From Chicken Soup for the Jewish Soul

A Ray of Peace

The Torah was given to the world in order to establish peace.


I was talking with a young field service engineer, who I was working with on a perplexing computer-related problem. We were discussing Steven Spielberg’s movie, Saving Private Ryan, and I mentioned that it had brought up too many real memories about battle. He agreed, and asked me, “Where did you get hurt?”

“Over there, in Israel,” I said.

“Me, too.”

He then revealed that he was a Palestinian. My new friend, whom I shall call “Riyadh” (not his real name) then told me how he came to be in the United States. The following story is his, as he told it to me.

Riyadh was born in the Old City of Jerusalem, one of four children. He had an older brother and two sisters. His father, a successful environmental engineer, moved his growing family out to the suburbs when Riyadh was a toddler, and he remembers his childhood in Ramallah fondly. In a very matter-of-fact way he told me that one day in 1982, while on his way home from school, he had been shot by an Israeli soldier. There had been a street demonstration going on at the time, people were running all over the place and there was a lot of confusion. Passersby rushed the wounded youth, bleeding profusely, to his parents’ home. He was seen by a local Palestinian doctor, who was unable to do more than apply a field dressing to stop the bleeding. But the doctor quickly arranged for him to be transported in a Red Cross car through the mountains to a hospital in Jordan, where he was assessed to be in critical condition. Once stabilized, Riyadh was flown out of the country secretly to a hospital in Turkey. Because of the difficult situation in his homeland, and the fact that he had departed illegally, he could not return. And so, sponsored by a Palestinian doctor in Texas, he sought political asylum and was admitted to the United States.

After recovering from his wounds, the local Palestinian community placed him in a boarding school, near a university in Texas. Now older and alone, and half a world away from home, Riyadh entered the world of American teenagers. Differences in language and customs made his first year in school difficult, but he learned very quickly.

After time in school, Riyadh faced an uncertain future. His parents urged him to stay in the United States until the situation at home calmed down. Though his visa was for only a short duration, he applied for admission to a school of engineering in Texas.

About a week after being admitted, he received a letter summoning him to a meeting with the dean of students. Riyadh was worried, wondering what the dean could possibly want with him. He was quite uncomfortable during the meeting. The dean stared at him, but also acted in a very fatherly and concerned way, inquiring whether he was happy there, and whether there was anything he could do for him.

“Well, my visa is very short,” Riyadh told the dean.

“No problem, I will get it extended for the full four-year term of university,” replied the dean. “Is there anything else you need?”

Riyadh alluded to his financial situation, and was then surprised by an offer of a full scholarship. After further prompting by the dean, Riyadh admitted that he didn’t really have any place to live, and he had no income. On the spot, the dean offered him a position as a systems administrator, which would afford him a place to live and a small stipend.

With his college years thus assured, yet completely baffled as to how it had all happened, Riyadh began his higher education.

After two months, the dean again sent for him, making it clear that he had something he had to tell Riyadh.

Once Riyadh was in his office, the dean told him that he knew him; he knew who he was, he had recognized his name from his application to the university.

Riyadh was puzzled. The dean knew him? Recognized his name? How could that be possible?”

“Riyadh,” said the dean, “I am the soldier who shot you.”

As Riyadh, amazed and stunned, listened, the dean went on to relate his own story to the student. Joel (not his real name) was born in Brooklyn, and had emigrated with his parents to Israel as a child.

When he was grown, he signed up for his period of duty in the Israeli army. When he and his fellow soldiers were sent to restore order after a demonstration had turned violent, he found himself in a very dangerous situation. Rocks were being thrown, and the situation was getting out of hand. He fired his rifle in what he believed was an act of self-defense. Fate decreed that the bullet hit young Riyadh.

When Joel learned later that he had shot a young Palestinian boy, he was deeply distressed. His fellow soldiers tried to console him, saying that sometimes unfortunate things do happen in violent street confrontations, as well as in war. He should not blame himself.

But Joel needed to find out what had happened to the kid he shot. Once he learned Riyadh’s name, he went straight to his parents’ home to inquire about him, and to apologize. Riyadh’s parents were very old-fashioned, and would not even speak to Joel; his father threw him out of the house.

Joel continued to feel personal anguish over what he had done, even though he still believed he was at the time acting in self-defense. But that didn’t make any difference. After some time, he and his family decided to return to the country of his birth and make a new start.

Back in the United States, Joel went on to complete his graduate degree, and find a job with a college in Texas.

As he listened to the amazing story unfold, Riyadh felt a mixture of emotions: hate, love, loneliness. He thought of an old expression in Arabic, describing someone who slaps you with his right hand and straightens your hat with his left hand.

When Joel had finished his story, the Palestinian and the former Israeli soldier, now colleagues at an American university in Texas, looked at each other for a moment. Then they reached out, shook hands and embraced in an act of reconciliation and friendship. In an instant, that terrible moment when a stray Israeli bullet ripped into a Palestinian boy was redeemed. Time had wound its full circle, what was sundered had been united, and a ray of peace beamed out to the Holy Land from a far-off country called America.

Rabbi Harvey Abramowitz

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