Family Reunion

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“Daddy!” Cried out the little boy in ecstasy at seeing his father for the first time in 4 years. The little boy, Salaam, remembered vividly the day when his father had been taken away by Israeli soldiers to a camp for political prisoners. He had wept bitterly that day, seeing his father dragged off like a dog by a group of soldiers who punched and kicked him repeatedly before throwing him into the back of an army truck with a bunch of other men. Salaam had always carried a picture of his father with him everywhere he went, and not a day went by in which he didn’t pray for his father’s safety as well as for the day when he would be freed and they would all be a family again. His father, Issa, looked just as he had the day he was taken. Salaam nearly tackled Issa with the force that a tiny boy’s body produces when he first lays eyes on a father whom he has not seen in four years. Issa looked into his son’s eyes, eyes he had longed to see again for what seemed to have been an eternity, and said to him “Hello, little son.”

It was the first family reunion in ages. The war was over now, and had been for some time. It had been a bloodbath, and had involved nearly the entire world. In the end, Israel had worn out whatever willingness or possibility for negotiations that had existed on the part of her neighbors, and the rest of the world was just plain sick of the fighting. There were simply too many agreements she did not honor over the years, and as such, everyone involved knew that there was no more room for talk. And when her friends in the West stopped being so friendly with military and economic aid, the Prime Minister, reading the writing on the wall, was reported to have said right before ordering the release of nuclear weapons on her neighbors, as well as on several nations which at one time had been her allies, that “If we can’t have her, no one will.” The Israelis had played it as an all or nothing game for too long, and in the end, because they insisted on having it all, wound up with nothing.

The place was packed with people who seemed to be arriving incessantly minute by minute. As each new group of family members arrived, there was a shout from someone in the crowd, calling out for a friend or a relative that had not been seen in eons. The place was one big festival of embraces and back slapping, of kisses and closed eyes, and if someone had told these people that one day, the fighting would be over, and that they would all see each other again in such an atmosphere of peace, laughter and happiness, no one would have believed that it could be true.

But it was true. They had won. They had endured all the anguish and humiliation and torture and misery that had begun in the early years of the 20th century and which had continued unabated for decades. After being run off their land, out of their homes, poisoned, bombed, shot, starved and humiliated before the eyes of the world, they had triumphed, against all the odds, and in the face of an enemy that had seemed unconquerable.

And here they were, together again, at a family reunion. Who would have thought?

Despite the changes, some things had stayed just the same. The women wandered off to prepare the meals, yapping and squawking like crows on a split-rail fence as women have done since time immemorial. They talked of the important things-not politics, but family. Children. Security. The future. Peace. As they worked their magic, preparing the meals whose description in Arabic had said it all, Shishi Maal’foof, The food of Kings, they thought and spoke little of the pain and memories of the past, because now, it was just the past, and had little to do with the present, and little to do with the future.

The men gathered in small groups, smoked their cigars and spoke of weightier things such as business. Again, things didn’t change much. The spirit that had existed in history’s first international traders, the Phoenicians, echoed vibrantly within the souls of each of these men, and as such, imaginations were always on duty in conjuring up something to do. After all, a whole new world awaited them now, and a man’s role never changed. They spoke of the opportunities that lie before them, now that they had their own land. And with such a beautiful and fertile land, opportunities surely did abound.

The children were children. They climbed the trees that grew perfectly in this land that could have easily been mistaken for the Garden of Eden. They chased each other, played hide-and-seek, and all the other games that children play, with the exception of any war games, since they had seen enough of the real thing in their lifetimes to last an eternity.

The children were perfect. They bore none of the scars that one would have expected to find in a group of people that had endured decades of war and ghettoization. Their faces were fresh, their eyes were bright and clear, their skin was smooth and undamaged. It was as if the whole process of war and violence had been nothing but a bad dream from which they had awakened unscathed, despite the campaign that had been waged against them by a government working hand in hand with several of the world’s superpowers. Children such as these had often been deliberately shot in the head on a daily basis, sometimes while engaging in activity that was no more subversive than playing in their schoolyards. But in the end, all the bullets, bombs, and misery that were thrown into their lives were worthless, because they had kept their spirits, and here they were, playing again as children.

Time heals all wounds, as the saying goes, and so it was with this blessed land. The olive trees were thriving, and the lemon and orange groves gave off the wonderful perfumes that announced the richness and beauty of such green fields and pastures, in contrast to the smell of death and destitution that had hung in the air for decades. The waters were clear and cool, waters which for generations before had flowed red with the spilled blood of innocent women and children. And on this day, a perfect day for a family reunion, the sun brilliantly shouted out loud its light from a sky so blue that it almost looked purple.

“Christine!” called out Mr. And Mrs. Saada to their daughter. They almost didn’t recognize her, since her wounds had completely healed. “Momma! Papa!” responded Christine, as she sprinted the distance from the gate to the picnic tables next to which her parents stood. “I missed you so much!” said the little girl whose words were muffled by the tightness of her parents’ embrace. “I didn’t know if you’d be here,” she said. “We’re here,” responded her father. “Wild horses couldn’t have prevented us from showing up.”

The tables were set with all the foods and drink that would be the cornerstone of the day’s celebration. There is something about a celebration that requires food for its legitimacy, and today would be no different. When food had been brought to gatherings in the past, especially during the wars, whether at the wakes or at the funerals, it was there more as a distraction from the pain than as a focal point of rejoicing. Today was different. The food was here not to distract, but to attract and augment the joy of the occasion.

Everyone talked of the guest who was promised would be arriving at sometime during the reunion. He was an important man who had been there from the beginning and had led them through all of the terrible years of war and occupation. He had always spoken out for them fearlessly, against the inhumanity and the degradation inflicted against a people whom he loved, and accurately called the outrage for what it was, namely an attempt at exterminating a race of people who would not accept the injustices that had been wrought upon them. In the early days, when these people had called upon him to be their leader and he accepted, he had been laughed at and ridiculed by the world, given his peasant upbringing and seeming lack of sophistication and political power. Those around the world looked at his demeanor and his clothes with disdain as they laughed at his accent and at his message of peace and justice. Underestimating the inner strength of this man, the Israelis, in an attempt to break his spirit and in so doing break the spirits of the rest of their victims, had him arrested on false charges, after which time he was jailed and tortured, all for the purpose of having him renounce all for which he had stood and spoken.

Not limiting their cruelty to simple physical torture, they performed all of this in the presense of his mother, assuming that her cries of agony in watching her only son treated in such a bestial manner would encourage him to give up the fight. But it did not work. He survived the torture, and as a result, became more powerful in the eyes of his followers than his enemies would have ever imagined possible. And it was in this refusal to surrender to the lies and brutalities of these evil men that he had gained his ascendancy as the leader of these oppressed people, and since he had stuck by them, they stuck by him, and in the end that was all that had mattered.

After the war had ended, he had sent out the invitations to all the family members for the reunion, and promised that it would be a heavenly event for everyone who attended.

Another group was arriving, and in this one was a little boy named Ali Abbas, who had lost his arms in a rocket attack during the war initiated against the Iraqi people in the recent past. Ali had been made famous all over the world for his plight, for having lost not only his arms, but as well all of his immediate family. As he arrived, one of the older women who had lived in his neighborhood came up to him and hugged him as if he were her own. He hugged back with his new arms, arms that worked just as well as the originals. Someone had truly worked a miracle in healing this boy, who at one time had not only been without arms, but as well without the skin which had been burned off of most of his body, and who now was at the reunion, as good as new.

“Have you seen my parents?” he asked the elderly woman. She held his face in her hands and said to him “Momma is in the kitchen with the rest of the women, and I think your dad is off talking with the other men, although I’m not sure where, but I know he is here.” Ali smiled and ran off in whatever direction he thought he might find them, since he had not seen them in so long. Along the way he ran into one of his sisters, and when the two saw each other, screeched out each other’s names, embraced, and began the chaotic and uncoordinated dance of jumping up and down that children perform when they are excited, a dance which seemed to go on all day, although without any of the tears that would have been expected in a reunion like this, only laughter.

The women called out to say that dinner was ready, “yallah” being the term they used. As always, the children raced towards the table like a herd of buffalo, thinking little of their manners or how they appeared. Cousins and friends who had not seen each other in years rushed to find a spot next to someone with whom they wanted to sit. And surprisingly, being children, there were no bruised feelings, and no one fought. They just sat there, smelling the food that sat at the middle of the table staring at them and daring them to reach out before momma said it was okay. The air was filled with the smell of allspice, zaatar, and cinnamon, all absolute necessities when cooking anything Middle Eastern, spices that had established trade between Europe and the Middle East following the Crusades.

The adults remained standing for a moment, looking at the little members of their kingdoms, and said nothing except what could be said with a slight smile. They were all together again. Thank God. They had survived it all. Thank God in Heaven.

Everyone sat silently as the prayers went up in gratitude for the feast that lie before them. As the prayers were said no one even breathed for fear that in doing so a word might be missed, words that only scratched the surface in expressing the gratitude that each of them felt within the entirety of their beings. And when the prayers were ended with a barely audible “amen” from the mouths of everyone seated, and all opened their eyes and saw all those whom they had loved and missed for so long, they knew for sure that a new day had begun.

The meal had all the essentials of a King’s feast. Kibbeh, tabouli, lubban, lentils, lahem mishwi, fatoyehs, baklava, grape leaves, zatta, houmos, dishes that had been around since the time of Jesus and his Apostles. There was plenty for everyone, and no one went hungry, quite a departure from the days of want and hunger that they had endured for decades. The women stood with satisfaction and watched as their magic did its work, and didn’t seem to mind much when one of their children would wipe a hand that was shiny with olive oil on a shirt or pant leg. There was a time to complain, and there was a time to just let things be. The adults talked and laughed, as children eyed each other and giggled, swinging their legs under the table, tiny legs that were too short to reach the ground.

In the end, all of the power that had been arrayed against these people went for nothing. The nations that had waged their wars against them for the furtherance of their own greedy gains had been brought low. Not long after it was revealed that America had lied about the dangerous weapons that she said were possessed by these peoples, and that all along she had been fighting for the acquisition of oil and the destruction of a culture that stood in her way of world hegemony, (as well as the act of bringing Israel’s enemies to heel) the rest of the world turned on her. In the process, her economy fell, and her once great nation descended into chaos, followed by many of the other economies that were tied to her. The false prophets who had spewed forth lies and invective on a daily basis against these people for years were gone too, no one missed them, and nothing they ever said or did was remembered. Now the unclean woman who was America was looked upon with contempt, and with good reason. She was a nation who had spent most of her existence bragging about her love of justice and human rights, despite the fact that hers was a history noted for such eloquencies as “the only good Indian is a dead Indian,” in addition to all the crimes against humanity and decency that had been committed by her in the enslavement of first the Africans and then later much of the third world. And like Rome, her gold and her luck eventually ran out, and when she could no longer buy the goodwill of the rest of mankind, down she went, like the Titanic, to the surprise of many. Indeed, justice has its own schedule.

After dinner, in customary fashion, one of the older men retrieved a musical instrument and began to play. Ibrahim, a 70 year old patriarch who had seen everything from the beginning of the troubles, sat with his Oud, an ancient stringed instrument whose every sound spoke volumes about what was the history of the world’s oldest civilization. As his ancient and wrinkled hands strummed out the music of the ages, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, fathers and mothers took one another by the hand, dancing in celebration of their freedom and of their victory, while others clapped to the rhythm of the music. Ibrahim, doing his best for a 70 year old man, finally ended the piece with a final slap on the belly of his stringed instrument, as his family turned and clapped wildly in appreciation of his performance.

Suddenly, everyone stopped talking, and all heads seemed to turn simultaneously towards a couple who had just walked through the gate. “He’s here!” called out someone in the crowd from way back. At last, the guest of honor had arrived, holding hands with the most beautiful woman anyone had ever seen, his mother Miriam, whose appearance so resembled his as to be strikingly uncanny. He was tall and graceful, his hair was dark brown, as well as his beard and his kind eyes. As he approached the group of people who had grown silent in their gaze upon him, he smiled widely at them, held up his hand, a hand which still bore the scars that were the result of the torture inflicted upon him by the Israelis many years ago, and greeted them all saying “Peace be upon you, my friends, and welcome.”

The silence was so profound as to be almost overwhelming. At last, their leader had arrived, and as the words of his benediction rang wistfully in the air and were carried throughout by a slight breeze in this the oldest of lands, little 18 month old Alyan Bashete ran up to him with outstretched arms, begging to be picked up and held. The kind man scooped up little Alyan in his arms, and looking into his dark eyes said, “Well, you have got to be about the cutest little thing that I have seen in a long time!” And after staring into the boy’s perfect eyes for a moment whispered to him closely and quietly “I’m glad you could make it to the reunion.”

The boy rubbed his tiny hand across the beard of the kind man and said “Me too.”

And just as he had promised them many years ago, there would be no more scars, no more wounds, and every tear would be wiped dry.

There was justice, after many years.

And all was peace at the family reunion.

Mark Glenn is an American and former high school teacher turned writer / commentator. Our Enemies They Are Not is an excerpt of the recently completed work by the author entitled “Not My Words, But Theirs : An American Christian’s Defense of Middle Eastern Culture and its people” (www.notmywords.com). For information regarding the purchase of this book, please contact the author at: [email protected]. He contributed above article to Media Monitors Network (MMN).

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