Lunch in April


I've been feeling guilty that I'm so comfortable in my selective obliviousness towards the Israeli-Palestinian issue, where nearly everyone is so engrossed in spending their attention, either online or in dress code. The status changes and groups and post-it notes on my Facebook Homepage made me start wondering if I have an aggressive set of friends, or if I'm missing a sensitivity chip.

So to clear that out, the reason to my disregard to the issue mentioned up there, I dug deep in my memory; where I don't really want to remember anymore, where it pricked and – by recollecting these memory shards – could hurt again (some credit for that, please), and found this…

"...Bahrain and Jordan saw the most violent demonstrations in the Arab world…This is BBC News broadcast…"

The neighbors are practicing their English again, I thought, throwing onions into the pot, trying to ignore the muffled broadcast from the behind my apartment walls.

It's barely noon and I'm already ransacking the kitchen for lunch. I got home early because they shut down the university. A precautionary procedure, they had called it. A lovely interruption, had it not been so tense with looming violence; almost like skipping classes, but better because the teachers' allowed it.

The doorbell rang. I opened it to see an Arab-Israeli neighbor. His aloof grin quickly disappeared at the smell of cooked food.

"Great, you've cooked," He walks in, drops his jacket on one of the living room chairs, and immediately helps himself from the stove, and digs in.
"Why are you here?" I close the door behind him, pour a glass of juice for both of us, half-dazzled at his uninvited presence.
"What? Oh, foh vunch!" He swallowed his first meatball still standing, then he sat on one of the dining table chairs, "Goddammit, woman, what did you put in this thing? Why does it taste so good?"
"Mustard," I let him search his taste buds, then continued, "I meant, why aren't you out there with the others?"
"Because it's not safe. And it's raining. Besides, I'm hungry."

I looked out the window to see thick clouds dispersing. It's a lovely day actually, lovely enough for a walk outside, by the campus fence or in Abdoun. I wouldn't go out now, though. My friend was right about safety issues; and it would have been difficult to calm and explain to my parents if I came home to them in a coffin.

Putting my own plate in front of his, I picked on him instead of my meal, "Aren't you being a bit unpatriotic by being here, mister?"
"Why, because I ain't foolish enough to risk my life on a violent riot?"

To be honest, this was what I loved about him; his practicality. If going out isn't safe, a girlfriend would have something to eat in her house. Girls always do. It was also what I hated, his opportunism.

"You're basically Palestinian, you're supposed to show some support, man."
"Habeebty, I'm as Israeli as you are Saudi; and we both know how easy it is to claim or renounce comradeship to any group of a person's choice."


"You oughtta be ashamed of yourself! You're betraying your own brothers! They're being mauled by…"
"My brothers," he interrupted, slamming his fork on the table, "don't pay 17 shekels an hour, H. They wouldn't pay my overtime, which is double that amount, without a fight. They also wouldn't provide state-of-the-art healthcare for my parents, or any kind of treatment that you and I are only theorizing about here."

But…Israel, Yasser Arafat, the children, the death tolls, Sharon…

"What about them?! They're doing exactly what you and I are doing right now: Doing what they think is right, whether or not it upholds some vague idea about freedom!" He wiped his mouth, disgusted with the words and pain that smeared his heart.

He lowered his voice and took me where I wanted, the Past. "My mother was there, when the choices were made in '48," he said, "My grandfather had 13 children, and he had to choose between refuge or surrender. Who would you consider a traitor, the man who puts his life and family in mindless refugee-camp limbo, or the one who let go of some nationalistic pride and ownership in return for survival?"

I did not want to answer. Had I been alone in that kind of situation, I might have just opted to fight and die with honor and glory. Putting my mother or my brothers in the same picture, however, would force me to sit down and think more than twice. For love is both captor and liberator.

But to justify the unthinkable menace over…

"I am here today," he softened, "enjoying this glorious meal you've prepared because the folks of Arab '48 were right enough in their mind not to run away, or tempt the wrath of something that's disproportionately out of size. What difference did it make? The borders just shifted a little east, my grandparents continued being olive farmers just like their ancestors and their children and maybe my own children and grandchildren.

"The underline is, sweetheart," He picked up his fork again, and looked into my eyes, "You do what you can to get by. If that could only happen by handing over a passport or a citizenship in return to not dying, then it's fine. Otherwise, we'd think that all immigrants in America or Europe are traitors too."

We left his dusty words to reside on our minds. Yes, we get by. Better alone than with a contemptuous company. Better here than accidentally dead on purpose.

"How's the food?"
"Calming, borderline-heavenly. Can I have a second?"
"As long that you do the dishes after..."
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