12 June 2010
Breaking a Promise - Refusing to Apologize
I’ve been putting off writing about the following issue, as it’s been very difficult for me emotionally. This is to all my friends who don’t live in an armed-conflict zone and who have no idea how the conflict gets under our skins, affecting all areas of our daily lives.
Someone dear to me was coming from England to visit, and we arranged for my daughter to come wait for her at the airport. She was arriving at around 19:00, which was already quite late.
Getting to the airport from Haifa is quite easy by train, which takes about an hour and 20 minutes, and it goes all the way to the airport. So of course I was a bit worried about my 15 year old daughter traveling alone, but not too much. I had everything arranged – meeting point for them, telephone numbers, exact instructions for my daughter, etc.
And then, as life happens to unfold, something unexpected happened. The woman arriving (let’s call her Maria for the sake of convenience here), sent us a text message from the London airport that the plane is one hour behind schedule. This one seemingly insignificant hour threw me off balance (this is the whole point of this post, so bear with me and read to the end. I need to get the facts out of the way first before I start dealing with the conflict and how it’s connected to this). I immediately sent her a text message that my daughter will not come to pick her up, but apparently the message was lost in cyber-space and did not reach its destination.
Needless to say, and understandably, Maria reached Tel Aviv and was surprised that my daughter wasn’t there waiting for her. (Just for clarification: Maria knows her way around Israel, she’s been here several times and knows how to arrive by train on her own, which she did in the past).
So Maria arrived in Haifa alone by train, my father and my daughter were waiting for her at the Haifa train station. I didn’t come to the train station because when she arrived in Tel Aviv, she called us and said that she didn’t want to see me. Why? Because I promised that my daughter would wait for her and I broke my promise. Simple logic.
Upon arrival at my parents’ house, she attacked me, screaming between her tears that I am selfish and that I broke my promise. (I was also accused of playing the victim – but to this day this remains a mystery to me. I’ve never played the victim in my life, nor do I see myself a victim in any way.) I was not allowed to explain why I decided not to let my daughter come to the airport. I told Maria that when she is ready to hear my explanation, I am here and willing to explain. Throughout her whole stay in Haifa, she did not approach me once to demand an explanation.
Now back to the reason why and how it’s connected to the conflict. The one hour delay in the plane schedule – as I already said – threw me off balance. Different scenarios began running through my head. Many times, foreigners coming to Israel would be delayed by security forces for anywhere between 1-4 hours upon arrival. Recently, a German woman coming to do her internship at Isha L’Isha was taken to an investigation room and held there for 3 hours. The famous Spanish clown, Ivan Prado, was recently detained for six hours at the airport, following which he was denied entry and put on a return flight to Spain. More recently, the great linguist Noam Chomsky was not allowed entry either. Last month, Druze women who received permits from the Ministry of Interior to visit their relatives in Syria were denied entry back into Israel, of which they are citizens. The Occupation is built on arbitrariness. This very arbitrariness is a systemic policy designed to instill chaos into our lives.
I didn’t want my daughter to wait at the airport into the night. Another image – that of my daughter being beaten up on the bus by a grown woman just because she spoke Arabic on the phone – also came to my mind. Acts of violence on a racist basis have become rather the norm than the exception in Israel. I didn’t want to expose my daughter to unnecessary risks. This is my right as her mother. And nobody can take this right away from me.
I was asked to apologize, but I refused. I refuse to apologize for a decision that I made and for which I take full responsibility. It does hurt me that I didn’t get the opportunity to explain my decision. Looking back, I would have made the same decision again.
So if I am selfish by protecting my daughter, so be it. No, I can’t protect her forever from the conflict. She will get her share of it in due course. But for now, let her enjoy being a 15 year old as much as possible.
As for Maria, in her eyes I am still selfish. She hasn’t approached me since to demand an explanation. Maybe it’s convenient for her to think in a superficial black-and-white way in terms of me breaking a promise.
Many people who think they know everything there is to know about armed conflicts disregard the fact that the conflict is inherently connected to our everyday experiences. Every day, we have to make new decisions and negotiate our personal and private spaces according to the unfolding political reality. They refuse to see these connections, because then all their clean theories (anchored in a certain type of discourse that is not applicable to us) would collapse. They refuse to see, for example, that violation of women’s health rights are – in our case – connected to the conflict as well as to socio-economic issues. But this is for another post.
And lastly, you might wonder why I initially did agree that my daughter go to the airport. Well, for the very same reason. We do our best to live as much a normal life as possible in this insane, absurd reality.