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Naima Saadeh Abudayyeh: Episode 1

Naima Saadeh met Hatem Abudayyeh when he came from Chicago to visit the Middle East. Now, nine months after meeting, they are preparing to celebrate their engagement in the West Bank and marry two months later in the U.S.

Naima's experiences of growing up in an occupied territory have had a profound effect on her. Her mother, Um-Mujahed, recounts how she hid in a cave on the outskirts of town with other residents of her village during the 1967 war, which began the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

"In 1967, about a hundred of us hid in here," remembers Um-Mujahed. "I swear we were on top of each other like sardines. We hid from the bombs all night. In the morning [the Israelis] were in the village. Someone said, "they’ve taken the land, everybody run." We picked up and went to Ramallah. It’s been over thirty years now."

After Naima’s father died when she was two, her mother took a job as a laundress at the Dar-Al Tiffil orphanage. This allowed Naima and her four sisters to live and attend the school there. Um-Mujahed has been doing the orphanage's laundry for 19 years, sacrificing her own ambitions to ensure that her children finished school.

"There was never a thing that she didn’t give to us," says Naima. "If she could give us her soul, she would give us her soul. And I wish I could make her comfortable, as she has done for me."

Naima and her sisters finished high school at the orphanage. Her two brothers never had the chance. In 1987, twenty years of Palestinian frustration with Israeli occupation set off a wave of violence. Naima's oldest brother died in prison during the Intifada. He was 20 years old. Naima’s other brother Jihad was a leader in the youth movement and was arrested at the age of 13. He spent three years in prison. "Prison is like a flower that everyone in Palestine has to smell," says Jihad.

Hatem has been living in his parents' home in Chicago since graduating college. In anticipation of Naima's arrival, he is renovating the basement. Hatem has not yet established a path for himself and his life revolves around his neighborhood buddies and rituals like their weekly basketball game. Plans for his upcoming marriage and his wife's immigration are the biggest sources of stress he's ever had to deal with.

Hatem’s parents were instrumental in founding the first Arab community center in Chicago thirty years ago, and meeting Naima has revived his commitment to his Arab roots. "When I first met Naima in the West Bank, I met a type of person, an ideal of a person that I never met before," he remembers. "People that have been living under oppression their entire lives—it was strange that these people had any type of confidence at all left. They fight through it."

Hatem feels strongly about Palestinian rights issues. "I know Hatem loves Palestine and would love to live here," says Naima. "But I must go to the States for my future and to grow as a person."

And Jihad, who spent three years in prison for his role in the Intifada, no longer sees the point of resistance either. "I don’t want to fight anymore," he says during a discussion with friends. "I’m sick of it. I just want to get out of here."

When Hatem arrives in El Jib, he and Naima have only three weeks to get her immigration papers in order before the wedding. Hatem is frustrated by confusing paperwork and the bureaucratic maze Naima and her family must navigate in order to leave the country, especially the permit process required to enter the Tel Aviv airport in Israel. Adding to the stress, Naima must make up a final college exam, which she failed.

The whole family breathes a sigh of relief when the visas come through. And when they learn that Naima has passed her make-up exam, they celebrate. "Thank God," says Um-Mujahed. "My heart feels better after all the pain. I’ve been waiting for this day all my life. She’s been struggling all her 25 years for this."

For all of Naima's self-assurance about her future in America, she is distraught as the finality of leaving all she has ever known sinks in.


Naima and Hatem in El Jib

While her mother watches, Naima talks with Hatem in the U.S.

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