Jerusalem Light Rail Train
Amjad Shbita, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, an activist in the Israeli Hadash-Maki party (Jewish and Palestinian socialists), who has also worked at the Knesset as a parliamentary assistant, introduces this harrowing account on Facebook by asking a theoretical question: “Fascists in a colonial regime? Is that a historical precedent?”
The account was written by Nijmeh Ali, a woman. It follows, in translation:
“The light train in Jerusalem. I am sitting quietly. Some yelling is heard and the train gets stuck. Hundreds, maybe thousands are banging on the windows of the train. “Death to the Arabs”, they are chanting. I am scared. I hide behind my sunglasses. I pray that they will not recognize my nationality. A woman is crying, screaming hysterically from the rear seats. I run towards her. She is a young mother with a head scarf. She is holding a 5 year old boy. Another woman is pushing her, wanting to forcibly shove her out of the train. Thousands are banging on the windows, baying for blood, and that woman wants to sacrifice the young mother. “She has no place with us, they murdered three of our sons”. Is she the one who murdered your sons? Did her son murder them? She keeps yelling, the thousands keep banging on the windows. A terrifying sight, nothing is more frightening, and the thundering silence of tens of passengers on the train, as if nothing happened!
These were the longest 12 minutes of my life. 12 minutes on the road to a lynching.”
Jewish Prayers from the Heart and Pen of Alden Solovy
This is a prayer in memory of Muhammad Abu Khdeir, the 16-year-old Arab boy burned to death at the hands of Jewish extremists. It’s part lament — that some of our own Jewish people could commit such a heinous act — and part a prayer to honor his memory. As such, it is explicitly written to be said by Jews. To emphasize the theme that the murder of any child is intolerable, it borrows from my prayer “They Were Boys: A Yizkor Prayer,” written in memory of Gil-ad z”l, Iyal z”l and Naftali z”l. This last line is from Ṣalāt al-Janāzah – the Islamic funeral prayer, as it appears on Wikipedia – and is shown in italics. I hope that I’ve used it in a way that is respectful of the Moslem tradition.
Another Boy Lost
Oh my nation, In this grievous hour of pain and loss,
Another boy is dead,
This time by our own hand.
Oh my people,
That some of our own could
Commit such an atrocity!
An atrocity by fire.
He was a boy.
Stolen from his family,
Stolen from his people, Stolen from life itself.
G-d of All,
Grant a perfect rest under Your tabernacle of peace
To Muhammad Abu Khdeir
Whose life was cut off by violence
In an act of witless anger and hatred.
Blood is blood.
Breath is breath.
Life is life.
May his memory become a source of
Courage to our nation and our people
To reject racism and hate.
G-d whose name is Peace,
In this hour of grief,
Bless his family with consolation and strength.
Grant them endurance, hope and courage.
Let him find peace in the cradle of heaven.
Admit him to Paradise
And protect him from the torment of the grave.
Make his grave spacious and fill it with light.
© 2014 Alden Solovy and tobendlight.com. All rights reserved.
Postscript: In writing this, I selected one line from the Ṣalāt al-Janāzah and removed some language. The line reads in full:
“Oh G-d, admit him to Paradise and protect him from the torment of the grave and the torment of Hell-fire; make his grave spacious and fill it with light.”
I removed the reference to Hell-fire for two reasons: first, because of my discomfort with the language. Second, to avoid a potential misinterpretation by those outside Islam. The original name for this prayer was “Blood is Blood,” also to emphasize that all life is sacred, but after thinking about the prayer, it seemed too harsh of a name for a memorial prayer. Thanks to Rabbi Bob Carroll of Interfaith Encounter here in Israel and Rabbi Ruth Abusch-Magder of Be’chol Lashon in the U.S. for your review and comments. Here’s a link to “They Were Boys: A Yizkor Prayer,” and other prayers for Israel. Please check out my new book, Jewish Prayers of Hope and Healing.
Leaving Jerusalem for Safety
Sayed Kashua, the Palestinian Israeli citizen who is the poster-child for the possibility of building bridges between Israelis and Palestinians because of the Israeli TV sit-com show he developed which for years has portrayed ordinary Palestinians in the kind of human problems that face every Israeli yet showing how the fact of being a Palestinian adds a dimension of complexity, and through his books like A Dancing Arab, writes about why he wants to leave Jerusalem where he championed inter-communal harmony and back to his Arab village where he feels it will be safer for his children.
I’m incapable of writing a word. I’ll wait until my boys get back from day camp, then maybe I’ll be able to calm down a little.
I should never have listened to my wife, I should never have let them go to their day camps, not today, not now. I left their big sister at home. She’s already a teenager, and it just could have been too much. “But why?” she shouted in the morning, already on her way out with her backpack to her group leaders’ course as part of an Education Ministry program. “Just because!” I retorted, and went back to listening to the news.
My children will soon be back and we will leave this place. This time it makes no difference what my wife says – I don’t care, she can say that I’m paranoid, that I’m hysterical, but I’m not letting my kids stay in Jerusalem. I’m going to pack their things for them, and as soon as they get home, I’m going to my parents’ with them. She can stay in Jerusalem if she wants, but I can’t be here anymore.
I will be in Tira with the kids for two or three days, maybe a week. Maybe I won’t come back at all. What is there for me in Jerusalem? In another month I’m flying abroad in any case. I have to call the travel agent and see how much it will cost to move up the date.
I also have to call my real estate agent, and tell him that the rental is no longer limited to a year – that the renters should be allowed to stay as long as they want. Because I’m not coming back to this building, not coming back to this neighborhood, not coming back to Jerusalem and maybe not coming back here at all. Maybe I’ll tell the realtor that instead of a rental, he should look for a place that’s for sale.
I will do whatever it takes not to come back here. I really have to work on my English over there. I absolutely have to start reading and writing only in English. I will use the year ahead while I’m teaching to adopt a new language for my writing. I know it’s not easy – I’ve already gone through it with Hebrew – but there’s no choice. I don’t know how much longer I can go on writing in Hebrew, I don’t know how many Hebrew speakers will still want to listen to me; I’m not sure there will be any point left to addressing them.
I will write in English, I will start to write love stories, the weather will become a major event in the plot, the snow will be a central character. I will write in English about the experiences of a migrant in a new country, about a political asylum seeker, about refugees from war.
I will write in English about the country I abandoned, I will try to write the truth, I will try to be accurate about the details in the hope that someone over there will believe me that this really happened. I will write about a far-off land in which children are shot, slaughtered, buried and burned, and the readers will probably think I am a fantasy writer.
But, hey, who said I have to write at all? I will do a little university teaching and then I’ll find a job. I can do anything, I don’t care. I’m ready to wash dishes, change tires and clean toilets.
I can be a taxi driver and live modestly in a small town; I will be a polite driver with an accent. If the passengers talk to me, I will answer them. And if they ask where the accent’s from and what country I’m from, I will tell them that I come from a scary place where people in suits and uniforms call on the masses to hate, kill, plunder and take revenge – sometimes in the name of religion, sometimes in the name of God, and all for the sake of the children’s future.
In the taxi I will only listen to music – even country music, for all I care – but never to the news. I mustn’t know who the politicians in the new place are, mustn’t know the names of the reporters, the anchors and the commentators, mustn’t take an interest in their opinions, their viewpoints or their world views. I will do my best to be a perpetual tourist there. Not to take things to heart, never to feel that I belong.
My children will soon be home and I will take them to Tira. I don’t want to stay here another minute. I will call the travel agent, maybe she can get us out of here tomorrow. My wife will scream that she has committed to working until the end of the month. She can stay here if she wants, she can join us next month.
“What don’t you understand?” I said to her when I begged her not to go to work. “It’s over.”
“Have you lost it?” she shouted back at me. “What in the blazes is over?”
I was silent, knowing that my attempt at living together with others in this country was over. That the lie I’d told my children about a future in which Arabs and Jews share the country equally was over.
I wanted to say to my wife that this is really the end, it’s finished. That I’d lost my small war, that everything people had told me since I was a teenager was coming true before my eyes. That all those who told me that there is a difference between blood and blood, between one person and another person, were right. That all those who told me that I have no place other than Tira spoke the truth.
But all I said to her was, “Good luck at work,” apologized for my exaggerated fears, and added that I was sure everything would be all right.
The children will soon be back from day camp and I will take them far away from here. Right now, though, I’m home with my firstborn daughter. She’s angry and has closeted herself in her room. I knock gently on the door, but she doesn’t answer.
She’s sitting on her bed with her computer. I sit down next to her on the bed, knowing I’m about to tell her what my father told me when I was a boy her age. It was my first day at a Jerusalem boarding school, where only Hebrew was spoken. My father drove me there from Tira, and a moment before parting from me, at the entrance to the school, he said, “Remember that for them you will always, but always, be an Arab, understand?”
“I understand,” my daughter said and hugged me close, “I understood it already by myself.”