Thirteen years ago, my encounter with an Israeli family in the US left me with a hope for peace and a better tomorrow for all. Today, it pains me to think that their child, who played for countless hours with my son, may be the one who is dropping bombs on the children of Lebanon.
For a fresh PhD in economics from the University of Oklahoma, a teaching post at Texas A&M University was more than a godsend; it was a miracle with promises of untold academic glory. My Texan wife, who was also offered a post at the university, had our son attend a preschool in Bryan, Texas. After two weeks at school, my wife interrupted me in my research cubicle at home and asked: “Yusuf, guess who is your son’s best friend at school?”
She stated an Israeli name.
I said, “Fine!”
Jordan had not signed a peace agreement with Israel then, but my logic at the time was: Let them play … why trouble the children with the pains and follies of their elders? And they played.
The Israeli child came to our house; occasionally, I babysat him and my son, and watched them shoot hoops in my small backyard as I worked at an academic career that proved to be more work than pay. On one occasion, that child missed a basket; my son, with the innocence of a four-year-old, patted him on the back and said: “Don’t worry, I will score one for you!” As he went to throw the ball, he turned to his Israeli friend and said: “This one is for you!”
The friend, not to be outdone, returned the favour seconds later when my son missed the basket, and scored one for him too. “This one is for you,” he said.
They were two friends that played well together; they even stood up for each other against the bullies at school.
After several weeks, the child’s parents visited our home and we had dinner. They were both reservists in the Israeli army; they had guarded the borders with Jordan several years earlier. I never asked them about their military experience, we were all academics on neutral grounds, and they never volunteered any information. I, with no military experience and a disdain for politics and politicians, had nothing to mention on the topic. The conversations were guarded, yet pleasant and respectful. And the children played until they were tired and, exhausted, they slept in my son’s bed. They remained friends for the whole time until we returned to Jordan in 1994, where I witnessed, a year later, the signing of the peace agreement between Jordan and Israel.
Last month, my son, now 17, together with his mom, myself and grandparents who were visiting from the US, visited the elegant campus of the American University of Beirut (AUB), where he was accepted as a freshman. Beirut was abuzz with life; everything was coming into place, the country was a marvel of sun and sea, tourists and Lebanese were everywhere celebrating life, Fairouz songs played everywhere, and beauty abounded in this hub of art and culture.
“The Lebanese people made the difference,” I thought to myself; they love their Lebanon so much that they are willing, after a 25-year civil war and 18 years of Israeli occupation, to rebuild it and make it even more glorious today than it ever was. “What a wonderful nation,” my mind kept whispering as I drove back to Jordan; they scoured the world for all that is worthy of their country and brought it home; they poured their lives into rebuilding every corner of this wonderful place; and they succeeded.
Lebanon was to be envied, I decided. We all had a great time.
Last week my son went to the United States, not to AUB, to continue his schooling. His friends who hadn’t bothered apply elsewhere are stranded, waiting for the destruction to stop, hoping to return to that beacon of civilisation that is now dimmed… yes, dimmed, not dead.
Now Lebanon lies helplessly and mercilessly marauded by Israeli warplanes, with hundreds of people dead by careless Israeli attacks. Why? Because Hizbollah captured two Israeli soldiers!! Never mind the 10,000 Palestinians, some captured not on battle grounds but in the still of the night or by stealth from their homes, whose families await their release while the world stands deaf to the cries of mothers and fathers who patiently await the release of their loved ones. Never mind, also, even though one really should, the Israeli prisons brimming with Lebanese prisoners, some never in combat against the occupier!
Can the crime, if it can be called that, justify the act? Is there a written equation that says two Israeli hostages are worth more than 350 Lebanese lives? Wouldn’t the release of some prisoners have been the more humane response of the strong and mighty Israel? How much is an Arab’s life worth? How much is an Arab country worth?
After bidding my son farewell, I went back to my office, sad that he would go so far away. I opened my e-mail and saw pictures of the corpses of Lebanese children killed in the Israeli attacks. The last group of pictures showed Israeli children writing messages on artillery shells that were to be lobbied against their counterparts in Lebanon. Beautiful, innocent children, writing hate messages on missiles that would be dropped on other children.
I pray none had the statement: “This one is for you!”
YUSUF MANSUR can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org