How will there be a future for all the children of Palestine and Israel? A future free of war and fear, with hope and justice for all Muslims, Jews, Christians, and non-believers? Since my eyes were first opened to this injustice in Palestine more than four decades ago, I have endeavored through my art, writing, and activism to create this dream of peace and justice for all people of Palestine and Israel.
I was at a rally this past weekend in Boston with our Palestinian grandkids and family supporting Palestinians in their struggle for freedom. My wife and I are the American grandparents to three beautiful children from Gaza: Malak, age 11, Kareem 10, and Adam is six months old. Malak is funny, chatty, loves to dance, and helps her mom with her youngest brother Adam. Kareem, which means generous, is a thoughtful and kind kid. When we were in St. Petersburgh a month ago, he had a boogie-board, and another kid wanted to play with it; without being asked, he gave the kid the board. He is a whiz at math and is quickly becoming fluent in English. His youngest brother Adam was born in the USA six months ago. These extraordinary children will grow up away from the war and the oppression of life under the occupation of the Israelis. They will go to school and not worried that it will be bombed. Their house will not be attacked and firebombed like when they lived in Gaza. Unlike the children in Gaza and the West Bank, they will have a future free of fear. However, when the kids first arrived about a year and a half ago from Gaza, when the fire alarm at our hotel went off, they were terrified and cried. It reminded them of being back in Gaza. They had suffered from nightmares and anxiety attacks. In occupied Palestine, it is a life of constant fear and hardship.
Their mother is Samah, and her husband, our adopted son, Ayman, was born and raised in Gaza. Ayman came into our lives about a decade ago. He is a political refugee persecuted by Hamas and the Israelis because he is a humanist in a world that denies humanity. For Ayman, there isn’t a gram of bitterness in his conversations. His guiding principles are love, tolerance, and justice for all people: Muslim, Christian, Jew, and even non-believers. In a world torn by vitriol and anger, it is rare to find a person who has lived in an occupied country, watched his father beaten by Israeli soldiers, and survived the American invasion as a scholarship student in Iraq and not be bitter nor vindictive. I have never met a more resilient person. He left Gaza nearly a decade ago on a scholarship to study in the USA, and we were his host family. Quickly, we grew from friendship to family. His family has lived in Palestine for hundreds of years, perhaps longer. His great grandfather was an eminent scholar. His family was also farmers who tilled the fertile land of Palestine. As a child, he picked grapes and olives to help support his family.
I am a Jew by heritage, who has been nurtured by studying many religions and philosophies; nevertheless, I do not believe in any one god, but my credo is non-violence, compassion, and respect for all life. I had been a Peace Corps volunteer in Yemen in the 1970s, worked in Morocco with Catholic Relief Services in the 1980s, and traveled throughout the Islamic world, which has enriched my life. As a child in the 1950’s, I had lived in Seville surrounded by the Moorish-influenced city. While other European countries persecuted Jews, the Moors for seven hundred years welcomed Jews and all people. In 1492 with the Spanish conquest, Muslims and Jews were banished, and their property seized. The Sultan of Turkey, Bayezid II, relocated 150,000 Jews to Turkey with his navy and said to the Spanish royalty, “Your loss is my gain.”
Until the founding of Israel’s state in 1948, Jews were welcomed and lived harmoniously with their Muslim neighbors in Palestine. Unlike in Europe, where Jews were persecuted and ultimately annihilated in the Holocaust, Jews were welcomed and protected throughout the Middle East. It is a tragic irony that Palestinians now are treated with the same kind of persecution and apartheid we Jews had suffered in Germany. At Passover, we remember the bitterness of slavery and exile. Yet, Israelis, since 1948, have created an apartheid state, killing Palestinian civilians without thought or consequence. How could we Jews who have suffered so much not be just and honorable people?
With this awareness of how we Jews had been welcomed and protected in the Islamic world, we have welcomed our son Ayman, his wife Samah, and our grandchildren to the USA. Marhaba! Welcome! In honor of my grandparents, who fled the persecution and pogroms of Europe, we care for our grandchildren and work for a just peace for the children of Palestine and Israel.
My beautiful Palestinian Family: Ayman, Kareem, with Zoe, Samah, and Malaka