Shalom, Chever; Goodbye friendship

At the time of Rabin’s death, it was fashionable to say Shalom Chever. At that time, the words were uttered by a very media savvy Clinton. For many, he was upstaged by the words of Rabin’s granddaughter. For me, the most moving speaker was the late and very much loved King Hussain. Hussain was a class act. When one of his soldiers shot down innocent children, he visited their bereaved parents. As is the Jewish custom the morning parents sat on the floor. The King joined them on the floor, a simple act by a very genuine man. His sincerity and real grief to me were the most moving aspects of the Rabin funeral. It bore a profound significance and showed that we belong in the area.

At that time, I was grieving for Hussain’s namesake. Hussaini was a very simple guy. We worked side-by-side in Oranit. We live side-by-side his village, and our village are next to each other. Hussaini believed in coexistence. He owned land that would have been very useful if we could have bought it from him. Hussaini refused to sell it. It belonged to his family and no matter what the price he was not prepared to sell. He came to work regularly and did a good job. We would often drink coffee together as we try to run the village Oranit as it was growing larger and larger.

We worked together in harmony and friendship. Hussaini brought with him additional workers, also from his village. Khatib and I spent many hours together trying to fix the permanently broken sewage system that was a bane on our existence. We succeeded. Khatib had two brothers. One worked with us until he cursed some Jewish workers in Arabic. Jews do not know Arabic, but they undoubtedly recognize Arab curses. His brother did not know that and find out the very hard way. The other brother was a PLO member. They executed him for stealing merchandise from the organization. Khatib was also arrested and put in an Israeli prison. He probably did nothing, but he was put among fellow Palestinians. There he was accused of being a collaborator and had both his arms broken. I never saw him again. A simple Palestinian family, trying to exist and finding themselves in the middle with no way out.

The PLO thugs that accompanied Arafat from Tunis in the astoundingly stupid Oslo accords caught Hussaini. They took him from his car just outside his house, placed him on his knees and shot a bullet into the back of his head. All this in front of his family. He was by no means a collaborator but then neither was Khatib. And since when did it matter?
Shalom, Chever.

Hussaini’s son and mine grew up together. I won’t exaggerated and say they were the best of friends but they certainly knew each other well and had played together. The son also worked in Oranit. When my son was conscripted, fate played its hand. Part of the Israeli national service is to do guard duty. My son guarded the village next to ours, Hussaini’s village. The two youths, the two friends an Israeli and a Palestinian often sat together talking with each other. My daughter spoke to her brother: ‘you know that he is, in their eyes, the son of a collaborator. One of them will go up to him and tell him to make a simple choice. Either kill the Jew or we will kill your mother.’

I listened and yet I said nothing. She was right. It could happen. The two sons never spoke again. A friendship that could have been the beginnings of a solution to the problem was set asunder by the problem we cannot solve.

Goodbye, friendship.

About the Author
Born in Leeds in 1944, Michael Benjamin is a retired Psychiatrist and medical auditor, co-founder of Oranit, aspiring author and inveterate cynic.
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