This is not the Usual Byrd's Words. This is series of events I have been following for the last few years and I believe it has to be shared. Please feel free to share this story, just tell me when you do.
by rev byrd tetzlaff
This is a story that needs to be told. It’s not my story, but I am the only one that can tell it. It is a true story, and it has not ended. It is ongoing, right now. It sounds like a badly-plotted soap opera, but I swear to you, it is happened and is happening. The names of the people and places have been changed, for the sake of safety.
It began several years ago when a friend, named George, was still traveling about in the world. He loved to travel and to meet people in their own lands, to learn about them and their history. When he returned to the United States, he kept in contact with many of them, via letters, phone calls and e-mail. Some of them were behind what was then the Iron Curtain. He saw and heard many things that most people never even dream of. His interest was wide-reaching, and after he returned, He still wanted to expand his horizons.
One of his friends asked if he would like to be pen pals with an Israeli woman who wanted to improve her English. He said sure, and thus he met Miriam.
They began their friendship via mail and phone calls, because this was before the internet had really gotten started. They became fast friends. She was not particularly interested in politics, which disappointed George, who is very politically oriented, but they found many other things in common. He was delighted with her friendship, in part because she had, as he put it, such a beautiful soul. He just liked talking with her. She seemed to have no negative feelings towards anyone, not even towards the Palestinians who were not popular in Israel at the time. George, who always championed the underdog, was quite aware of the politics within Israel, but he respected her wishes and they seldom even mentioned what was going on in her country.
Miriam was an only child of an upper middle-class Israeli family. Miriam was, when their correspondence began, in her late twenties and unmarried. She was a good daughter and lived at home with her parents, who were very conservative. Miriam was very well-educated. She spoke several languages and taught in a local school. As far as George could tell, Miriam did not even date. She was pretty much caught up with her family and her work.
Miriam and George talked fairly often, and George would hear about all her little adventures. Miriam would tell him about her students and daily life in Israel. As their friendship grew, George found he looked forward to hearing from her. It was not a romantic relationship, but it was a very real friendship.
For several years they corresponded fairly regularly. Then, as things progressed, they graduated to e-mail and phones. But one day Miriam sounded different. George asked what was going on? Slowly, she confessed. She was dating someone. She was excited about it, but had not yet told her parents. She was not sure they would approve.
Her new boyfriend was a Palestinian.
George was concerned. He had heard how difficult it was for Palestinians in Israel and thought it might be very difficult for Miriam if they were to get married. But Miriam was in love.
For some time, George heard about Miriam’s growing relationship with El-Amer. Seems that El-Amer was an educated person. He had a degree in Engineering, but as a Palestinian, he was not allowed to work in his field. So he worked as a laborer, digging ditches. He had an extended family in Israel and some of them were dependent on him for support. He had two nephews that were eight and ten years old, respectively. Both of them had been crippled because when they were younger, the Israeli army caught them throwing rocks at tanks. As per custom, the army broke both elbows on both boys and did not let them go to a doctor, so the kids arms healed without being set properly. Neither boy had use of his arms. El-Amer took care of the family as best he could.
Actions like this are not uncommon in areas of the world where people live under constant fear. And in Israel, both Israelis and Palestinians live with fear all the time. Consequently, they do horrible things to each other.
Miriam had been almost completely unaware of the plight of Palestinians in her country. But as she got to know El-Amer, she also became aware of what was happening to his people. And slowly, she began to speak out, first to her friends, and then to her parents. Sadly, her friends and family did not want to hear. In fact they were horrified that she would speak in understanding terms about the Palestinians. Miriam was somewhat confused, because she could not understand why such hatred existed.
Then, she became pregnant. El-Amer and she planned to get married, but disaster struck. Miriam’s own mother turned her in.
It is illegal in Israel for a Palestinian and an Israeli to marry. Miriam was taken by the authorities and told that she should have an immediate abortion and what was the name of her Lover? Not wanted to get him in trouble, Miriam refused to tell them who the father was. And she did not want an abortion, she wanted the baby. Her family coldly informed her that if she were to be so ill-advised as to have the child, it would be taken from her and placed in an orphanage.
For the first time in her life, Miriam was faced with just how bad things were for some people in her country. She decided to flee. She quietly gathered up a small suitcase, took her meager savings and bought a ticket to Syria. She left alone, because it was not safe to contact El-Amer - he would be arrested.
She traveled to Syria. But as she disembarked, the authorities there grabbed her and put her in prison. Her mother had reported her flight and the Israeli government had put out a warrant for her arrest. Because of her ties with Palestinian persons, she was labeled a suspected terrorist.
Prison was horrendous. Because she was an Israeli who had been with a Palestinian, the other women in the prison hated her, and she was viciously attacked by them several times. Badly beaten, she lost the baby – and with it, her ability to have other children.
Syria has no real love for Israel and after a while the courts of Syria set her free because there was no evidence that she had actually plotted any terrorist activities.
Alone, in a foreign country, Miriam was devastated. She had lost her baby, her own family had turned her in -- knowing full well what would happen to her -- and she had no money. She was afraid to get in touch with El-Amer, because he would immediately be arrested and most probably disappear. She did the only thing she could think of to do: she contacted George. George immediately wired her funds. Reluctantly, she took a few dollars to keep herself alive, the rest she put into a bank for safe-keeping. She vowed to pay George back, every penny, even though that was not what he wanted. And she managed to get word to El-Amer where she was.
Meantime, El-Amer had been nearly frantic trying to find out what happened to Miriam. He had been allowed no information about Miriam or her whereabouts. When she finally managed to contact him, he rushed to her side, knowing full well that by fleeing Israel, he would never be allowed back into the country. He and Miriam were now refugees. They were like so many in this day and age, landless people, with no papers, because now they belonged to no country that would admit they used to be citizens. Legally, they ceased to exist.
They traveled together to Lebanon, where they joined other refugees. Miriam was now an Israeli, surrounded by Palestinians, a Jew surrounded by Muslims. Not all were accepting of her, but to her surprise, some were. She was greeted with reservation, but kindness. She talked with El-Amer about converting to Islam so that she would fit in better. He shook his head and told her that she was Jewish and that was OK by him. He did not think she should convert for political reasons, she should convert only if she truly believed.
That started Miriam thinking about her own life and her cultural heritage. She had always been proud of being a Jew, but now, she hated what Israel had done to the Palestinian people. From her fellow refugees, she heard horror story after horror story about what has happened to so many Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli government. She, personally, renounced her country's actions and became quite bitter towards Israel. She began to wear the habib as a gesture of respect to her Muslim neighbors, and gradually she was more and more accepted.
Eventually, her neighbors came to her to ask if she would teach their children different languages. She agreed, so while El-Amer was out doing whatever work he could find, she taught Palestinian children how to speak Hebrew and English. And slowly, they began to build a life together.
Miriam and El-Amer lived in a tiny place amidst the refugee struggle.
While Miriam’s heart had hardened against Israel, her natural generosity could not be restrained. She adopted a stray dog, and then later added a stray cat. This put a huge burden on their finances, because they were poor beyond what most Americans can understand and these new mouths to feed often cut into their own food supplies. Even under these conditions, they would not touch the money that George had sent them. (In fact, El-Amer sends George a small payment every month to reimburse him for the money they have already used to get Miriam out of Syria. George protests, but to no avail.)
I should mention here that the entire time all of this was going on, Miriam did keep in touch with George as best she could. He set up a bank account (‘just in case of emergency’) with the remaining funds for Miriam - which she never touched. They would arrange for certain times that he would be home when she could go to an aid station and call him collect. He did not dare tell her how much it cost him, because she would have insisted on paying for the calls. He simply told her that his cell phone included the calls for no extra charge.
But the flood of new refugees to Lebanon is ongoing. Every day, more refugees pour into Lebanon, and not in an orderly fashion. Crowds of people, walking slowly with little hope in their steps, fill the streets. Some carry small bags or suitcases filled with their pathetically small hoard of belongings. Others have no such wealth, but travel only with the clothing on their backs. And each of them has a story, and each tale is worse than the next tale.
There was one young mother with two small children, a girl almost three years old and a boy of around a year. She was fleeing because her husband had gone to work and had never returned, so she had no means of feeding her children. That is all too common an occurrence. People disappear in countries where they are not wanted. As the small family trudged along the road, some tanks pushed their way through the crowd. People who did not move out of the way fast enough got hurt. The young mother with two children was shot and as she lay dying, her belongings were looted. No one picked up the children.
I am not clear on how Miriam found out about the children. I don’t know if she witnessed the attack, or if she heard about it later, but by some means, she found out about the children and she grabbed them.
If Miriam had not taken the children, one of several fates awaited the kids.
- They might have died by the side of the road with no one to feed them. - They might have been caught up to be sold into slavery. The boy probably would not have lasted very long, but the girl would have become a prostitute. Young children are eagerly awaited by predators from every county.
-Or if they were very lucky, they might have been taken to an orphanage where hundreds of children are taken care of by dedicated but vastly over-worked caretakers.
But these children were lucky. They ended up with Miriam and El-Amer. Miriam, who had lost her own child, El-Amer who was a caring and responsible person, the two of them took in these children as their own, despite the hardships and poverty they faced.
For a long time, Miriam was afraid the children would be removed from her care. She spoke with the social workers in the camps about the children. There was a long time of silence with no word about the children’s fate. Then one day a social worker dropped by to say the children were theirs to keep. Miriam cried out in relief, but then asked, if anyone should come looking for the children, what should she do? The social worker lifted an eyebrow and said “But who would care?”
That night, Miriam cried for the children, because it was true. Who would care for them? These beautiful children, lost because of hatred, prejudice and war. Who would care for them? Who would care for any of the children caught up in conflicts they had no part in?
That is the latest I have heard from George about Miriam, El-Amer and their two children, a dog and a cat. They live as refugees, a family, doing the best they can in an ungodly situation not of their making.
Miriam calls George periodically and lets him know what is happening. He looks forward to their conversations. And he keeps the money El-Amer sends him in a special account, hoping to someday be able to return it to them when they live in a free country.
El-Amer and Miriam celebrate Christmas, because it is such a lovely Holiday, but Miriam confesses that she does not understand how the Americans celebrate. She cannot fathom the amount of money that Americans spend on a holiday that celebrates the birth of one who was so poor.
George wants to send the children some gifts for Christmas, but being a bachelor, he has little idea of what would be age-appropriate. Plus he has no idea what could get by the censors. He is fully aware that any package he might send will be opened and inspected, and very possible confiscated and possibly even used as evidence against Miriam and El-Amer. So George has to be very careful in what he might send them.
George would like to travel over to Lebanon to see them in person, but he has been told it would not be wise, for him or for the small refugee family. Both could get into big trouble for their connections with each other.
I await updates from George about Miriam and her family. It links me to a part of the world that is very real but beyond my personal experiences. It reminds me how lucky I am to live in a part of the world that is relatively safe. It makes me pray for the people who are caught up in ugly political battles that result in violence and crimes against humanity. And it makes me want to Do Something for that little family.
But all I can do is to get the word out, because so little information in American gives any real insight into what is happening over there. We Americans are told that the Palestinians are the Bad Guys. We don’t hear about the Palestinian homes that are bulldozed while they owners are away at work during the day. We don’t hear about the water and electricity that are turned off permanently in the desert areas where the Palestinians live. We do not hear about the Palestinians that are displaced from their homes because of Israel's insatiable hunger for land. We are not told about the people who disappear and are never heard from again.
Despite what is happening, I want the Israeli State to thrive. I want it to prosper and to create positive relations with its neighbors. I want all that -- but I am opposed to Zionism.
The Palestinians have just as much a right to a peaceful life in a safe homeland as do the Israelis. I don’t know how that can be accomplished, given the current statement of affairs. I don’t know if it should be one state or two. I don’t know if it needs to be mandated by an outside authority or if they themselves can somehow put aside the wrongs that Both Sides have perpetuated.
But I do know that all the Children of Abraham should have the right to live in peace, safety and religious freedom. All the Children of the Earth should have the opportunity to create a Good Life for themselves and for their children, regardless of race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation or cultural status.
Anything less is unacceptable.