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.


  1. Dear Khulud:

    Quite a tight spot here. So many issues here and I must say that you are quite brave dealing with so many things. Maria just chose to see one aspect. I don't blame her either. It again boils down to basic human instinct of trust and fear. I still cannot understand the conflict completely as I am in a place which is "safe" but the situation above goes beyond that. I'm glad you stood by what you thought was fine.

    Joy always,

  2. Hey Susan,

    No, I don't blame Maria either for being upset. But I do think that in any situation where someone breaches a trust or breaks a promise, the very least the person who was affected could do is ask for explanation or clarification. Maria didn't do that - but I am not angry at her. This was her choice and she has to be content with it. I know that when someone breaks a promise to me - which actually happens quite a lot - I get hurt, but I approach the person and demand an explanation. Only after I receive the explanation and get all the facts surrounding the incident I can make an informed decision regarding my relationship with that person. Makes sense, no?


  3. What first jumps out at me is the second-rate/second-class status of the person who is expected to attend, and wonder if Maria would have reacted to a US or French person in the same way.

    Second: like so many, I have had the experience of being detained and interrogated in Israel, it is frightening and anger-inspiring: frankly, I admire the self-control of Palestinians. This leads me both to understand your concern for your daughter (the wait, the uncertainty, the obligation perhaps to have to deal with vouching for a foreigner when she herself as a minor and a Palestinian woman is not securely placed), but also to understand Maria's upset. I think perhaps I would have been angry and upset too, even though I have also been to Israel and Palestine and am also perfectly capable of catching trains in places where I do not speak the language (although not so much a problem in urban Israel where so many speak English).

    What I do not understand is why Maria did not want an explanation from you. Even angry, that is the first thing I would want. I would want my friend to let me know what happened, why things didn't work out. Yet it is also entirely possible that I would not have been angry at all but rather worried for you and your daughter instead. What disturbs me is that I cannot tell you for sure which reaction I would have had. The ethical, logical reaction would be to feel concern for your daughter and wonder what miscommunication had happened. But we are not always ethical or logical.

    I am writing this from France, where the debate over the occupation of Palestine has been very polarised for a long time (even more so than in the Anglo world, possibly because of the long and painful history of both Jewish and Arabo-Muslim minorities in France). Worse, it has become imbricated since 2001-2 with the headscarf and now burqa debate in France, with very very many manipulations and dishonesties from both the Jewish and Muslim religious right, and with very little space at all for secular feminist voices who denounce both support for the Israeli state and the often horrendous antisemitism that parades as support for Palestine here.

    It has almost got to the point where it is impossible to have a sensible feminist conversation about it. I received an email from a feminist about the 'fantasised' poverty of Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories and sent her a very angry reply, pointing out that there is ample evidence, including that I have seen with my own eyes, of the poverty and daily humiliation of Palestinians; then I get accused of antisemitism of course. The other day I spoke at a conference in England, in reaction to a stupid cultural relativist pro-hijab white French man, who had made a careless association between a right-wing Zionist organisation and 'the Jewish community' in France, about the horrible antisemitism in France that hides behind support for Muslim minorities and for Palestine (even Muslim feminists have spoken out about it, it has become truly awful); of course I then get accused of being pro-Israel and using accusations of antisemitism to fuel anti-Muslim racism (this does happen of course, but it was not the point I was making).

    Such conversations become so heated and very tied up with people’s personal guilt or anger or hurt or resentment or desire to impress (or advance a career) or sometimes simply naivety. They remind me, yet again, of the level of visceral reaction within them, where one cannot see complexity, and can only react, like your friend perhaps, in some pre-programmed way. We are all made up of so many fears and tensions and indeed selfishnesses.

    It does bring home to me the fact that, as you say, oppression (not just the occupation, but also oppression of women and how we internalise it and use it against each other) shapes our day to day in often imperceptible ways - worse, in ways that become so 'normalised' that the connections between them and structures of domination disappear.


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