|This photo is NOT from today, but from another cab ride, another driver, another day entirely. I just had to take his business card because--want a ride? Yeah, no.|
Something is wrong with me lately, or right, I don't know. I am so close to tears all the time. It's probably because I miss my family so much I feel as if I am starving. Or that I went through such a scary medical procedure. Or maybe it's because I am in this country surrounded by everything that I will never be able to understand and it hurts, it's too much muchness; I want to go home.
Today's cab ride was the most intense one yet. I actually stumbled out of the taxi blinking into the sun as if I had been somewhere dark for a very long time. I didn't get his name--God, I wish I had asked him his name--but the driver was this very nice man who told us how hard it is to shoot a 16 year old kid when all he wants to do is swat them on the behind. He was in the army, as all Israelis are, he fought in Gaza in the 2006 war, and now he volunteers because, well--country. He told us how sometimes he doesn't know how to shoot the younger Arabs but he does because he has to. I don't even know how we got started on that.
Yes I do. I was telling him I needed to find a present to bring my husband from Israel, and said I would maybe get him a shirt from one of the surf shops down at the beach...has he ever surfed? Once, he said, once I surfed in Gaza but stopped because the Arabs were shooting at me.
It unraveled quickly, the conversation, fast and real and wow to us, but to him it was nothing. Just small talk in a cab about how he has one son, 17, who will go to the army next year, and 3 daughters, the oldest 15, who will also go to the army when she turns 18. Then he told us that he prays every day that he will get shot while fighting because then his kids won't have to go to the army. He thinks. Shrug of his shoulders.
What do you do? we asked, a stupid question for most cab drivers. But no, his job is to blow up houses. This one house? he said, in Gaza? The family had just bread and water, so he gave the children his army rationed food and told the parents to take them outside while he blew up their house. See, Hamas pays people $1/month to allow them to carve tunnels beneath their houses, and there was one such tunnel hidden under a carpet in their kitchen, so he gave the children food and blew up their house. I don't know if I have the details right, $1 a month, per week or just a one-time payment, but the rest is exactly what happened.
We asked if he had any Arab friends and he seemed to think about it for a minute, probably not running through his list of friends to see if any were Arab, but to think about something else, I'm not sure what, before he shook his head no. No, he has no Arab friends, but he speaks Arabic! They teach it to you in the army, he said. He speaks English, Hebrew, an Indian dialect, something else I can't remember, and Arabic, although you don't speak Arabic to them until after you have shot them.
They have so many places to go, he said, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Yemen, he rattled off more,...but Israel is a small country.
And the Arabs, they use children as shields.
He told us that he witnessed a miracle once while fighting. He had taken his tefillin, which is a small black leather box containing scrolls of parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah, and strapped it to his upper arm making it a shel yad so that it was closer to his heart. An Arab shot him that day, the bullet hitting and lodging into his shel yad, otherwise it would have hit him in the chest. Now he prays every day.
For what? Do you think there will ever be peace? we asked, 3 Americans in a taxi. No, he said, but as we drew closer to our hotel he said apropos of nothing, tomorrow will be a good day!
I'm not sure how, but when we got out I said I wish you, your family and your country peace, which I realize was redundant because he is his family, he is his country.
And there will never be peace.
I have been thinking about how sometimes on this intersection near my house there is this man who stands there with handmade signs about Palestine out of Israel! Or Israel out of Palestine! Honestly I don't even know what the signs say, have always shaken my head silly because I don't have an opinion, don't know enough to even enter the conversation, don't care honestly.
And now I'm here and the Arab nurses are the sweetest people I have met. They rubbed my back while I couldn't hold up my head, spoke softly when I couldn't open my eyes; they are so gentle when taking blood and the way they change the dressing on my picc line--respectfully, reverently, lovingly.
After the cab ride my dad and I had a long conversation about Hamas and Hezbollah, Bashar al-Assad in Syria, the PLO, Netanyahu, Muslims, Jews, settlements, which came first and who will go last. We pulled up maps and he told me about the regions and religions, but he couldn't tell me what was right. No one can. Nothing is right. There is just this never ending snarl of hatred that makes me cry in taxi cabs.
And at supportive emails that people send me. Photos of my children. Innocuous (nice!) comments on Facebook, commercials, movies, memes. I am crying right now, as I write this, and I don't know why really, except that the Arabs are the ones who held my hand.