One rainy story about friendship and miracles…
With the summer rapidly approaching, and daily temperatures reaching 38 degrees, I can’t help but feel a pit in my stomach, fear creeping in. As one Israeli friend, who was just called up for reserve duty, said to me the other day: “War Season is coming. Wars are only led in the summer. The world has learned its lesson from Napoleon, who sent his troops to Russia in the middle of the winter and half of them froze on the way.”
Let’s cool off with one rainy story though, which happened not that long ago – but feels like a lifetime…
I remember that time as ‘A Hanukkah miracle.’ It was a chilly December night and I was finally getting to see my Gazan friends, who I had first met in January 2014 at the YaLa Negotiation workshop in Jerusalem. Over the next year I stayed in touch with them via Facebook and Skype. We kept contact as best we could during last summer’s war – as electricity shortages were more common than not. For days they would be without power, and my friends and I in Israel would just send messages, waiting for a reply, so we’d know they were alive.
To get a permit to come into Israel from the Gaza Strip is an almost unheard of thing, especially after the summer war. Getting a permit is somewhat like school exams, it doesn’t matter how much you prepare beforehand, you never know what the end result will be. But somehow they managed to get a permit to come into Israel. I couldn’t believe I was getting a chance to see my friends again, in real life.
They were coming to Israel to attend a conference on non-violent resistance in Tel Aviv. Standing outside the cinematheque, their car finally arrived, well after the conference was under way. They had gone through three checkpoints, one for Hamas, one for the Palestinian Authority and one for Israel. Altogether, they spent at least eight hours at the border.
By the end of the conference, Rami, Rana, Munahid and Sajida were the stars of the show. On stage in front of theater filled with people, the mostly Israeli crowd asked the foursome what their experience was like during the war. “In the summer, I realized that none of my leaders cared for me,” Rami told the crowd. “My Israeli friends were the ones who were calling and checking if my family and I are still alive.”
“It’s raining like hell,” I said as we left, exhausted from the conference. “We’ll have to take a cab. The guy hosting you is already waiting to give you the key for his apartment.” Munahid sat in front and Rami, Sajida and I climbed in the back. Rana had left earlier, meeting up with my sister, who also was at the conference.
We drove for a few minutes before the driver looked over at Munahid and told him to put on his seatbelt.
“Ah! We never put on seat belts in Gaza,” Munahid said.
“What?! What do you mean you’re from Gaza? Are you trying to scare me?”
“No, not at all. I just meant we don’t use them – I guess because we have too short distances in Gaza.” I noticed the driver start to become nervous. Her hands started to shake and we drove through a large puddle we could have easily avoided. I tried to calm her down.
“These are my friends, we’ve all been invited to a peace conference,” I explained. The rest of the ride continued without incident, and arrived at the apartment in one piece.
It was still raining outside, and despite the groups nearly 16 hour day – getting up at 4 am to go to the crossing – they weren’t tired at all. They wanted to go and explore Tel Aviv. I looked enviously at the four big, cozy beds set up for them. But it made sense – despite all of us being wet, tired and dirty, this was their only night – ever – outside of the Gaza Strip.
We walked out onto Dizengoff street and for hours we explored every corner of the city, my friends looking like tourists at Disney Land – a place I can only imagine, where I’ve never been. We stopped in McDonald’s to hide from the rain, even this place was an attraction in itself. “I was once in McDonald’s,” Rami said, “A long time ago, in Cairo.”
At four in the morning, still not tired, we headed to my sister and her boyfriend’s studio apartment for a night-cap. All of us squeezed into one tiny room: three Israelis and four Gazans. The girls took the bed and the guys stayed on the floor. A few short months ago, I could never imagine such a scene.
By morning the sun was out and we headed to Jaffa to meet some other Israeli friends and to see the Old City. But soon after the women of the Gaza delegation, clearly the opinion leaders of the group, asserted their authority and said, “We want to go to Al Aqsa.” Rami and Munahid thought it impossible for them to make it to Jerusalem and back to the border crossing on time. So did I. But Sajida was adamant. Suddenly, I recognized something in her enthusiasm and stubbornness, in a longing for a place.
Who, if not the Jews, could understand such a feeling? Amazingly, we found a driver willing to undertake such a trip. And so the four Gazans left to Al Aqsa, the Temple Mount.
Standing alone in Jaffa, the rain started to fall again. Rain in this land is a blessing.
Maybe, one day, it will rain in the summer too.
P.S. This was written 2 days before it actually rained in Jerusalem after a very hot day…
Miracles do happen…