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36 Years after Maalot
By Anisa Mehdi — (Fulbright Scholar, Amman, Jordan)/May 15, 2010
In the month of May many people celebrate Israeli Independence and grieve al Nakba; they lament ongoing violence and fear the next strike. Times have not changed much since the sad spring of 1974. The 26th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel was bloodied by attacks on the towns of Kiryat Shmona and Maalot in the north. Forty
Israelis were killed by Palestinians; 27 villagers and refugees were killed and 130 wounded in south Lebanon in retaliation.
I was 17 at the time and had finally been made principal flute in the New York City All City High School Orchestra. As daughter of the city’s best-known Arab, Dr. Mohammad T. Mehdi, champion of Palestinians and challenger to American policy in the region, I struggled though lots of prejudice to prove my talent. A “blind audition” secured me the chance to solo in Claude Debussy’s “L’après-midi d’un faune.” Every flute player longs for that opportunity. My chance was the night of May 16, 1974.
The attacks happened the day before the concert. Teenagers, like us, were taken hostage. They were killed as Israeli troops came to rescue them.
My teachers, fellow musicians and the conductor already knew my father’s politics.
Everyone recognized his voice from myriad television and radio news programs. Back in the day when Muslims were on a back burner and “Arab” was the prefix for “terrorist,” M. T. Mehdi’s was the lone voice protesting the plight of Palestinians. Reporters knew that Dr. Mehdi would provide context to acts of violence. He reminded audiences that
Palestinians, an exiled people, still longed for their homeland and that some would keep fighting to get it back. He did not condone their methods: hostage taking and airline hijackings. But, he asked rhetorically with his Iraqi accent, what do Americans expect when our bombs and bombers, under the command of Israeli pilots, are devastating south
Lebanon and the occupied territories? Stop supplying Israel he implored our government. Show compassion for Palestinian refugees, he urged the American people.
Once their dilemma is righted the Israelis will be able to live in peace.
Today most people acknowledge that until there is resolution for Palestine there will be no peace for Israel. My father’s message in the 1960s and 1970s was way ahead of its time. Decades ago he was called anti-Semitic and extreme but by the time he died, oh! so suddenly in my arms on a cold February day in 1998, he was heralded as a moderate that
also appreciated the quandary faced by Israeli Jews.
“The Afternoon of a Faun” was programmed just after intermission. As usual, a representative of the Board of Education came on stage at intermission. Typically this was the moment for a litany of thank you’s. Not this time.
Nearly 100 high school musicians sat behind the drawn curtain at Avery Fisher Hall and listened.
“Everyone knows about the tragedy that happened yesterday in Israel. I ask all of you to please stand for a moment of silence, out of respect for the 21 children who lost their lives at the hands of Arab terrorists.”
The room rumbled into a thousand people starting to stand as a shout rang out, filling the hall.
“Golda did it!”
He meant that the children wouldn’t have died if Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir had not ordered troops onto the scene opening fire. He meant she should have pursued negotiations. He meant other things I didn’t understand back then but, in fact, I didn’t hear a word. I only knew it was his voice and so did everyone on the stage around me.
Instantly my heart boomed so loudly I thought it would echo in the timpani. I grabbed for air, scratched for breath. I took my flute and made my way off the stage, desperate for composure. Gabriel Kosakoff, our conductor and a man who abhorred my father, came to my side.
“Are you OK?”
“Give me a minute.”
Out front people were confused. My proper Canadian grandmother was ashen; my choir director, crimson. Mom was stoic and my sisters were mortified.
The audience settled down. I returned to my chair. Maestro resumed his podium and looked at me: when you’re ready.
All that mattered was the music, the magic, the beauty.
I mustered everything I had. I played for my friends who believed in me, for my brave family, for the father I adored and hated right then, for everyone who wanted me to fail, and for those poor, innocent kids who were killed and the people killed in retribution.
Thirty-six years later, as Israel celebrates is 62nd birthday, the tragedy or victory of 1948 continues to count its victims in lives and livelihoods every day. My heart races knowing more Ma’alots and Gazas are in store. I play my flute and take up my pen, hoping the call of the faun may one day trump its hunters.
(Anisa Mehdi is a Fulbright Scholar in Amman, Jordan. She can be reached at email@example.com or www.anisamehdi.com.)
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Ray Hanania is an award winning political and humor columnist who analyzes American and Middle East politics, and life in general. He is an author of several books.
"I write about three topics, the Middle East, politics and life in general. I often take my life experiences and offer them in an entertaining way to readers, and I take on the toughest topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict and don't pull any punches about what I feel is fair. But, my priority is always about writing the good story."
Hanania covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).
Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, and at www.TheArabDailyNews.com, www.TheDailyHookah.com and at SuburbanChicagoland.com.
He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper, YNetNews.com, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.
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