We had lunch at the Maxim restaurant today. It was a wonderful meal with several courses and a lovely view of the sea. But as you walk to the entrance you immediately get the idea that there is something different about this place. You are greeted by a security guard who searches you bags and runs a hand held metal detector over you body. We sit and eat the plates of hummus, kabob, falafel and such and notice that the restaurant was filled with Jewish and Arab staff who are taking orders from Jewish and Arab patrons. We are joined by the owner of the restaurant who tells us about the history of the restaurant as we sip Turkish coffee. The Maxim restaurant was started by an Arab couple and a Jewish couple who were friends. Many people told them they were crazy for such an idea but it turned out they were immediately successful. In October 2003 an Arab women came into the restaurant and ordered lunch from her Arab server. The restaurant was full, much like today. Two families were having lunch, Arabs and Jews. After she had sat there for 20 minutes, presumable watching the people, family’s of grandparents, children and grandchildren, laugh and talk she walked to the center of the restaurant and detonated the bomb. 21 people were killed. Jewish and Arab blood was mixed together on the floor.
The owners of the restaurant were traumatized, they couldn’t bear to restart the restaurant… but they did bc they realized that if they didn’t, the terror would win. Slowly the patrons and staff came back. Apparently, going back would help them move on, if they could. We thanked him for sharing his story and as we traveled to the Haifa cemetery I tried to imagine how that woman at there observing the children for 20 minutes and decided to do such a horrible thing. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it.
We met with 2 fathers at the cemetery. Both had lost a child in when a suicide bomber had attacked a bus that their child was on in separate incidents. Both children were teenagers. I sat in that cemetery looking at a special section for terror victims, taking in the eerie twisted grave markers that were clearly unlike the others in the cemetery. Each on was intricate. I couldn’t read what was written on them bc it was in Hebrew so my mind tried to picture what I would right if I lost a child. I would probably be at a loss of words, as I am now.
I asked the fathers how the events had changed their view on the conflict. They told me that they hadn’t changed much. They said it was common that if you were right wing you stay right wing, and vice versa, “you just have receipts now.” Both fathers discussed their support of the “security fence”. They said we should build it tall and leave it there. He said it would take many, many years for the sides to talk. “They voted for Hamas, he said, how am I supposed to take that? As a sign they want to talk?” I understood. One said that it wasn’t that he didn’t care about the human rights of the people being walled in, but his daughters’ right to life was taken from her without any vote, and his right was to protect his other children in the best way he can. The tears that I had managed to hold back fell. This last week, I saw with my own eyes what it was like for those walled him, and it made me so angry to see them imprisoned like that. And now I sat there ashamed of my audacity to even presume to understand what was going on. What it was like to lose a child that way; to fear constantly for the lives of my other children. These fathers were forever imprisoned in their pain, and that fence was a lot more difficult to take down. I remembered something I had heard from our tour guide Shannon. She came to Palestine from Japan as an activist for the Palestinians 8 years ago. She hated Jews, until she met them and heard their stories and did what we are doing now. She volunteered for an organization that responded to terrorist bombings. She had seen a lot of blood. Her words to us, as the international onlookers of the conflict, were this, “How dare we come here and choose a side, how dare we join in the hate for the other. We do not have the right, nor the luxury of time to pick sides. We need to be pro-people, pro-life!” This, I think is my conclusion of the conflict. And so I am back to my final promise to myself, the best thing I can do for the Israel/Palestine conflict is NOT choose a side.