Author credits father’s wisdom for helping him deal with adversity

Yourself Bashir will be speaking at the Jewish Book Festival on Tuesday, Nov. 5 at 7 p.m.  

By Repps Hudson, Special to the Jewish Light

Simply stated, Yousef Bashir’s memoir “The Words of My Father: Love and Pain in Palestine” is worth reading because the attitude of this Palestinian from an old, established Gaza family is not what we might expect, given his experiences during the Second Intifada (September 2000-February 2005).

Rather than a predictable diatribe against the Israeli occupation and Israel Defense Forces soldiers, Yousef, a member of the Palestinian Diplomatic Delegation to the United States who was educated in Boston area universities, is far more tactful.

Israeli soldiers’ offenses against his family and him, including being shot in the back when a teenager for no apparent reason and being partly paralyzed, were severe when Israelis occupied Gaza and protected Jewish settlers during the bloody Palestinian uprising.

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Yet Yousef writes in an understated way about this life-changing event. He quotes his father, who held him as they were driven to a Gaza hospital: “They [the Israeli soldiers] know well I am a civilian and peace-loving. I have never been any danger to them. On the contrary I have always called for tolerance. I have experienced suffering at their hands. Every night they imprison me in my house in one room. Three years ago, in April 2001, they threw a grenade into my house and I had to be taken to the hospital. Now they have shot two of my children. In spite of all this, I believe it is a time for tolerance. There is no time for anger. There is no time for revenge.”

The IDF left in 2005 when the late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered the soldiers out. Since then Gaza has been governed by Hamas, which continues to refuse to accept Israel’s right to exist.

For all that he and his family went through, Yousef has refused to cast harsh blame, as if he wants to make the best of a clearly troubling situation that plagued his family and the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living in Gaza.

He has modeled his attitude and life after that of his late father, Khalil Bashir, a renowned and well-respected pillar of the Palestinian community in Gaza whose roots run back generations. The Bashir family, the author tells us, was not displaced in the 1948 and 1967 wars. It had a compound at Deir El-Balah, a city roughly halfway between Gaza City at the northeastern end of the strip and Rafah City at the southwestern end next to Eqypt that was well known to Gazans.

In Yousef’s telling, his father was a remarkably equitable man in every sense of that word: fair-minded, unbiased and even-handed. A quotation from him is on the page where Yousef dedicates his book “To my fellow Palestinians struggling for peace, justice, and freedom.” He cites his father’s words: “We must not let our wounded memory guide our future.”

Because his family was not uprooted in two wars, Yousef and his parents and brothers and sisters did not go through the miserable experiences of many of his fellow Palestinians. His father, a teacher who always insisted that his children get the best education possible, set a life-long example for his children. Yousef in particular took his father’s words to heart. 

When Israeli soldiers took over their house and confined the Bashir family to one or two rooms, they destroyed the olive trees and palm trees and outbuildings and animals belonging to the established Gazan family. As the IDF occupation, triggered by the Palestinian uprising and need for security for Jewish settlements in Gaza, continued, Yousef describes how the soldiers shot the family’s white donkey and the palm trees.

“The soldiers shot everywhere,” he writes. “they shot at the air. They shot at the house. They shot in all directions, sometimes aiming at the palm trees. Palm trees are like humans. They can live for a long time. The only way a palm tree can die is if its heart stops. The soldiers would snipe at the hearts of the palm trees. After a few days, the trees would dry out and crumble….

“I would sit at the front of the house and look at the sunset, listening to the soldiers shooting at things. They were probably as bored as I was, but I had to learn to ignore it.”

To add insult to injury, when the Israeli soldiers left in 2005, Yousef writes, his father later told him what they did: “ ‘The night before they left,’ he said, ‘they took all your mother’s cooking pots from the kitchen…. The next day after they had gone, we found all the pots up on the top floor placed around the walls. Each with a pile of human excrement inside.’”                                            

When he was shot and with his father’s connections and the help of a German official, Yousef got treatment and a lengthy stay at Tel Hashomer Hospital in Tel Aviv. There he met and became fast friends with Israeli and Palestinian boys who broadened his horizons as he went through physical therapy toward recovery. 

Much, if not all, of Yousef’s direction in life is a tribute to his father, who asked for nothing more that to be treated fairly and to be accepted and respected by Israelis. This beautifully written book, full of wisdom and generosity, is an apt remembrance from a grateful son to an exemplary father.