The day started with a talk with a survivor of the Srebrenica Massacre that happened in 1995. He explained what had happened and the course of events that led to the catastrophe. While explaining, I felt anger coming from him – why would the Dutch let them out to the Serbians? It was interesting to see that the anger he had was mainly towards the Dutch soldiers and the UN and not the Serbians and it was understandable. Understandable as they believed that the UN was there to help, to protect them but yet… they were led to their death.
Later on, we hurried to the buses. The ride took three hours. Tiring, yes. I did have a power nap though and really did get a surge of energy. It felt like three minutes but I actually slept for more than twenty minutes.
The view on the way was amazing. This country has so much green land that it is amazing. Wows.
When we reached, the time was behind schedule that the “tours” around the city got cancelled. So we sat in a coffee place for a bit before lunch. Can I just say that lunch today was more delicious than the other days? In the beginning I was worried that it would be like yesterday and there wouldn’t be much food so I put a lot of food. Way too much.
While eating, Marco got into a discussion with an American Jew living in Israel about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The discussion got heated as the subject of what Palestinians deserve as rights came up and what they should get. I mostly listened as it wasn’t anything new. “The Palestinians want all the land, Israel suggested some options – Palestine declined. What should they get? Why? Why they shouldn’t get the land”. The same story. Ben came by and I got up to get a ‘breather’ from the discussion. Seriously, at such a good meal – I have to listen to this?
After lunch, we went to the “safe area” that was under the UN control. The land in which the soldiers were located at, in which the massacre occurred. We first saw the graves. tombstone after tombstone. The world “alfat-ha” written above almost every tomb stone (Muslim tomb stones) – the first chapter of the Kuran. I read it and wanted to break down. I wanted to read it to every victim. To see endless tombstones in which people died for what? For what? I don’t think any answer will satisfy me. There was a long stone in the shape of a scarf on which was written the names of the victims. So many names. So many dates of birth. So many dates. In such small font. So much black ink on the white stone. It was just too much, it was just not fair.
I was so angry at myself there. Why didn’t I know more about what had happened? Why? Why doesn’t the world remember them? Why don’t the Muslims remember their dead brothers as the Jews remember those who died in the Holocaust? And just angry at humanity itself. Where had it gone?
After that we went to talk with another survivor; his father and brother died in the massacre. He repeated the history of what happened. He took us to see the camp in which the Dutch soldiers stayed and the place the massacre happened. His anger towards the UN and the soldiers were expressed (to me at least). How could they betray them, their job was to come and protect. Yet, did they? They, at first did not let all of them in, they left thousands and thousands outside because there was a riot – so they decided not to let everyone in. For what? To save them? Feed them? Protect them? NO. To blindly set them off to the Serbians. To lead them to death. How and Why? The anger is understandable, to me at least. After his tour we saw a short video in which we saw what was told by the survivors. But alongside that, family members of victims told their stories of their last moments with the murdered. You see a mother, wife and so on trying to make sense of what happened, who wonder what happened and for what reason. Not once or twice did I shed a tear. It’s just indescribable to imagine what they went through.
When they turned on the light after the video ended, everyone just got up silently. No one spoke a word or looked at another. Like robots, we all just stood up and left to see pictures of the victims and others pictures around. Children in the pictures, the clothes they wore, the bones – just more and more pictures that make me question humanity more and more. How could this happen? The question drives me crazy. 1995. That wasn’t that long ago. How in this lifetime this happened. How do these people, these creatures do such a thing? I just can’t take it anymore.
We went to pray afterwards. I don’t pray usually but felt that it was necessary. I just had to pray, I had to bow my head to the ground. I had to have my head touch the ground. Those people, victims deserved it. They deserve not to be forgotten, to be known and recognized.
We, the whole MJC group prayed together. A Muslim man among the team read Surrah Yassin and alfati-ha and translated to English so everyone would understand. Later on, the Jewish read Mourners Kaddish and translated in English so everyone would understand. So unbelievable, us together praying over the Muslim victims of the massacre. The Jewish women were wearing hijabs out of respect and everyone listening and attempting to understanding the others prayer and faith. In that moment, that place – a place in which people died because hatred. Something both Jewish and Muslims suffered from, that’s bringing us together. Maybe there is hope after all.
My last day in Sarajevo, I wanted to walk around the city one last time before my flight and to eat burrek again. As I was walking, I was concentrating on the way, to make sure I’d know how to return. Until I saw a massive amount of people on a street, I tried to remember whether today was a special day – nothing came to my mind so I asked a young woman on the street. She explained that every year on the eleventh, they bury the bodies found in the year in Srebrenica and on they way on the 9th they’d pass through Sarajevo. There were so many people there, elderly, young adults and children in the street next to the mosque. I could see people drying up tears. Women wearing hijabs and carrying flowers. The young woman, Sofija explained to me how bodies keep getting found – barely ever whole bodies and sometimes different parts in different areas. She said she was Muslim, “I don’t cover my head, but I pray five times a day and practice”. When she heard that I was from Israel, she was surprised -”Hows it like, to be a Muslim from Israel?” A question I heard a lot the past few days. Her interest and surprise was like mine towards the Muslims in Sarajevo. Sofija explained how things were getting better even though the country was poor. “No one can forget the war,” “it will happen again – in five, fifty or hundred years. I don’t know when but it will happen again. Everyone hates us”.
We waited more for the trucks to arrive with the bodies. Sofija had to leave so I moved ahead to see more. The more I walked up the street, more people were there. I stood next to a German man holding a camera, who explained that there were people holding names of victims there. I couldn’t see as many people were standing in front of me, so I moved back to see better. And so there they were, on the first long line next to the street women were holding a rope that attached to it were parchments with victims names on them. So many names. So many people. So many tears. So many people holding a crying friend or relative. So much pain in Sarajevo, yet I was sure that not in many other places.
The trucks arrived and hands rose to the air to read ‘alfatiha’ over the victims souls. Flowers were being thrown as the trucks passed. And more tears were shown. Elder men and women, young men and women and children crying over the victims. The war was so fresh, how can’t it be with ruined buildings all over, you see it everywhere. And now, these bodies, that were found seventeen years after the war were going to be put to rest. And still, there are 2,000 bodies yet to be found.
Walking among them, I was numb. At moments, I felt as though I was about to cry but then I would look at them again and think about what the victims family were going through. Who was I to start crying? My, a foreigner among them – I knew nothing. I felt as though I was invading their privacy. I wanted to leave, yet I couldn’t. I wanted to be there – I wanted it to influence me. I felt as though it was necessary.
As the trucks left, the people started leaving. Some were collecting the parchments of names, others posters with victims faces. Some were still crying and holding on to someone and others were repeating ‘alfatiha’ again. The hands just staying in the air, waiting for the prayers to be heard.
The flowers thrown were still on the street, the trucks and cars had driven over them. Yet they were still there. Just like the victims – laying on the ground. Waiting to be picked up and laid to rest.
Four hundred and nine Srebrenica victims are going to be buried. Today. Today their going to be laid to rest. They should be remembered. One of the reasons of there death was that they were Muslim. Muslim. Muslim. Is that really a reason? Is there a good reason to killing a person? Let alone thousands. Oh, humanity.
– This blog was originally published here.
Photo Courtesy: Daniel Shaked
MJC does not support any political agenda and would like to emphasize that these posts reflect personal views of participants that wrote about their individual experience at an MJC conference.