When the car radio jumped from Army Radio to Radio Palestine, I was on edge. No, that's not it. I'm sad. I've been haunted by a feeling of gloom and helplessness since my last visit to Tira. For some reason, at midday on Friday the digital radio in the car decided somewhere about halfway between Jerusalem and Tira to move from Army Radio to Radio Palestine. The station was broadcasting the Friday sermon from a mosque. A moment before I switched back, I heard the imam talking about optimism in Islam, and I decided to keep listening. Well, according to this imam, who certainly displayed expertise in the material and made use of quotations from the Prophet Mohammed and other stories, a Muslim is not allowed to be pessimistic. Optimism is the Muslim's natural state and he must cling to optimism and spurn pessimism, even when the going gets very tough.
The sermon somehow cheered me up, especially when I passed the airport as another plane took off. "Look kids," I cried out happily, "a plane." The children responded apathetically. My daughter, who has already learned how to be a cynic, said she was fed up with my saying "Kids, a plane" every time we drive past the airport, but never bothering to take us on one.
"When do we get to Tira?" my young son asked.
"Another 20 minutes," I told him.
"You're a real optimist," my wife chipped in.
Two scorched cars were parked along the road at the entrance to the neighborhood. "They were burned yesterday," my father said, then smiled, guffawed and coughed in response to my question of "Why?"
"You don't need any reasons in order to burn cars here," he said, and then scolded me as usual: "Your column was really cruddy today. Don't you have anything left to write about?"
I'm always sad when Dad doesn't like my columns. He waits for them every week and usually likes them, in which case he doesn't say a word - it's only if he's critical that he bothers to call. "Here, look," he said, going to the Internet, "even the commenters agree with me," and he started to read the worst ones aloud.
"Will you please stop," I begged.
"It's not so terrible," Mom intervened, as usual trying to cool things down. "Next week, inshallah, he'll improve and write something decent."
"Yes, let's be optimistic," Dad said and sat back down on the La-Z-Boy, zapping between news channels.
We were obliged to visit Tira this time. Mom had told me over the phone that a cousin of mine, the same age as me, was hospitalized, and that an uncle who had had an operation was now getting chemotherapy. Besides, the children missed the place a lot. There's no place where my children like to spend the weekend more than Tira. Me, too, to tell the truth.
I went to Meir Hospital in Kfar Sava with my brother. "Yo," he said as he walked over to his car in front of the house. "Look at this," he said, pointing to a small bump in the trunk.
"It's nothing," I said, "nothing. You can hardly see it."
"Take a closer look," he said, and pointed to the spot: a bullet was lodged in the trunk.
"What's that? Since when has that been there?"
"How should I know?" he chuckled, as though it was routine. "I haven't checked the trunk for a long time, so who knows when I took a hit." He got into the car, started it up, and we drove off.
"You're the smartest one in the family," my cousin said, extending his left arm with difficulty to shake my hand. "I'm also thinking seriously about leaving," he added with a groan of pain as he lay on the hospital bed, recovering from operations he had undergone after a car accident. At the beginning of the week he was driving home after finishing a shift in the hospital where he works. A few kilometers before Tira, he saw lights hurtling toward him at an insane speed. He hugged the safety rail on the edge of the road. The car moving toward him flipped over a few times and landed on his car. Two 19-year-olds who were in it were killed instantly.
"Things have become absolutely intolerable," he said, and mentioned the name of another physician from the family who works in the hospital where he was a patient. "That's it, he's had it. He's going back to Germany - well, he studied there and he knows German, so that's great for him."
Something bad is happening to the residents of Tira. True, things were always bad, but in recent visits all I've heard is stories about violence that have made life there impossible. "After 10 o'clock it turns into the wild west," the brother of the hospitalized cousin said. "For a few days I couldn't understand why we had no hot water in the house. I go up to the roof to see what the problem is and I see that the solar heating panels are broken from bullets that landed on the roof."
"Look at Kfar Sava," my brother said as we started to drive home, and then fell silent.
"Look at Kfar Sava" is what my father used to say whenever we passed Kfar Sava when we were kids sitting in the back seat of the Susita. "Look at Kfar Sava" he would guffaw, and then fall silent.
"We're also thinking of moving," my brother said.
"I don't know," he said. "But I do know it will be to any place where people don't fire 16 bullets into a teacher's car that's parked next to the school while the children are at recess. We're thinking about Canada."
"I don't see any future here."
It's so sad to see Tira like this. So sad to know that people who want only to live quietly and raise their children and invest in their education, are living in fear because of the absence of the state. Helpless people who can't escape the hell that a few hundred or maybe only a few dozen hoodlums are foisting on a whole town. "You know," I told him with complete faith, "we have to be optimistic."
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