Friday, October 29, 2010

Muhannad's and Ilone's Cuisine

Muhannad's little restaurant sits on a corner behind St. George's Cathedral compound. He and his Russian wife, Ilone, serve delicious and inexpensive food and have become one of my favorite hangouts in Jerusalem. "Moe" welcomed me warmly back to Jerusalem and over the course of several visits told me his story, one common to many Palestinians. Moe's father had sent his younger brother, Rami, to the U.S. after a late night break-in to their home in which IDF soldiers snatched Rami from his bed, beat him in front of his parents and took him for "detainment" until he revealed the names of friends suspected of rock-throwing incidents.

In 1991, when Moe was 17 and schools had been suspended for six months, his father sent him as well to the U.S. to protect him from similar treatment during the Second Intifada. Moe continued his education in the U.S. and remained there until 2008. In 2000 Israel revoked Moe's citizenship on the basis of remaining too long in America. When he applied to the Israeli consulate to have his citizenship reinstated, they took his passport, promised him reinstatement and never contacted him again. Because he had a green card by then, Moe applied for and was granted U.S. citizenship.

Moe's return to Jerusalem, where he was born, was prompted by the need to care for his elderly parents. Moe's other brothers are in the tourist business and not available to provide the daily care his parents now need. (While I was confirming the details of this story, Moe said "I'll be back in 5". He returned about a half hour later explaining he had to get some medicine to his father.) Moe had married in the U.S. and he and his wife have a son, now 7 years old. He is petitioning the courts to have his Identification as a Jerusalem resident reinstated and has engaged an attorney to represent him for a fee of $15,000. He has been told it will likely take 3 years as his petition must be appealed all the way to the Israeli Supreme Court.

Moe told me later he has many Jewish customers who are his friends. All he wants, he says, is a chance to live like a human being, with the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else in this land. He wants to live "side by side" in freedom with his Jewish neighbors. He rejects violence. "The only way we can fight them is with peace."

A footnote to this story: On the morning Moe and his wife first told me this story, he had been driving his wife's parents to catch a 9 AM bus. An Israeli policeman who spoke neither Arabic nor English stopped him for "crossing a line" directly outside his restaurant. He was held for two hours (making it impossible for his parents-in-law to catch their bus) and fined 500 shekels).

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