He couldn't hold his mother as she died. He stole her body to bury her as she wished.
JERUSALEM - As the coronavirus swept the West Bank in July, 73-year-old Rasmiye Al Suwaiti was hospitalized. Although isolated, it had visitors every day.
Her son, Jihad Al Suwaiti, 32, climbed the hospital building every day to sit in front of her window and check that she was wearing her oxygen mask - an act that unwittingly catapulted him into the global spotlight after looking in front of his mother's window sat that his brother posted on Facebook went viral.
It did not take long for Jihad's story to travel around the world, and there was even a video of an imam in Sudan during prayers citing him as an example of how all Muslims should treat their mothers.
Image: Jihad Al Suwaiti's mother Rasmiye Suwaiti. (Jam Press / Jam Press)
His commitment didn't stop there: when his mother died on July 17, Jihad and his siblings stole their bodies after hospital staff said they could not give it to the family.
Brothers, nephews and friends came in seven different cars to distract and confuse the ambulance drivers who were chasing the brothers as they stole their mother's body, he said.
The ambulance drivers lost track of which car was carrying the body and the brothers successfully brought their mother back to Beit Awwa, he said.
Tarek al Barbarawi, director of Alia Hospital in Hebron, where Rasmiye was treated, confirmed to NBC News that her body was stolen because her children did not want her body to be wrapped in plastic.
Muslim tradition has it that the dead should be buried as soon as possible, with the body wrapped in a white shroud. Earlier this year, according to Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the Palestinian Territories, new decrees were issued on how to deal with coronavirus dead for Muslim burials.
"This is a rule of necessity and necessity allows prohibitions, so the deceased is not washed, wrapped or buried in a plastic bag," Hussein told Reuters.
"She said," If I die of this disease, don't bury me in a plastic bag! "Jihad recalled, the youngest of their nine children.
"I held her with my own hands, dug her grave, and buried her as she asked me to," he said.
So far, jihad has not received a sanction for breaking the law and endangering others.
Born in 1947 in the hilly Palestinian town of Beit Awwa in the occupied West Bank, Rasmiye Al Suwaiti is one of 387 people who have died in the West Bank and Gaza Strip since the pandemic began at Johns Hopkins University.
Those who knew her described her as a simple woman who never learned to read or write, but who had an unprecedented zeal for life and a heart full of love.
"She had the kindness of the whole world in her heart," said Jihad.
Image: Jihad Al SuwaIti (Jam Press)
A family story tells how Rasmiye's husband, Hisham, saw her and asked the village chief for her hand in the marriage. Her parents refused because she was only 14 years old and her cousin had also asked for her hand. But Hisham persisted, and eventually Rasmiye's parents gave in.
The couple married on an autumn day in 1962 at Rasmiye's home in Beit Awwa. She wore a white dress and rode a camel from her family home to that of her husband. According to regional tradition, she changed into seven different colored dresses seven times.
A happy life
Hisham died in 2005 at the age of 63, but the couple had been 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 get married and start families of their own.
"I've never seen a relationship like my parents had," said Riham Al Suwaiti, 49, who now has nine children of her own. “My mother meant everything to my father. He loved her so much. The whole city knows how special their relationship was. "
Riham remembered her father returning from pilgrimages to Mecca with bags full of gifts for his wife and how he sporadically bought her gold bracelets, necklaces and rings to show his love.
"He gave her everything she wanted and wanted," she said.
The two were inseparable and worked side by side, growing olive trees and tending sheep, their children said. Hisham would look after the herd, and the milk would be used by Rasmiye to make yogurt, labneh and cheese, which they would sell along with olives and oil in markets in Beit Awwa.
At home, they would share the housework and her father would help the children study because Rasmiye could neither read nor write, Riham said.
According to their children's reports, their lives were happy even as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict around them worsened and worsened.
The family bond
After her husband died, Rasmiye spent the rest of her life in mourning, Riham said. Her children gathered around her and spoiled her like their father.
"I visited them every day with my wife and children," said Jihad. "We have done everything so that she doesn’t feel his absence."
Even so, she made an effort to get out of the house and even missed her grandson's wedding, Riham said.
Rasmiye's children don't know how or when she got infected with the coronavirus.
Some who visited her at her home in Beit Awwa later tested positive for the virus, Jihad said, but it's unclear when it silently passed from one to another.
This spring, the West Bank closed hard and fast to suppress the coronavirus outbreak. By the end of May, the Palestinian Authority's strict measures appeared to have paid off, with around 450 confirmed cases and only three kidney-shaped deaths, according to the agency. But the cases are rising now.
When Rasmiye became infected with the coronavirus, it wasn't the first time that she was seriously ill.
She was diagnosed with leukemia in 2015 and jihad would take her down the winding road to Bethlehem for treatment. Even when she asked, he didn't tell her she had cancer, but said that she would get treatment for her feet.
While her health worsened with the coronavirus, Jihad watched her from her windowsill to make sure she was taking in oxygen.
When asked about the now famous picture of climbing the hospital wall to see his mother in her final days, Jihad said that the moment the doctors left the room, he would climb through the window and look on would sit in her bed, which was only protected by a mask and gloves.
"If I left her for a second, she would take off her oxygen mask," he said.
In her last moments, when death began to conquer her, she muttered.
"'I want to sleep in jihad. I want to sleep," he recalled.
"She died in my arms," he said. “She was all my life. She was my everything: my happiness, my friend, my home. "
Lawahez Jabari reported from Jerusalem. Saphora Smith reported from London.
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