Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Breaking Bread with My Enemy

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Breaking Bread with My Enemy

Article excerpt

My enlightenment did not occur in a single incident, but over many turbulent years...

1948: I was born in Jerusalem, Palestine and was only a child when my country was partitioned and my family forced to leave. I spent most of my young adult life hating Jews, Israelis, Zionists and anyone who was on their side, and dismissed the Holocaust as exaggerated Jewish paranoia.

1973: In Beirut, Lebanon, a young married couple moved into the apartment next to mine. They were Jews. At first we just nodded, then the nods turned into whispers of greeting, the greetings became audible, we lingered in the hallway and finally stepped into each other's apartments. It was a slow process and very strange to our Arab way of life, where new neighbors ordinarily became instant family. However, the war in Lebanon put an end to our budding exchanges.

1976: The war for the control of the highrise hotels in Beirut was underway. The Holiday Inn, a sniper's nest until it was burned out, was two blocks away from my apartment. Heavily armed militia roamed our streets. Pack the bags, bundle up the children, and travel for safety to Amman. A few days. We'll be back.

In Amman I was greeted by my sobbing Aunt Aniseh. "Refugees again? Our generation and now yours? When will it end?" Unlike the previous generation of Palestinians, we did go back to Beirut. As the situation intensified, however, we left again, this time for England.

I was in London when my mother called me from her apartment there to tell me excitedly that "Pnina" had just called her and was coming to visit. Pnina was my mother's Jewish friend, about whom I had heard for years as I was growing up. They were high school friends in Jerusalem, had graduated together, married during the same year, and had their children in the same years. They lost touch, however, after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.

My mother loved Pnina but in my hot, angry, youthful days I had resented this woman, this Jew. She had stayed on in Palestine because she was Jewish, while my family and I had to be uprooted and exiled because we were not.

No, I did not really look forward to seeing Pnina, who had traced my mother through the grapevine, located her in London and called her from my Jerusalem to announce her impending visit. However, on the day of the visit, I went to meet her, having geared myself for a confrontation.

Pnina was wonderful. Sensitive, warm, teary-eyed as she embraced us all. We talked. We laughed. We ate. They reminisced. I loved her. I did not confront her, or my feelings. I could not deal with the fact that here I was, loving and admiring a Jewish woman! My enemy!

1982: The Israelis invaded Lebanon. Bombardment, siege, and evacuation of the PLO from West Beirut. The massacres. The fear. The whole insecurity of being a Palestinian once again. There is no backing out. One can uproot from a place but not from one's skin, one's history, one's people. The dilemmas. The sense that we had betrayed those we left behind, as we now safely dwelt in the West. Abhorrence of the West for being the cause and the prime financier of our exile and tragedy. The sense of helplessness and total incapacitation, of loss and that immense guilt.

1985: Sitting by my window in the safety of my suburban American home, missing my parents, friends and way of life, out of touch with my culture and my roots. I cried for having lived 40 years over which I had absolutely no control, a life constantly subjected to changing political circumstances, which dominated every level of my being. …

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