I spent most of today with Kasem. Never in my life have I done anything to deserve the honor of having such a friend. I've never known anyone so selfless. I am constantly amazed at his faith, his strength and his unshakeable optimism in the face of such oppression. He is without a doubt one of the best people I have ever known and I wish everyone could know the joy of having such a friend. He has his own story but I will not write such a personal account here as I don't think he would want me to. What he has shared with me I am content to keep to myself.
He brought his son to meet me this morning. It was a wonderful surprise and I was truly touched that he wanted us to meet. We drove outside of Bethlehem to view the existing settlements and survey the land that would be confiscated for the new ones. He took me to see the multi-million dollar "Settler only" highway. He laughs at the ridiculousness of the Occupation while my heart breaks. I cannot help but be strong around him for how can I cry over the injustices done to him when he does not. He just shakes it off, thanks God for what he does have and moves on. My amazement grows.
He wanted to know all about what happened in Nabi Saleh yesterday and I hesitated to tell him because his son is only ten years old and knows enough English to understand. He just encouraged me to tell the story anyway. He doesn't want his children sheltered from the truth. He says even the youngest ones already know.
We traveled to Hebron and set out on foot because he wanted me to walk through the invisible boundary between Hebron 1 and Hebron 2 so I could "feel it". It is so bizarre. One minute it's so crowded I'm in fear of losing track of him or his son and the next minute we're practically alone. It's a ghost town. So many people are afraid to cross into H2. The shopkeepers sit alone in the front of their stores while maybe 200 feet away are all the customers they used to have, giving their business to the shops fortunate enough to be on the "right" side of this invisible boundary.
A man overheard Kasem telling me about the nets strung above the streets to protect people from the trash and stones thrown down from the Israeli settlers living above. He invited us to climb up to his roof for a better view. All around his rooftop, the Israeli flags were flying from all the settler residences and he and his family are stuck right in the middle. He's been offered two million shekels to leave his home but he refuses to do it. Kasem points out the bullet holes in his family's water tanks. Apparently, the settlers get bored and use them for target practice.
We went back inside with his family to have tea. We sat on the children's beds underneath metal shutters that have been welded shut from the outside. They have no windows. There's a small opening directly above the youngest child's bed and the father tells us settlers shoved a snake through it one night to scare the children. We're shown a video of a family member being evicted from his shop, beaten and arrested. Next we find out they have a six year old boy who is currently in a hospital in Jordan. Two years ago, settlers threw acid in his face causing him to permanently lose his sight at the age of four. I don't know what to say. Two more foreigners wander in to sit with us and listen to the stories. Kasem nudges me and points to a framed photo of Saddam Hussein hanging on the wall. It's surreal.
After thanking our hosts we head to the Ibrahimi mosque. We have to go through several check points to get inside the mosque. When the soldiers see I'm American, they simply ask me if I'm carrying any weapons and take my word for it when I say no. They check Kasem's ID, asking him a thousand questions and I want to throw up. When we finally get inside, Kasem helps me get ready. Shoes off, robes on. I've never been inside a mosque before and let's face it, I'm a bumbling idiot. I wander around inside trying to be invisible while he and his son pray. I watched them for awhile but it began to seem intrusive and disrespectful so I slipped away and waited for them at the door.
There's alot more to tell here about the restrictions they had inside this mosque that I didn't but it's so disgusting and depressing I cannot even get into now. When we left, it was pretty obvious my spirits were back in the gutter so we went to have lunch at King of Falafel. Kasem said it would make me happy again and it did.
He dropped me back at the college and we made plans to travel to Jerusalem together on Monday. I already miss him.