Refusing to Walk the Path of Mourning in Solitude As a widow who lost her husband eight months ago to terrorism, Arin Sitawe wages her battle with grief with one simple request: to not be left alone • BY NOA AMOUYAL When Arin Sitawe emerges from her house perched upon a hilltop in Maghar, a tranquil Druze village in the Eastern Galilee, one can immediately see that a light that shone so brightly within her has been extinguished. It is clear that her striking brown eyes have shed many tears in the past eight months, since her husband, police officer Haiel Sitawe, was killed by terrorists outside the Temple Mount last July. Arin recalled speaking to her husband at 5 a.m., a mere two hours before he was gunned down by three terrorists outside the holy site’s complex. “I remember everything clearly,” she said, her voice shaking. “I just delivered our son 10 days before. I was nervous and anxious and couldn’t sleep all night. I called him and he told me to be calm and focus on our baby.” After reluctantly hanging up, she knew in her heart something was wrong. It was the last time she would ever speak to her husband. “My father’s cellphone rang, and he stepped out of the house to take it. I knew then something wasn’t right. Something had happened,” she said, recalling that fateful morning. “My father came back inside and told my sister and me that Haiel was injured. But I knew that wasn’t true. He was gone. I told him he was lying to me. And then I simply passed out from shock,” she added. “I have no words. I can’t even envision my future at the moment. How can I go on? How can I raise a child alone? I just don’t know,” Arin Sitawe Haiel Sitawe wasn’t the only casualty that morning. Kamil Shnaan, a fellow Druze police officer, was also killed and left behind a fiancée, parents, a brother and three sisters in mourning. During our conversation Sitawe doesn’t make eye contact often. Her gaze is often directed to somewhere else, perhaps the other world she wishes she could be in. One that would include her husband beside her. While most widows are able to overcome one of life’s greatest tragedies over time, Sitawe’s grief is still raw and fresh. Every word she utters, every step she takes is another reminder that her husband is no longer with her and that she has suddenly become a single mother. “I have no words. I can’t even envision my future at the moment. How can I go on? How can I raise a child alone? I just don’t know,” she said. “My family gives me strength to go on and stand on my feet and raise a child. I 12 IDFWO MARCH 2018 Haiel Sitawe in uniform. Sitawe was slain by terrorists during the terror attack beside the Temple Mount complex last year.
Haiel Sitawe embraces and kisses his newborn son, Ramos, last July. feel that I’m not alone. My parents, my in laws are here for me,” she said, explaining that this familial network of support has been her backbone that enables her to wake up each morning and power through the day. The Ministry of Defense frequently checks in on the grieving family and the IDFWO has approached her several times asking if she would like their services. ID- FWO Chairwoman Tami Shelach and the IDFWO Director of Youth Programmes Shlomi Nahumson visited Arin shortly after her husband’s death to convey that the organisation is ready to embrace her and her son with open arms should she decide to benefit from the array of programmes the organisation has to offer. For the moment, all Arin asks of people is that they be there for her. “All I want is for people to remember that I’m still here. I don’t want to raise a boy on my own,” she pleaded. The Druze community, too, have been a source of comfort for Sitawe. Since his death, neighbours and friends have paid daily visits to the house offering words of comfort or simply passing time on the porch with her to make sure she doesn’t spend much time alone. The kindness of her neighbours was evident even to this interviewer who had difficulty locating the Sitawe home. In her village, very few of the narrow and curvaceous streets have a name, making navigating her neighbourhood quite difficult. But ask around for the Sitawe household and a haunted look quickly passes their face, before they offer helpful directions. “We’re here in Israel, Israel is our home,so we have to protect it,” Iyad Sitawe In Israel, the Druze community have developed a reputation for being staunch protectors of the country. Of the 140,000 who reside here, most are passionate about defending the country. Iyad Sitawe, Arin’s father, believes this loyalty stems from their religion. “We understand we will never have our own land. So Druze believe that wherever they reside, it is our duty to protect that host country. We feel obligated to do so. We’re here in Israel, Israel is our home, so we have to protect it,” he said. “For me, I live here and I’m happy here. This land is our land and we need to fight for it. When there’s a war, do you think the enemy cares who is a Druze and who is a Jew? No. When a terrorist wants to kill, he doesn’t differentiate,” he said plainly. “If something God forbid happens to Israel - we see what’s happening in Syria, Iraq and Jordan and I don’t want to live that way. I want to be free. This is the only democratic country in this region - everybody can see that. It doesn’t require a lot of explanation,” he added. “Terrorists want to destabilise the country. We, on the other hand, believe in the value of life.” And perhaps there is no one who valued life more than Haiel Sitawe, who treasured every moment of it. His commanding officer, Temple Mount visitors and family all attested to Haiel’s kind spirit. “We lost an angel. I’ve known him since he met my daughter seven years ago. He was like a son to me. He couldn’t sleep if he thought he hurt someone’s feelings. He would immediately call to apologise to someone,” Iyad Sitawe said mournfully. “We’ve heard stories from Muslims who prayed there that Haiel would give them food and water. He’d play with small children who arrived,” Iyad Sitawe said. “A woman from east Jerusalem called us and said ‘Haiel Sitawe was known as a soldier who helped everyone who came to the Temple Mount.’” The youngest Sitawe, Ramos, now eight months old, was named after famed Spanish footballer Sergio Ramos. And although the infant orphan carries the athlete’s name, it is his father’s legacy of bravery and empathy that Arin Sitawe hopes he will carry with him for life. “My son will never know how good his father was, but I will do my best to teach him. His first word was ‘Ba’” [which means father in Arabic], Arin Sitawe said with a faraway smile. Famed footballer Sergio Ramos holding Haiel and Arin Sitawe’s son, Ramos, who was named after him. All photos provided by the Sitawe family. IDFWO MARCH 2018 13