September 30, 2008

JSF to the Ummah: Eid Mubarak!

This marks only the second year since 9/11 that my hometown has lit up its remaining tallest building green for Eid.

Everyone remembers the CNN film of a few Palestinians dancing in E. Jerusalem on 9/11. I recall watching that & feeling more than a little irked, having just come from a candlelight vigil with the WTC smoldering in the background & spending part of the day standing on line to donate blood for the wounded -- who never materialized -- that anyone could find a reason to rejoice in the pointless destruction of my city.

Fifteen months later I traveled to Palestine for the first time. In January of '03, I witnessed the biggest single-day orgy of home demolition in the West Bank since the beginning of the occupation, in the village of Nazlat Issa. Nazlat Issa was a thriving commercial center in the northern West Bank that straddled the Green Line. At least 60 shops were destroyed by the IDF that day. After the major part of the destruction was done, I was coughing amidst the rubble, something easily set off since the weeks I'd spent breathing in the debris of 9/11, and that caught the attention of a local pharmacist. He advised me to drink water, and regretted he didn't have anything from his shop to give me, as it had just been flattened.

Quite all right, I assured him, and when I explained the origin of my cough, I got a very common reaction from him, the one most Palestinians expressed as soon as they'd find out I was from New York -- deep sadness for what my city had gone through. Now I was savvy enough not to have expected to find a troupe of 9-11 celebrants prancing about the West Bank, but I was still quite moved at this widely-expressed commiseration. After all, my co-religionists, many of them being settlers with Brooklyn accents, were busy ethnically cleansing these folks, and my country was financing it. But it really took the cake, this pharmacist standing in the rubble of everything he had, and there he was busying himself expressing effusive sorrow for MY loss & worrying about my cough.

Caked with mud as we all were, and wanting to get away from the dust and the terminator-like machines still ripping away at the remains of the buildings, the pharmacist took myself and two other US Jewish activists to his family's house. He was a superb host, even on such a lousy day, occasionally getting a bit sunken when he talked about how he didn't know how he was going to support his family or mused on what would become of his village. But he brightened up considerably when one of my compatriots surged off an overstuffed sofa and burst into a fabulous interpretation of a Shakira-style bump & grind while the chanteuse blared over Lebanese MTV. We merrily egged him on, clapping in unison, and the one female activist amongst us gamely attempted to ululate. The pharmacist's mother made me tea with an herb picked from their garden -- worked wonders on the throat.

So the picture above is in appreciation for that fellow -- I hope he & his family are doing well this Eid; him and all the other Palestinians who've plied me with their hospitality, wisdom, humor & forbearance in my too brief visits to their beleaguered & beautiful homeland.


Post a Comment