George E. Bisharat
I am the son of a Palestinian father. Through countless stories about his family, I absorbed the ethic that the strong must help the less fortunate.
My grandfather, Hanna Ibrahim Bisharat -- "Papa" to us -- was fluent in Arabic, English, French, German and Turkish and had studied agriculture in Switzerland before World War I. He began introducing mechanized farming to Palestine and dreamed of establishing his own agriculture school. During World War I, our family harbored Australian and New Zealander soldiers who, while fighting the Turks in Palestine, were caught behind enemy lines. They offered refuge to a Syrian sheik who was fleeing powerful enemies. During the riots in Palestine in 1929, Papa sheltered Jewish friends in his stately home in the Talbiyeh quarter of West Jerusalem. Little did he expect that this home would be expropriated in 1948 and serve as the home of Golda Meir -- she of the famous quip that the Palestinian people "did not exist."
Christian soldiers, a Muslim sheik, Jewish neighbors -- they were all human beings in need, and we were blessed to be able to help them.
My Palestinian family, in its tradition of compassion and hospitality, is not exceptional. During my last trip to the West Bank, I met a man whose parents had been driven out of what became Israel in 1948 and had settled in the Balata refugee camp outside Nablus. The Friday before, as he was taking his son to prayer, an Israeli tank suddenly wheeled into their empty street, spewing heavy machine-gun fire. The man saw his son stumble, then plunge face first into the stairs ahead of him. When the father reached him, the boy had swallowed his teeth and blood blossomed across his shirt. Within minutes he turned blue, his internal organs destroyed. Amid Abu Sayr, age 7, died before reaching the hospital. No protests nor disturbances had preceded this incident, and no one could explain the tank gunner's zeal.