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Gaza's long shadow
I'm in a supermarket in North Goa doing my shopping, when a guy with a smile like the sun and hair the colour of sunflowers comes loping down the aisle. "Hi!" I smile back at him, never immune to sunshine. "Hello to you!" he laughs, and bounces by. I bump into him five more times - by the milk, near the pasta, and he never stops laughing, taking the usually sombre shoppers by surprise. "Careful, " he says to me as I put six eggs into plastic bag, "don't forget that delicate things break easily !" He is delighted with himself again and I feel some of the gloom of the past few days - there is a war on, and children are dying - lift from behind my eyes.
I'm trying to place the eggs carefully in the boot of my Activa and there he is again, sitting on his Dio, spreading cheer among the passers-by. I bid him a fond farewell and he asks if I am an American. Then he tells me he is one, as well, but by passport only. He is Iranian, in actuality, a musician. He hands me his card. I hand him mine. I foresee a new friendship;I like musicians, and Iranians. He squints and squints, fishes in his pocket for his reading glasses, and then a deep frown spreads across his broad open face. "Israel!" he says in disgust. "Well tell them to stop bombing Gaza!"
Yeah, I agree easily, let's tell all bomb-throwers everywhere to put down their arms immediately! The men in power are throwing bombs on one another's children and it must stop. Let's always remember to support those on the side of mutual respect, negotiation and cooperation. Let's behave well ourselves, I smile, let's bring the peace right here in this parking lot.
"No, " he says, getting angry, "Israel is the aggressor;Israel has to stop right now! It is killing innocent people!" Yeah, I agree vehemently. And Hamas has to stop bombing Israel, let alone Assad his own people, this violence, it has to stop, and we lovers of peace, we have to stay united, stop the blame game, not be fooled by the illusion that it is the people on either side of a man-made border who are enemies of each other. "It is those who continue to choose violence as their preferred method of problem-solving who are the enemy of the people, never mind what passport they hold, " I say, so sure of his agreement, so sure a sunny smile will now reappear on his face.
"Why do you keep talking about passports?" he sneers. "Of course the line being drawn is a national one, and of course Israel is to blame. Look at her size and look at Gaza's size, look at history. Israel is the one to blame for everything. There is only one solution - Israel has to get the hell out of there. "
"Well look at Israel's size and look at the size of the Arab world around her, " I say, inwardly groaning, as I recognise the age old Israeli rhetoric escaping my lips, "and if you want to start checking history and who is to blame, things are never simple. How far should we go back? (Why am I doing this? I have spent a lifetime fighting for Palestinian rights, insisting to the Israeli public that Israel is the aggressor and the occupier and is to blame. Why am I allowing him to force me to be a spokesperson for Israel? I try to breathe and think clearly. A crowd had gathered round, enjoying the exchange ). "Okay, " I say. "Israel is the occupier and Gaza is the occupied - although not really, anymore, and Egypt keeps Gaza down as much as Israel does. It's like two brothers fighting. Both have acted badly somehow, both have their legitimate grievance. A good parent knows the solution lies in teaching them to solve problems without resorting to fighting. " I put out my hand for a shake, and try to smile. He shakes my hand but says: "No, only one side here is innocent;and it ain't your side. "
I tell him I knew one of the Israeli women killed by a Hamas rocket (Mira Scharf, the wife of the Chabad rabbi in Delhi) and that she was innocent too. "Well, I would not call her innocent. As an Israeli, she is also to blame. "
"Oh yeah?" (look who is shouting now), "as a man are you to blame for sexism? For all rape?" (oh no) "You are speaking the language of war, my friend, not of reconciliation, you are speaking the language of nationalism and blame and hatred and this can never lead to peace. "
"Oh yeah?" he shakes a finger at me, face dark as a storm, "it is because of people like you, justifying criminal states like Israel, that there is war in the world!" "Oh yeah? I will have you know I've been a peace activist my whole life! I've even been beat up for my peacenik views!" The crowd is grinning happily. "Well I am a very big peace activist! A famous one!" he yells, "And I have nothing more to say to you!" He drives away in a cloud of smoke, gesturing and muttering to the wind. I close the boot of the Activa, forgetting the eggs that shatter into bits. I ride away, shaky and thoroughly depressed. I have his card. Should I call him? Try to make peace?
The writer is the India correspondent for 'Yedioth Achronoth', Israel's largest daily, and when not fighting in parking lots with those who think differently than her, a devoted attemptee of the adage "be the peace you want to see on the world
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