Razi Hecker
“You Can Make Anything by Writing” - C.S Lewis

The language without words

The day I took off from work to play soccer with the brothers of the Bedouin girl who was injured in Iran's missile attack
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In Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, the protagonist, a Spanish shepherd on a quest for treasure in Egypt, immerses himself in the rich and unfamiliar cultures of the Arabs and Bedouins he encounters. After assisting a shopkeeper and receiving food in return, he reflects:

There must be a language that doesn’t depend on words,” the boy thought. “If I can learn to understand this language without words, I can learn to understand the world.

* * *

The rabbi of the JLIC Anglo community in Tel Aviv sent the message in the WhatsApp group of nearly 1,000 people.

We need more volunteers to visit and support Amina Hassouna’s family, the Bedouin girl currently in the ICU from the Iranian missile attack. Right now, we have all women, but the Hassounas have 10 boys, and it would be good to have men as well.

Choosing between a routine work-from-home day and using a vacation day to drive nearly three hours south to visit a Bedouin family?

It wasn’t a very hard decision.

The paved road merged into gravel, car protesting as we inched across rocks. Shanty homes adorned the sand dunes and the occasional camel yawned tiredly at our vehicle. Mohamad’s home was easy to spot — a rocket-proof shelter, perched on a cobalt 16-wheeler, sat quietly by the huts. As we approached, Mohamad’s children ran out to greet us. After exchanging high-fives and smiles, we circled around to the trunk and removed the gifts: toy cars, coloring books, funny mustaches, foam airplanes, and the holy grail: a soccer ball.

We started with simple passes, the occasional rough kick slamming into the kitchen’s façade, other times bouncing near the goats’ pen. News of the soccer ball traveled fast. Soon, two new boys — Mohamad’s older sons — joined the game. Quickly, the simple passes turned into a proper match as the desert became our field. The boys ran shoeless, unfazed by sharp stones and bruised knees. As we called out for passes and celebrated goals, I realized that despite their dialect being markedly different from the Palestinian Arabic I had spent years cultivating, we were able to communicate.

Thirsty, exhausted, and bruised, we retreated to a hut. There, the boys explained the various informal rules in their family: 6 years old to ride a donkey, 10 earned camel privileges, and…16 for the much-coveted iPhone. I couldn’t help but silently chuckle at the incongruous parallels to my life — I too remembered anxiously waiting for my 12th birthday when my parents promised I could cross my suburb’s main intersection alone.

However, mostly, we sat in silence. The boys sat cross-legged, listening to the sounds of the desert. Their answers were brief, and if anything were elaborated solely out of courtesy. Between themselves, questions were met with shorter responses; a passing word, a quick nod. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen in children — their stillness, their quiet. And then I realized what this must be.

This was the Language Without Words.

I excused myself, batting away flies hovering overhead. One of Mohamad’s sons jumped to accompany me, and we walked together, his sunburned feet expertly meandering between the stones. I asked him where he was the night Amina was injured. He looked at me and lifted his shirt — revealing a deep scar where shrapnel sliced through skin. Not familiar with the appropriate response to young boys injured from falling ballistic missile shrapnel, I marshaled what I could —

Inta Batal.

You’re a hero.

We walked into the main hut, and I eased myself onto the plush cushions, whispering a faint shukran as I watched Mohamad pour me a small cup of tea. I took a small sip, then asked the question that had been on my mind:

Has the government come to visit?

He softly shook his head, hands waving from side to side.

Walla hada.

No one.

Mohamad explained that, so far, only journalists and volunteers had come. He said that even the newly erected shelter — dropped off by the 16-wheeler we’d seen before — was sourced from private donations. Mohamad noted that a few months beforehand, bulldozers had demolished the house he had built — without a permit, but on his own land — for his newlywed son. Now, he lamented, he couldn’t marry off his next son, as the couple would have nowhere to stay.

Mohamad Hassouna points to a hole in the roof of a building caused by a projectile that injured his 7-year-old daughter Amina at their Bedouin village, in the southern Negev desert, on April 14, 2024. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

But each time I pushed him to expend the resources uniquely at his disposal — after all, he was on the front page of the New York Times and has dozens of government officials and high-level journalists in his contacts — he kept shaking his head. Instead, Mohamad spoke with a sense of resignation, a sense of defeat. His Language Without Words was too idyllic, too soft for our world. It reminded me how the famous Hasidic master, Rabbi Nachman, idealized the perfection of silence as the language of God. But, seemingly, when translated into our ever-imperfect world, this language could not be understood by ears that know only noise.

We headed toward the car, and Mohamad clapped me on the back, joking that I should stay for a few more days, or at least take one of the kids with me. I smiled, shook his hand, and ducked into the car, watching as Mohamad’s youngest children waved goodbye. Mohamad, his family, and his home slowly disappeared into the endless expanse of the desert.

And then I remembered the other theme throughout Coelho’s book:


Written, predestined, determined.

Often used by the Bedouins in the story, Maktub was a dismissal of sorts, a subtle yet firm shaking of the head. An immovable future, a destiny already written in stone.

But past the fatalism, beyond the hopelessness, there is the potential for beauty in that which is Maktub. There is majesty in the predetermined, nobility when greeting that which has been written. In many ways, it is the ultimate manifestation of the Language Without Words, a deeper understanding of the invariable ebb and flow of our world.

And yet, as Mohamad’s daughter lies in the ICU, as a war rages on miles away and as another is prime to erupt on yet another border, Maktub holds no beauty. No idyllic sense of future promise, no ability to holds heads high in our current predetermined world. Instead of the Language Without Words, we have become versed in hatred and vitriol.

So, what can we do in this increasingly imperfect world, what can we do besides to clasp our hands just slightly tighter, to pray a little harder, hoping against all odds for a better tomorrow.

Pray that captives will be redeemed.

Pray that innocents everywhere will live in peace.

Pray that Amina will make a full and speedy recovery, so that perhaps when somehow all of this is behind us, we can go to Mohamad’s home in a different light.

When his family is reunited, his sons living peacefully in homes their father has built.

When Maktub will shed its helplessness and instead reclaim its intended beauty.

Then, and only then,

do I hope to truly speak this Language Without Words.

About the Author
After finishing his B.A in Near Eastern Language and Civilizations at Harvard University, Razi moved to Israel and soon after enlisted in the IDF's Research Intelligence Unit. From religious angst in high school, wearing tzitzit in college, navigating Tel Aviv and the army, and even learning in Yeshiva, Razi uses creative short stories as a mouthpiece to express his struggles, thoughts, and goals.
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