Thousands of Miles From Ramallah, Explaining Cops and Guns to My Daughter

Forat is ‘only’ familiar with Israeli soldiers’ weapons. The questions arising from our lives in North Carolina require precision I lack when it comes to security officers and guns ■ Post #40

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Do they really shoot weapons here, so close to houses?
Do they really shoot weapons here, so close to houses?Credit: Umm Forat

I’m an Israeli-American lawyer, Jewish, married to a Palestinian resident of Ramallah, and author of the Hebrew-language book “Maqluba – Upside-Down Love,” which describes how we met and fell in love. This blog is about raising our two children, 7-year-old Forat and 3-year-old Adam, in the West Bank and more recently in the United States, where we’re spending a sabbatical year.

We are trying to lead ordinary lives in an extraordinary and unforgiving reality, one that I will share with you. I have changed people’s names to protect their privacy. My real name is Sari Bashi, and I’ve been writing this blog since 2019 under the pen name Umm Forat, which means Mother of Forat in Arabic. I invite you to visit my website: www.ummforat.com.

Police and guns

“Mom, what’s a ‘safe space?’ asked seven-year-old Forat. After several frustrating months of studying English in North Carolina, where we moved a year ago, Forat has begun reading English fluently and thus discovered additional viewpoints from living here. We waited at a red light. Next to us was a public bus on whose door was a sticker with a gun and a big X over it.

“That means it’s forbidden to get on a bus if you are carrying a weapon,” I said.

“What’s a weapon?”

I didn’t know if the Hebrew word was foreign to her or if she didn’t know the term, despite the multitude of weapons she sees carried by Israeli soldiers around Ramallah, where we usually live. She has never seen the soldiers act violently, and I didn’t want to connect the term ‘weapon’ to them and to the checkpoints she’s familiar with. I usually say the soldiers don’t let her father and other Palestinians travel on some of the roads because it’s hard for them to share.

“Like the game Omar plays with his toy gun,” I told her. “Bam bam bam!”

“Why would people want to bring a weapon on a bus?”

“Here in North Carolina, people like to carry a weapon,” I told her. Almost half of adults in North Carolina live in a house with a weapon, a statistic that puts North Carolina at the median among all states.

“Do you agree with that?” Forat asked.

“Not really,” I said. “I would prefer it if a lot fewer people carried weapons, maybe only police officers.” On the other hand, I’m not thrilled by the ease with which some police officers use their weapons in the U.S., particularly on Black people.

“Why do policemen need a gun?” Forat asked.

“They are supposed to carry weapons for emergencies, like if there is no other way to stop serious harm to people,” I told her, without knowing how to continue. In general, Forat’s questions require clarification and precision that I lack when it comes to weapons and security officers. I respect and appreciate police officers, but their differential use of violence raises problems, to say the least. When I was 14, a white policeman shot and killed a 15-year-old Black boy in the town where I grew up in New Jersey. The policeman was acquitted of the charges against him. That was three decades ago, and little has changed since then. It’s hard for me to say that the police “need” a weapon.

Scary bedtime stories

For two years, Forat has asked me to tell her scary stories, ones that have a good ending, before bed. She tells me what the scary thing is that has to happen in the story and is comforted by how I find a solution for it. When this phase began, I was worried that these stories would scare her. But with time, I realized that they help her deal with the fears that come up at night. She wants to lessen the power of the fears by having me put them into words and give them a good ending.

Nowadays, Forat wants stories about children that are kidnapped and rescued, a scenario that demands a discussion of the police and weapons, because Forat insists that the stories be “real.” I’m not allowed to rely on fairies and superheroes. At the end of each story, Forat wants to know what happens to the kidnapper. I avoid embedding myths of good guys and bad guys, of rescuing policemen and criminals who deserve punishment, thanks to the weapons that the police carry.

Hunting season

During a morning jog on the weekend I turned on a new path, which continued into one of the forests in Raleigh. After a few meters, I encountered a sign: “Hunters wear orange and so should you!” I ran on and saw another sign, this one hung above a box. The sign explained that hunters are allowed in the area and advised hikers to wear a bright orange vest during hunting season. The box contained several orange vests. The signs invited us to wear them while crossing the forest and return them to another box at the end of the path. According to the sign, in November hunting deer, turkeys and other animals is permitted. I hoped that runners weren’t among them.

Do they really shoot weapons here, so close to houses? I’ve encountered Israeli soldiers on morning runs in the Ramallah area, and fear of their weapons is always present in Palestinian towns, but that is a military occupation. Why should runners and hikers be afraid of weapons here, in a place that is supposed to be peaceful and safe? We are new in North Carolina and I am still trying to crack what the norms are. No wonder I’m having a hard time explaining them to Forat.

That morning, the norm of piety took precedence over the love of weapons. A closer reading of the sign showed that hunting was forbidden on Sunday, Christianity’s day of rest. I let go of the box and kept running.

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