haifa Hindiya lived. Here they raised their five children: Farida (14), Asaraa (12), Rahama (10), Ahmed (8) and Tisnim (6). Here they lived their lives and had their ceaseless quarrels. Here Haifa, 38, fell into a depression, surrounded by her husband’s family, who apparently bullied and abused her. The fact that she had four daughters and only one son was one of the pretexts for this treatment. Her children apparently also shunned her, under the influence of their father and his family.

There is also no lack of testimony, on the part of Haifa’s family, that her husband often beat her. Munir denies this and says his wife was mentally ill and fell into a state of clinical depression 10 years ago. As evidence he shows medical documents, prescriptions and a bag containing psychotropic drugs that his wife took. Munir: “She was not sensitive to her husband and the children. She received warmth and love in this house, but from her parents’ side she received nothing. She felt deprived because of that and it made her depressive.” Yet immediately afterward he adds: “She was very sensitive, sensitive to every little thing.” Maybe both sides are right – maybe she was battered and humiliated, and as a result became depressive and mentally ill.

Be that as it may, two weeks ago on Tuesday, October 4, the first day of the Muslim holy month, Haifa got up early, as usual, recited the morning prayers and got her children ready for school. Munir dropped the kids off, as usual. Haifa said nothing: She was often silent in recent months, and nothing she did hinted at what was about to happen on this day, the last day of her misery-ridden life. When Munir got back, Haifa was no longer there. Because she sometimes went to be alone, he attached no importance to her absence.

According to Munir, his wife’s condition had become aggravated since the demolition of her parents’ home in the IDF’s Operation Defensive Shield in April 2002. All their property was lost in the ruins, and the only reason was that the building looked out over Balata. The fact that Munir’s brother, Bashir, 34, was killed around the same time as a passerby during a targeted assassination by the Israeli army also affected her deeply, the widower says. Nevertheless, she never talked politics, was not active in any organization and did not express an opinion about events. “A good girl, very good,” her brother, Amar Hindiya, interjects. “She did not talk to people if they did not talk to her.”

Amar Hindiya is present at the conversation with Munir. He speaks in Hebrew, a language his brother-in-law does not understand – and offers a different account concerning the events: “Look at his face. He is not a human being. She lived with his five sisters, which is like living with five mothers-in-law in the house.” In the Hindiya home, they say that one of the husband’s sisters, who is a lecturer at Al-Najah University in Nablus, allegedly used to tell Haifa’s daughters that they would never find husbands because their mother was mentally ill.

The husband bemoans the lack of work in the carpentry shop and the rough economic situation – people are hardly even bringing chairs to be repaired for NIS 5 during this brutal siege of Nablus. The brother takes us to the carpentry shop to show us that his brother-in-law has no shortage of work: “He just wants more money.” Amar is convinced that Munir is spreading the tale of his wife’s mental illness not only to absolve himself of responsibility for what happened to her, but also to prevent the demolition of their home by the IDF – which every family of a terrorist dreads.

On the evening before the incident, Haifa and Munir went to bed together. That afternoon they had gone to do shopping for Ramadan, the husband says – further evidence of the domestic harmony. A few days earlier, the brother relates, the husband’s brother came to him and told him that the situation in Munir and Haifa’s household was serious. Amar then went to his sister and asked her what was happening at home. She told him, he says, that “things are difficult; Munir has been very edgy lately.” Munir says that on the second to the last day of her life, Haifa wanted to go and see the demolished home of her parents, which is now being rebuilt. “There were no problems between us. Her problem is that she was sick, a sickness that went on for years.”

The following is a medical document from the Treatment and Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture, signed by the director of the institution, Dr. Mahmud Sehwail, which was given to Munir only after Haifa’s death: “The above-named was treated by us from September 29, 1995 until June 15, 2005 for a depressive illness of the highest degree, including manifestations of schizophrenia. During the period of treatment and follow-up, she experienced several events of deterioration in her condition and received medication for depression and schizophrenia. She was also referred for electric shock treatment at the hospital for the mentally ill in Bethlehem.”

Amar, the brother, will afterward allege that this medical certificate was extracted under false pretenses. He is convinced that the husband rushed to obtain it after Haifa’s death, only to prevent the demolition of their house. Munir says he obtained the medical confirmation of her condition in order to refute the gossip that was being spread in the city to the effect that he beat his wife. Amar: “What is he trying to say? She fled from here. She did not want to stay in this house. She wanted to die.” The brother is convinced that she had no other way to leave her home and her children other than death and that she had no other way to die than to go with a knife to the checkpoint. Munir says she could have committed suicide by swallowing the many pills in the house.

Dr. Ghassan Hamdan, director of the Nablus branch of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees, who is accompanying us on the visit, says that there is no way the medical certificate could have been obtained fraudulently. Amar tells about an incident that occurred a few weeks before his sister’s death, to which he was a witness, when Munir asked Haifa to make him a cup of tea and, when she refused, pushed her forcefully, knocking her to the floor. The children say nothing. There is also a Rashomon-like dispute about what happened on the last evening of her life, in her parents’ home. Haifa went there with the children. Munir says she was thrown out of the house shamefully, with curses and imprecations, an act that wounded her deeply. Amar says that it was the children who, incited by their father, reviled their grandmother. Haifa’s mother, Sakina, tells us that she implored her daughter, who lived in dread of her husband, to go back home because of Ramadan. “My daughter was not sick. Before her death she came to us and complained about her hard life with her husband. She wanted to stay here a week. I did not agree, because of Ramadan. Her husband and the girls treated her very badly.” Sakina says that before her daughter left, she parted from her with kisses. She said she was very, very tired.

There is also a medical certificate that no one disputes, issued by Rafadiya Hospital, a government institution, in the city: “Haifa arrived at ER without a pulse and not breathing, her pupils dilated. An examination of the body found a superficial wound on the left cheek, a hole in the chest, a wound in the lower stomach, a wound in the right knee, a wound in the left leg and a deep wound in the area of the posterior.” Salah Hajj Yihya, a fieldworker from Physicians for Human Rights, has taken the report for an examination by his organization.

On that fateful morning, Munir waited at the entrance of his carpentry shop for his wife to return. When she did not, he called one of his brothers, Mahmoud, to tell him that his wife had disappeared. At 10:30 A.M., Rafadiya Hospital called: Come right away. All that remained for him to do at the hospital was identify the body. What happened at the checkpoint? Munir says his wife was incapable of even hitting a small boy. Their only son, Ahmed, wearing a white judo uniform, listens to the conversation, his eyes constantly blinking, either out of nervousness or fear. At the checkpoint his mother took out a knife and was killed by the soldiers’ fire. Eyewitnesses told the husband that the soldiers defaced the body with the knife. That is very unlikely. This week I saw photographs of the body in the offices of the IDF Spokesman’s Office, which was asked to respond to the allegations, and it was difficult to tell whether the few wound marks on the body were caused by bullets or by something else.

Was there a reason to kill her? The IDF Spokesman admits that the soldiers shot her after she had already been knocked to the ground: “On Tuesday, October 4, 2005, a Palestinian woman arrived at the Hawara inspection point from the direction of Nablus. When she reached the place, she pulled out a knife and stabbed in the face a female soldier from the Border Police checkpoints unit, who was checking equipment at the site. At this stage the soldier succeeded in pushing the terrorist to the floor. The soldier was lightly wounded, treated at the scene and then transferred to hospital for further treatment. Subsequently the terrorist tried to stab two male soldiers. The troops at the site were forced to shoot her in order to prevent her from harming the soldiers. As a result of the fire, the terrorist was seriously wounded and was given medical treatment at the site by the IDF, Magen David Adom and the Red Crescent [the Jewish and Muslim equivalents of the Red Cross]. Despite the efforts to save her, the terrorist died of her wounds. It should be noted that other than the immediate reaction to wreck the terrorist?s attempt to attack the soldiers, no other action was taken with the aim of harming or disfiguring the body. Any allegation to the effect that the terrorist was stabbed by the soldiers is incorrect and without foundation.”

In the house on Mount Eival, the Hindiya family is also in mourning for their Haifa. Here, Amar feels able to speak more freely: “What caused my sister’s mental condition were the accusations of Munir’s family that she brought four girls into the world. He even hit her for not preparing a cup of coffee. He would threaten to expel her and that she would have nowhere to go. She went to the checkpoint because she wanted to end her life in that way before Ramadan.”

Dr. Hamdan, who knows the family, says, “This is a case of an innocent woman who reacted to the difficult situation in her family. She lived in very difficult conditions and she pushed herself to extricate herself from her life. But the most important thing is that the soldiers could have arrested her. There was no need to kill this woman. She was thin and weak and wounded the female soldier very lightly. The eyewitnesses told us that the soldiers shot her only after she was already lying on the floor. She was a sick woman, but sick because of the poverty, sick because of her children?s future and sick because of her husband.”

What will happen to the children who have lost their mother? Haifa’s family wants nothing to do with them: “Let their father take care of them,” Haifa’s mother says. On the wall is a memorial poster issued by Fatah, with a photograph of the deceased Yasser Arafat in the background: A smiling woman looks out of the poster, holding two infants to her breast, two of her daughters.

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