The assignment required us to write about a moment in our life that changed or shaped our mind. I put a lot of thought into it and realized that i don’t have one moment in particular, I have many such moments, memories and experiences, that they have all not only shaped me, but also helped me solidify my beliefs in times of turmoil, in times of sorrow and blood spilling, in times when everyone else around me was in a complete state of despair and loss of hope. And at times it was hard not to, but I refused to subscribe to that pattern. I refused – and i still do – believe that things cannot be better, that there is no hope, that both sides cannot coexist alongside each other with dignity and mutual respect and peace. I have met many Palestinians throughout my life, that to me they have all been like a solid rock of reminder that I should never resort to prejudice or despair or hopelessness when bad things happen. So I’ll try to tell you about some of these people.
When I was young, during the late 80’s and early 90’s, my father owned a trucking company and most of his workers were Palestinians from the Gaza strip. At one point my father got sick and had to go through some treatments that prevented him from going to work for several months (thank god, my father is now well and in good health). One of his workers, Ismael, was also my father’s right hand man who practically ran the business during this difficult time.
Ismael was annoying.
Ismael was annoying because he never allowed my sister and I to play with the kittens that were living with all the tools and heavy machinery inside the garage at my dad’s work (there were at least 12 cats and kittens there). Ismael used to yell at us to go away, that we would hurt ourselves and that he’ll call our mom and dad to tell them we’re making problems. But we never listened to him, and we used to hide until he was out of sight and go to the kittens. Despite our attempts at stealth, he always caught us and when he did, he yelled at us and we would make scary faces and sing to him– “Ismael Hamgail, na na na, Ismael Hamagil na na na na (from hebrew: “nasty” Ismael). It was a fun song we enjoyed singing to him occasionally when we were bored, plus that was the only word we could come up with that rhymes with “Ismael” that was descriptive enough in our eyes.
One day, probably when he realized it was a lost battle, he moved the kittens to a safer area with less junk and put food and blankets for them to feel at home. It was enough food and blankets to prevent them from moving back to their previous home, which he covered with even more junk to make it really unaccessible for both us and the kittens. It was much nicer that way for everybody, but most likely for Ismael. It spared him the headache of constantly worrying we might hurt ourselves (which happened more often than not).
Sometimes, when my father wanted to tease him, he used to tell us “go bug Ismael”. So we used to go and bug him, climb on his back when he was working and braid his hair and make pony tales– he had funny hair, short from the front and long in the back– and put all of our pink and flowery ribbons in his hair. He would let us do that till he would get up, shake us off of him, look in the mirror take it all off and yell at us to stop bugging him and go play with kittens.
One day he cut his hair. We were really upset about it, because we really had nothing to play with when we used to go to my dad’s work after school besides Ismael’s hair and the kittens. He later said that his kids started doing the same thing to his hair after he told them what we were doing to it. He had gotten fed up with all the messing with his hair and decided to cut it short.
Ismael and Attia, a truck driver that was not around much and sadly didn’t have long hair, were basically part of our household. When my father got better, we went to Gaza to visit them. It was right before Passover and everybody was off work. When we got there after a 40 minutes trip from our house to theirs, everybody hugged and kissed each other and prepared a table filled with delicious foods and sweets as well as other yummy stuff that I can’t remember. The meal could have easily fed an entire village. Even though the Gazan kids did not speak Hebrew and we did not speak Arabic– minus a few words that we picked from Ismael and Attia– it was really easy to play with them. There was no awkwardness whatsoever, and it felt more natural than playing with kids I didn’t know that do speak my language.
That was my first and last time visiting Gaza. As far as I can recall, that visit in Gaza felt like visiting family. Not friends or workers, but family. And I miss that. I really miss that feeling, and I so wish I could feel it again. That is why I refuse to believe that there cannot be peace, that things cannot be better– because we are family, before anything else, and it is up to us to learn how to live with each other, not anyone else, and certainly not God.