I have been silent for many days. I have no words to describe the local maelstrom and the storm of emotions. What can be said regarding murder and violence, racist doctrines and religious zealotry bound up with terrible political weakness and a weakness of intellect on the part of Israel’s leadership? What can be said that has not already been said by everyone? Nothing. So I was silent.
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In Shoafat, everything became very sharp and clear. Jerusalem these days is wilting in the noonday heat. Municipal workers are clearing away the residue of the riots on the roads leading to Shoafat. The burned-out light rail stations mark the way to the central mosque and the mourners’ tent below. The tent is half full. Photographs of Mohammed Abu Khdeir adorn the walls of the mosque. A light easterly wind coming up from the desert fills the tent with life for a moment. The visitors, who come from all over Palestine, apologize in limited vocabularies to me, the stranger, that there is no water, “because of the fast, you understand.” Speeches are made. About God the compassionate, the merciful. About the martyr who passed on to his eternal rest. All the things that one expects would be said in such circumstances. They are angry with Abu Mazen, they mock Netanyahu, they fear for the future.
The community clergyman who functions as the undertaker told me about the preparation of the boy’s body for the grave. He has told this story a hundred times already to a hundred people who have come to pay condolence calls, and he still chokes up. Simple words, horrific descriptions. Of a human sacrifice who was bound and burned, inside and out, still alive. He spoke warmly of the teenager who had gone to morning prayers at the mosque with his friends after the dawn pre-fast meal. Suddenly my thoughts turned to a different city, to more distant violence. I thought about a little girl living in a different time — different and yet so similar.
I wrote recently about the history of my mother in Hebron. About a little Jewish girl with Arab neighbors, an Arab wet-nurse and noble householders who saved her, my grandmother and some of the family from the Hebron rioters. I owe my life and my children’s lives to the heroes Abu Shaker and Umm Shaker. Righteous among the Nations who risked being killed by their own people, those who had lost the image of God within them and mercilessly slaughtered as many of Hebron’s Jewish population as they could lay hands on. They slashed, raped, strangled and ... burned. And from burning to burning, from the burning of Jews in Hebron to the burning of Mohammed in the Jerusalem Forest, all my memories awoke. Who can know the evil souls of those Jewish haters, which is as dark as the soul of the slaughterers of Hebron in 1929? Can anyone understand at all those who could close their ears and eyes to the screams of the innocent boy who was murdered? There are limits to understanding, but memories, it seems, have no limitations.
The clergyman spoke about the boy Mohammed who was burned, and I thought about my mother and the burning of her childhood. I thought of how no Jew had sacrificed himself for Mohammed Abu Khdeir, of how there were no Israeli Jews who were Righteous among the Nations, and had never been. The kind who save Arabs from their persecutors of the faith of Moses. I thought of the boy who’d had dreams, and now he was no more, and all that was left of him were nightmares. And I thought of the murderers and their act of murder. Their spirit — the spirit of Cain — did not kill him alone. Many hopes that still beat here in the souls of many, Jews and Palestinians alike, went with him to his eternal rest.
When I left the mourners’ tent, I asked pardon. Pardon of the innocent boy who had wanted to celebrate the month of Ramadan — a month of contemplation and restraint, the days of atonement and deeds of kindness, and who had not been granted his desire. And I asked pardon in the names of many Jews who do not know where to turn for the disgrace that emerged from our midst. And pardon as a member of the human race for not having done enough to create a different reality for this boy and for my own children. And I asked pardon of my mother for the murder, once again, of her spirit and her legacy. Early one accursed Jerusalem morning, many years after her death, those vile people murdered my mother. The fact that she had been saved from hell and had never forgotten that. The fact that the entire legacy she left behind was never to forget the Palestinian Arab man who, in his strength of spirit, had saved not only her but humanity in its entirety. And when that lone boy was murdered, in the darkness between souls, her legacy of gratitude and hope was murdered also. And for that too, I mourned deeply.