|courtesy of t-shirtguru.com|
So spoke my son when he unwrapped the Popeye shirt my parents had given him. Only four-years-old “all his life” had not been a very long time but his grandparents certainly enjoyed his enthusiasm. They’d always been creative gift-givers. Almost ten years earlier they’d given me a present that I’d also been wanting all my life. Well, at least since the Six Day War five years earlier. In 1972, at the age of eighteen, they presented me with a trip to Israel.
It was a seven-week vacation filled with travelling and hiking, sightseeing and working, learning and growing. During the last couple of days the organizers decided it was time for some serious workshops. Although usually a good student, I cannot tell you anything about those sessions except that I was hot and tired and more focused on buying presents to take home than anything the lecturers were telling me. What I do remember was the trip to Jericho we took at the end. The goal of that outing, I assume, was to illustrate some of the many facts we’d been presented with.
Israeli buses weren’t air-conditioned then. Jericho was one of the lowest spots on earth, nearly eight hundred feet below sea level. Although we saw some palm trees the spot we disembarked was totally devoid of any shade. I’d just finished my first year of college in the Arizona desert but nothing had prepared me for the scorching heat.
Worse than the high temperature was seeing what looked like mud huts that apparently served as homes. Gathered outside the shelters were Arab families. Any description I can try to write would be colored by what I know today. Suffice it to say that the conditions were appalling. So much so that one of the girls in our group began screaming at the guide.
“How can you let them live like this?”
The guide remained calm. Looking back I’m sure this girl’s reaction was exactly what he wanted.
“Israel did NOT make this refugee camp. Jordan did with the help of the UN. In 1948 when Israel became a state we begged the Arabs to stay and live in peace. Arab leaders told their people to flee and shortly the Jews would be pushed into the sea and they’d go back home. In the meantime the refugees lived in camps like this in Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt. With the end of The Six Day War we inherited many of the Jordanian and Egyptian camps and we’re working as fast as we can to improve the conditions.”
The hysterical girl wasn’t satisfied with his explanation and began handing out money to the children. Others followed suit. Honestly, I don’t remember if I joined in or not but I do know whatever amount was distributed that day was a drop in the bucket to all that was needed.
With all the oil money the Arab world had at that time I still do not understand how they continued to let their brethren falter in that desert hellhole. The explanation I was given is that the Arab heads wanted to use their unfortunate brothers as a public-relations tool to make Israel look bad. They repeatedly rejected Israel’s efforts to close down the camps and resettle their occupants. For the powers-that-be in the Arab world keeping the refugees an obstacle to peace was in their best interest. Sadly, that plan has been so successful that today we have world leaders making excuses for Arab terrorism.
If only the Arab sheikhs and rulers would have wanted a solution to the refugee problem as badly as my son wanted his Popeye shirt. If only they would have desired peace as much as I wanted my trip to Israel. If only, if only, if only…The situation is so grim and, yet I have not lost hope.
The Jewish people are nudniks. Every day we beg HaShem for peace. We request it from Him when we pray morning, afternoon, and evening. We implore Him after eating bread. We beseech Him before we go to sleep at night. We know that sooner or later, just as my parents bought my son a Popeye shirt and gave me a trip to Israel, the time will be right and our Father in heaven will answer our pleas. We will have true peace. After all, it’s something we’ve wanted all our lives.