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Areej—the Scent of Youth and Death

By Dr. Hanan Ashrawi

“In memory of Areej Al-Jabali, 18 –years- old, assassinated in Hebron by the Israeli army on January 5, 2001”.

Your name still wafts through
Alleys and centuries of stone with
Which old Hebron—Khalil the Compassionate—
Wraps itself.
No mercy there
Only settlers strutting
Gloating in the knowledge that the siege,
Barbed wire and curfew,
Encircle only you
And yours
For theirs is the space
Erased from the law
A blank page stained with
Spilled blood and scribbles of insanity
While yours is the youth and blood spilled—what
Wanton abandon—seeping
Almost, almost unnoticed, into crevices
Where memory almost sleeps.

(In Hebron, an 18-year-old woman died, caught in the crossfire)

You almost finished high school, with
Your unwritten certificate, a pass—
Safe passage through a different siege, instead,
A bland testimonial of blind death groping—obscene
Bullets, how many, penetrating virgin flesh
Untouched, violated now unseen,
The evil of anonymous listings, Areej, shall not
Rob you of that which is yours: the thick<
Long lashes, ruddy cheeks, lips full of unkissed
Promises (You should be happy, child, your
Mother said, no need for blush, mascara
Or fake vanities). I saw you,
Face made up, wrapped in your coffin, not my
(Or your mother’s) arms.
Artificial death. Its ugliness left no mark,
(Your hair a glossy main—no head wounds Discerned

The neighbor’s boy was smitten. Averting your
Eyes, Areej, you sensed his urgent
Need, modesty prevailed,
The promise postponed,
Blessed are the pure.
The soldier boy obsessed with the kill
(Have you become an etched x on the nozzle of his gun?) Perhaps his first?
Daughter, heir, of ancient Abraham, your Hebron
Dowry is heavy, pregnant with history and horror.

What exchange of fire caught you? Trapped, you cast a
Glance of anger, perhaps a look of contempt
(Disdain does not become you)
He fired back a bullet, and you’re
Eighteen forever,
Frozen, your moment of immortality
Captured, as you, caught by surprise,
Wondered, for an unrepentant second, is this all?
Is this it?
And he, an instant murderer, let out a breath—
This is it.
Unrepentant, forever branded,
His nameless victim eternally engraved
Within what makes him what he is,
What he will always be.
Although your eyes had never met, he wears
The stench of death, and you—the
Scent of youth.

Areej, the fragrance of wild flowers
Wafting through the hills of Hebron, yours
Is no abstract death
And mine is no impersonal sorrow.
Your Mother has granted me the right to share
Her grief—a mother too—
In the heart of bereaved Jerusalem.
No, no wedding ululations,
False courage before cowardly death,
Forging endings way before
Time, and your breasts, have ripened.
You will not learn, Areej, the full
Fact of your death,
Nor he.
But we do, and shall.
Forgive me for not letting it pass
Unnoticed, hovering in numbers,
Headlines, and withering wreaths.
Forgive me for letting it
Come to pass, unwittingly, like a sidelined
Chorus of fate in the face of tragic choice.
(It was not mine to make, nor yours,
But years ago, someone signed a pact that sealed your
Fate, and made the choice for both).

Have you found your peace, Areej?
One chance after the last chance
Found you unprepared, unadorned,
Your guilt—an unforgivable innocence
Immersed in hope, freedom within your grasp.

Is yours the ultimate iniquity of natural
Life before unnatural death? Of daring?
Humming a tune to yourself while hanging
Laundry on the roof to dry? The sharp
Pain of a loose clothespin drawing a drop of blood?
The gaze cast over rooftops, a daydream
Of college or the boy next door?
Too early, too late, daughter of Palestine,
Time cast you into misplaced peace
Into a realm of almost
And the sin of unfinished
As magnificently mundane
As the flag that enfolded you.
As ritualistic as a mother’s incantation,
A prayer for the innocents: Lead us not into
Heroism for the pain of a child,
The death of a child, is anguish beyond It is done. It is undone. It is not done.

Hanan Ashrawi Jan. 6, 2001

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