My youngest child claims, in English (the only language he speaks), that Mommy and Daddy are the only Arabs in the house. He and his brother are Americans, he says, and his big sister is half-Arab, half-American.
- In Jerusalem we were Palestinians. In the U.S. we've become Muslims
- Israeli Arab educators aren't teaching Hebrew out of love. They're coerced
- Unlike in Israel, politics in America don't dictate my every move
In Israel, when my children were still little and attending a bilingual school, they classified people according to the languages they spoke. So they would say there were Arabs and Hebrews in their class. Sometimes, they termed themselves both Arabs and Hebrews. But somewhere toward the third grade, they started to grasp the significance that was attributed in Israel to the values “Jew” and “Arab.” They understood that they had to choose. That it was impossible to be both, and that in fact they are opposites that nourish and define one another.
When we left Israel, our daughter was already mature enough to understand (as far as it’s possible to understand) the meaning of being an Arab in a Jewish society. She still reads and speaks Arabic and Hebrew, but it’s becoming ever more obvious that English is the most comfortable language for her.
The boys were too young to understand anything about the racial divide in Israel. The little one, who was 3 when we left, lived for Fridays in the neighborhood preschool so he could be Aba Shabbat. And when the teacher said he sang Hanukkah songs perfectly, our hearts overflowed with supranational parental pride. Today, the boys speak only English between them. The older one, our middle child, who knew how to read and write in Hebrew and Arabic, has discarded those languages – to the point where he no longer recognizes the Semitic letters I sometimes use to send him emails and text messages.
I mention all this because I now have the option to extend our stay in the United States for another five years. Initially, my wife and I were delighted at the opportunity. But then I started to be concerned about the children, especially the boys. There’s no doubt it’s better for the children in the United States. My great concern is how the boys will react if we force them to return in another five years – after eight years in the United States – and become Palestinians in a Jewish state.
What worries me more than the languages that have been almost completely forgotten is that the boys will not have the proper tools to cope with being a persecuted, unwanted minority in a country in which – contrary to the situation here – they are citizens.
You know, surviving in the shadow of oppression is a skill that has to be acquired and developed over time. What will be the fate of an Arab boy who is crash-landed into a Jerusalem high school without prior preparation – and it makes no difference whether it’s a Hebrew or Arab school? How will he cope when he realizes he is not equal, that the system is not stacked for him but against him? How will he react to clear declarations that define him as a second-class citizen, a demographic threat and a security risk?
And what will the two boys (I’m not referring to my daughter, because in another four years she’ll be a mature individual – possibly a student at a local university or maybe an offender who’s joined a motorcycle gang) think of me and their mom after we’ve forced them to return, unprepared, to a country that hates them?
They will see the return as an act of betrayal; they will loathe us for taking them on an adventure that planted an illusion in their heart. They will not understand how we could have done this to them, while knowing all along that they might be thrust back into the jungle without getting the necessary immunizations.
“Why are you always worrying about things that haven’t happened?” my wife will say, as usual. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
“But it’s a possible scenario, and four years is very different from eight years. It’ll be too much already, and the boys will be older and won’t know a thing about the conditions of life. And please don’t tell me that everything will definitely be different by then, that peace will prevail and Jews and Palestinians will share life as equals. That’s what my father told me, but I won’t tell it to my children – at least not in the absence of any sign that offers even the slightest hope of it happening.”
True, it’s always possible that we’ll have another opportunity to extend our stay. But then again, maybe we won’t. And with spreading nationalism and an economic situation that always worsens the condition of the social class we’re part of, it’s impossible to count on anything. So we have to be prepared for the possibility that we’ll have to return with the young children.
And what will we tell them? Ah, yes, sorry, we forgot to mention this, but you’re actually Palestinian citizens of the State of Israel, which is the stark truth. We’ll start to explain to them about Herzl, about 1948, about colonialism, and how it’s justified by people with names like Avnery or Avineri. And in the meantime it’s apartheid, but what can you do? Home is home. And if they look really close, they will also discover the pleasant things that have no substitute anywhere else in the world.
“What are they?” they will ask. And I will insist, in an outdated, New Age spirit, that they must find the answer for themselves, otherwise it doesn’t work.
“So what will we do?” my wife asked. “How will you prepare them for a possible return after eight years in the United States?”
“I don’t know,” I replied. “I talked it over with Shahar, the neighbor. I told him about our plight and he promised to shout ‘Dirty Arabs’ and ‘Death to the Arabs’ at the kids, so they’ll get used to it a little, start to take an interest and ask questions, and I’ll tell them a few things that will rattle their complacency.”
“Terrific. Maybe you’ll also start to put up checkpoints and ask for their ID cards?”
“If there’s no choice,” I replied to my wife, as I started spraying the slogan “Kahane was right” on the boys’ bedroom wall. “What choice do we have? They’re our children, and if we have to, I’m ready to destroy the house so they’ll have a future.”