What I imagined was going to be a fine evening with a good friend for her birthday ended up reverting back to Palestine and the occupation.
Now, I know it sounds crazy. In a dimly lit, cramped restaurant, with waitresses flying around and serving multiple tables at once, who’d expect a conversation about Palestine? I certainly didn’t. As I was sitting across from my lady friend, a gentleman and his family were not even a foot away from us. The tables were, to describe it bluntly, uncomfortably close. If I extended my arm, I would have knocked him in the shoulder. Talk about needing some personal space. Anyway, this peculiar gentleman began joking with my friend and I. It started off as small talk.
“I guess that’s my hint to leave you alone,” he said, as I was speaking to our waitress about changing our order.
“You’re okay. I would have said something,” I replied. But then I felt bad. Most of the time, I view our world as cold and unrelenting. I don’t want to be the person that shatters another’s kindness with indifference. I want to be someone who encourages others to go out into this world, shake hands with people of different races, and invite them over to learn more.
So I apologized.
“I’m sorry, sir! I hope I didn’t come off as rude while you were speaking and joking with us. I was just busy ordering our food.” I tried softened the mood.
“No, no! You’re fine, man. My wife always yells at me for talking too much.”
We laughed. It was a friendly engagement. It was me trying to spread kindness (the way I always do), and him enjoying the pleasantries. His family members’ eyes lit up as they chuckled and enjoyed the conversation.
Then the interesting part happened. He spoke about falafel. Ah, my Palestinian pride roared within me. We always love it when others indulge in our culture. It’s a reminder that we’re not fading. We’re here to stay, and our legacies are cemented in this world.
“Falafel?! That stuff’s awesome! We are the originators!” My voice rose with joy.
“Oh, you guys are Middle Eastern?!” He asked.
“Yeah — Palestinian!” I blurt, my gratification urging me on.
He said it was cool. I didn’t think anything of it. Then, he told me how his daughter was going to school in Israel. Ah, that rival word. My insides dropped and I clenched my jaw in surprise.
“If you don’t mind me asking, where are you guys from?” my curiosity compelled me.
“Well, we’re Canadian, but we’re Jewish.”
As he admitted his faith, I could feel he and his family’s disquiet. It was a weight that now sat on my back. I felt like they were watching my every move, expecting to see glimpses of hatred and disgust in my eyes. But I showed neither, mainly because I didn’t feel it.
I told him, “That’s cool, and it’s nice to have a good conversation with him, because back home, that doesn’t happen often.”
“That’s what I’m saying,” he said. “We need peace. All we want is the war to end.”
I agreed. But I had to throw in the fact that I’m against the occupation. I told him that it wasn’t right for people to be deprived of basic human rights, and how despicable Israeli treatment is towards Palestinians who want to return or visit family.
“Yeah, but it’s also hard for the people there (referring to the Israelis) who live in fear.”
“Yeah, but what do you expect? You know you wouldn’t stand by if someone was telling you your wife and kids couldn’t have decent drinking water and access to hospitals.”
He agreed. He still tried a bit more with the whole “Israel is defending itself” slogan, and that’s when I told him to check the statistics.
“Look for yourself. Don’t believe me. But there is a huge difference in Israel’s kill ratio of Palestinians than how many Palestinians kill Israelis.”
He agreed and said he’s seen them. And then, he concluded the argument. “Well, I hate to be rude, but this cheesecake’s getting cold, so I’m gonna get back to that. It was nice talking to you.”
And then I realized something. We don’t have to be at the Israeli checkpoints to demand change. We can do it right here. And it starts by raising our voices. By simply spreading knowledge and speaking whenever we can, we’re creating awareness about the Palestinian struggle. It can be done for any injustice. I’d be willing to bet my statements pained that man with the truth. Maybe his daughter, who’s studying abroad there, will even be motivated enough to see what I’m saying.
The world won’t change overnight, but it can change one person at a time. History’s battles have faded, but the great words of its leaders and holy books are engraved in the minds of us all. If we use more words and less violence, our legacies and drive for self-determination will only grow that much stronger.