Late October, 2000
The taxi is clean and neat. On the dashboard is taped a bright, multi-colored card with decorative Arabic writing. I recognize the phrase “God is great” repeated several times. From the rear-view mirror hangs a sturdy black set of Muslim prayer-beads. And I notice something else: the taxi driver looks at me in the rear view mirror every few seconds. I ignore him, having learned my lesson a long time ago. Chatty taxi drivers can get awkward. As the taxi speeds east, the little grey-haired man grips the steering wheel tighter and looks at me more frequently. Finally he can help himself no more. “Are you American or British?” he asks.
The recent political situation would indicate that lying is in order – Americans are extremely unpopular just now. But I’m tired of lying. I lie about everything and this man looks harmless. “American,” I say, cautiously, and am relieved when he nods and says, “Welcome to Jordan.”
But then he takes a deep breath. “I am a Palestinian,” he says, and pauses slightly. Palestinians in particular aren’t very fond of Americans just now. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to say. Fortunately, nothing is expected of me. The man continues. “In 1948, when the Jews took our land, I was eight years old.”
I try to look sympathetic and hope some sympathy will end this conversation. “So you came here?” I ask.
“Yes,” he says, emphatically. “It is a shit government, the Israelis. As you know, in 1948 they took half of Palestine.” His English is very good, but somehow stilted. It’s as if he’s memorized a school lesson on this subject – which may well be the case. “In 1967 they took the other half. And now! Now they kill people with guns and rockets and helicopters. And the Palestinians have only rifles, one kilometer they shoot. The Israelis fire from outside one kilometer. They have bullets like this” – he extends his finger and his thumb – “they can fly one and a half, two kilometers maybe. And Palestinians have only small bullets and rocks. Do you know, in three weeks one hundred fifty people dead, and about three thousand people wounded?”
My silence is inconsequential. The history lesson is inevitable. The subject is incredibly emotional, and the little driver bites his lip for a second before continuing. “Nobody supports Palestine. Not now, not then. Balfour, you know, he promised the Arabs a Palestinian nation, but he lies. On May 15, 1948, when the British soldiers left, each officer he only had his pants and his shirt with him. Only that! Everything else, they leave for the Jews. For months before this the British Army trains the Jews in how to fight and gives them many weapons. Then it was the British, then the French, and now it is America. You know what the Jews did to Bill Clinton?”
I don’t answer, but no answer is required. “Bill Clinton is not a bad man. He wanted to support the Palestinians sometime a few years ago. He refused to give Israel all the money. And what did they do? They made five Gates. Five women, and the last one was Lewinskigate. You know Monica Lewinski? And Bill Clinton gives Israel so much money, and new guns, and every new weapon he gives to Israel before even they use it in America. And what happens? You have heard of Monica Lewinski recently? No! Under the ground!”
Finally he notices I’m not speaking, seems to realize I’m uncomfortable. He smiles and shakes his head vigorously. “I do not hate Americans! Not Americans or British or French. I do not hate people. Only I hate the governments. It is the governments who make so many troubles. But I tell you one thing. We will have our land back, and it will be by force. Not this peace. This weak peace.” He pauses to ask for more specific directions. I indicate the spot a few blocks further where I want to get out. He slows his driving and hurries to finish his reassurances. “Even though I say this, we will fight, I want to tell you: I do not hate even the Jews. If I find here a Jewish, I will not hurt him. Not even if here right now there was a Jewish. I will not hurt him. But if I see him in battle, then I will kill him. Because one day the land will be ours again.”
“God’s blessings upon you,” I say in Arabic, to indicate that he should stop.
“And God’s blessings upon you! God’s blessings upon you,” he says, smiling at me. I close the door and he drives away.