I’m an Israeli lawyer, Jewish, married to a Palestinian resident of Ramallah. After years of wandering throughout the world, we returned to the West Bank with our two children, 6-year-old Forat and 3-year-old Adam, but are currently temporarily residing in Raleigh, North Carolina. We are trying to lead ordinary lives in an extraordinary and unforgiving reality, one that I will share with you here. (Click to read all previous posts.) I have changed the names of people in the blog, including my own: “Umm Forat” means “Mother of Forat” in Arabic. I invite you to visit my website: www.ummforat.com
“Ima, which animal did they kill to make the cold cuts?” 6-year-old Forat asked, biting into her sandwich.
“A pig or a cow,” I said and read the package label. “Pig,” I declared and then rebuked Forat’s father, Osama: “Do you know that they also added sugar, corn syrup and 20 other ingredients whose names I can’t pronounce?”
In our temporary apartment in Raleigh, North Carolina, where we moved for Osama’s sabbatical, the kitchen is not kosher. I consented to Osama and Forat buying nonkosher meat, but no one asked permission for the sodium phosphate and corn starch.
“And which animal do they kill to make hamburger?” Forat asked.
“Cow. Unless it’s a turkey burger and then – turkey.”
“And what about chicken?” she asked, using the English word. “What do they kill to make chicken?”
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“Chicken,” I answered, and when Forat appeared confused, I added the word in Arabic, jajeh, to help her connect the chickens we see pecking and squawking in the courtyards of Ramallah homes to the drumstick on her plate.
Ever since she was small, I have been open with Forat about the source of the food she eats, to encourage her to make informed decisions about whether it’s ethical to eat animals. So far, she thinks it’s OK.
We have been in Raleigh two months, and Forat is enjoying American food. Her school serves her sugary breakfast cereal, chocolate milk, hamburgers and lots of other processed and sweetened foods that she could only dream of getting at home. In-person school resumed recently, and cafeteria meals are a bright spot for Forat. She’s dealing with gaps in her English literacy preparation and is struggling to make friends while she’s supposed to keep 2 meters away from the other children.
Osama is eligible for a vaccine
For Osama, the United States brought news even sweeter than Forat’s junk food: eligibility for a COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine rollout in the U.S. has been slower than in Israel, but Palestinians like Osama are not eligible even for the excess vaccines that have accumulated in Israel, some of which have already been sent to Guatemala and Honduras. Here in Raleigh, his turn came before mine, because he smokes.
I registered him on four different vaccination websites, and one day he got a text message asking him to report to a huge high school that had been turned into a vaccination center.
We drove along wide roads, past huge houses and the magnolia trees that symbolize the American South. We felt the expanse, so different from Ramallah.
At the school, the clerks and vaccinators, all women, sat at orderly workstations. At the last stop, a polite, quiet nurse named Joanna explained the process and then rolled up Osama’s sleeve and jabbed him with a syringe. We continued to the observation area.
“Do you know how many months you would have to wait to get a vaccine in Ramallah?” I asked Osama.
“The trip here was worth it just for this,” he said.
Vaccinations at the Jabalya refugee camp
We picked up Forat and Adam from school and preschool, and I cooked tofu with rice. Osama left the table to answer a call from his niece in the Gaza Strip. In previous conversations, he had tried to persuade his mother to get a COVID-19 vaccine. A shipment of Russian-made vaccine had arrived in Gaza, a donation from the United Arab Emirates, and elderly people were eligible for it. But Osama’s two brothers, who live with their mother in the family compound in the Jabalya refugee camp, hesitated.
While Osama spoke to his niece, Forat picked the broccoli off her plate and announced that she had no intention of eating vegetables and that I shouldn’t bother threatening her with canceling dessert, because her teacher had already given her a lollipop today, and she didn’t need any favors from me. Then she continued her research.
“Ima, which animal did they kill to make tofu?” she asked. I explained that soybean is a plant that doesn’t have parents.
“Salmon too?” she asked.
“No, salmon is a fish that has parents. To eat salmon, you need to kill a salmon.”
Osama returned to the table, smiling.
“My mother got vaccinated, and even Omar and Mohammed managed to schedule an appointment,” he updated us. “Everything was transparent, through the Health Ministry, no need for connections.”
“The situation in Gaza is better than in the West Bank,” I said, surprised. A tiny number of health workers and Palestinians working in Israeli workplaces got vaccines from Israel, but everyone else in the West Bank is waiting for the Palestinian Authority to get more supply. There was little transparency regarding distribution of the few doses that reached the West Bank.
In addition to medical teams, senior PA officials, their families and friends, and players on the national soccer team got priority. Our friend Amjad sent us daily updates about his attempt to get a vaccine for his 74-year-old mother, who is a cancer patient, through the Health Ministry in Ramallah, at a time when infection rates in the West Bank are sky-high. Forat’s school and Adam’s preschool there have been closed for two months, and every day we get news of another friend or neighbor sick with COVID-19.
“Yeah,” Osama answered. “Gaza is the place to be. My mother got a vaccine even without joining the soccer team.”