JERUSALEM – When the coronavirus crossed the West Bank in July, Rasmie Al Suwaiti, 73, was admitted to hospital. Although she was isolated, she had a daily visitor.
Her son, Jihad Al Suwaiti, 32, scales the hospital building every day to sit in front of her window and check to see if he’s wearing his oxygen mask, an act that inadvertently ejects him into the spotlight after a photo of him sitting in front of his mother’s window that his brother posted on Facebook went viral.
It wasn’t long before the story of jihad went around the world, and a video of an imam in Sudan even appeared during prayers, citing him as an example of how all Muslims should treat their mothers.
His dedication did not stop there: When his mother died on July 17, Jihad and her siblings stole her body after hospital staff said they could not pass it on to the family.
Brothers, nephews and friends came with seven different cars in a plan designed to distract and confuse ambulance drivers who chased the brothers as they stole their mother’s body, he said.
Ambulance drivers lost track of which car was carrying the body and the brothers successfully returned their mother to Beit Auva, he said.
Tarek al-Barbarawi, director of Aliyah Hospital in Hebron, where Rasmie was being treated, confirmed to NBC News that her body had been stolen because her children did not want her body wrapped in plastic.
Muslim tradition states that the dead should be buried as soon as possible, with the body wrapped in a white shroud. But earlier this year, new decrees were issued to deal with dead coronaviruses for Muslim burials, according to Sheikh Mohammed Hussein, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the Palestinian Territories.
“This is a rule of necessity, and necessity allows prohibitions, so the deceased is not washed or wrapped and buried in a plastic body bag,” Hussein told Reuters.
“She said, ‘If I die of this disease, don’t bury me in a plastic bag!’ Jihad, the youngest of his nine children, recalls.
“I held her with my own hands, dug her grave and buried her the way she asked me to,” he said.
So far, Jihad has not faced sanctions for breaking the law and putting others at risk.
Born in 1947 in the hilly Palestinian city of Beit Awwa in the occupied West Bank, Rasmiye Al Suwaiti is one of 38 people who have died in the West Bank and Gaza since the pandemic, out of a total of 44,684 cases, according to Johns Hopkins University. .
Those who knew her described her as a simple woman who never learned to read and write, but had an incomparable zeal for life and a heart overflowing with love.
“He had all the goodness in the world in his heart,” Jihad said.
A family story tells how Rasmie’s husband, Hisham, saw her and asked the village chief for her hand. Initially, her parents refused because she was only 14 years old and her cousin had also asked for it. But Hisham went on, and in the end Rasmie’s parents gave in.
The couple married on an autumn day in 1962 at Rasmie’s house in Beit Auva. She wore a white dress and rode a camel from her family home to her husband’s home, changing seven times into seven colorful dresses, according to regional tradition.
Hisham died in 2005 at the age of 63, but the couple was happily married for more than half a century and raised nine children. Hisham taught them to read and write, and the couple watched their children marry and start their own families.
“I have never seen a relationship like my parents’,” said Richham Al Suwait, 49, who also now has nine children. “My mother meant everything to my father. He loved her so much. The whole town knows how special their relationship was. “
Ream remembered her father returning from pilgrimage to Mecca with bags full of gifts for his wife and sporadically buying her gold bracelets, necklaces and rings to show his love.
“He gave her everything she wanted and wanted,” she said.
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The two were inseparable, working side by side, raising olive trees and raising sheep, according to their children. Hisham would take care of the herd, and from the milk Rasmie would make yoghurt, labna, and cheese to sell, along with the olives and butter, at the markets in Beit Auva.
When they get home, they will share the household chores and their father will help the children learn because Rasmie cannot read or write, Richham said.
According to their children’s stories, their lives were happy even when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict grew and weakened around them.
The family connection
After her husband’s death, Rasmie spent the rest of her life in mourning, Richham said. Her children gathered around her, pampering her like their father.
“I visited her every day with my wife and children,” Jihad said. “We did our best not to make him feel absent.”
Still, grief-stricken, she struggled to leave the house and even missed her grandson’s wedding, Richham said.
Rasmiye’s children do not know how or when she contracted the coronavirus.
Some who visited her at her house in Beit Auwa later tested positive for the virus, Jihad said, but it was not clear when it would pass silently from one to the other.
This spring, the West Bank locked itself firmly and quickly in an attempt to stop the outbreak of coronavirus. By the end of May, the Palestinian Authority’s austerity measures appear to be working, with about 450 confirmed cases and only three deaths in the kidney-shaped area, according to government figures. But the cases are now on the rise.
When Rasmiye became infected with the coronavirus, it was not the first time he had become seriously ill.
In 2015, she was diagnosed with leukemia and Jihad would take her down the winding road to Bethlehem for treatment. Even when she asked, he didn’t tell her he had cancer, but instead said he was being treated for his legs.
As her health deteriorates with the coronavirus, Jihad will watch her from the window sill to make sure she is taking in oxygen.
Asked about the now-famous photo of him scaling the hospital wall to see his mother in her last days, Jihad said that as soon as the doctors left the room, he would climb out the window and sit by her bed. protected only with a mask and gloves.
“If I leave her for a second, she will take off her oxygen mask,” he said.
In her last moments, as death began to overwhelm her, she murmured.
“I want to sleep in Jihad’s house. I want to sleep, ”he recalls.
“She died in my arms,” he said. “She was all my life. She was my everything: my happiness, my friend, my homeland. “
Lawahez Jabari reports from Jerusalem. Saphora Smith reports from London.