A two minute talk with Alaa

Posted on August 10, 2006

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I got online today hoping to find my friend Vishal online, instead I see a green light next to my friend Alaa’s name. I said, ok whilst I wait for Vishal, I might as well talk to my buddy Alaa…

Alaa is a Palestenian Arab who lives in Akko, modern day Israel. Alaa is Palestenian, and I met him through an exchange programme in February. I remember the first time I chatted with him. A sweet cherubic face, he sent me his picture…and I was a little surprised and frankly more than a little shaken by his reality, by his passion…He spent fifteen days online with me educating me by sending me articles and pictures of erstwhile Palestine…from Jerusalem and Akko in the 19th century and so on…

I met Alaa, in person, on 15th February 2006…we met like long lost pals, we met like two people who have known each other from many births…we had a connection. I still remember the night that my friend Vipin, Alaa and I spent in a room in the India Habitat Center discussing the ethos of the Israel and Palestine conflict…I remember how for the first time I heard the story of the people which was not like a newsflash or a bulletien at 9.00 PM, that many a times I used to switch off in irritation thinking why the news channels did not find something pleasent to broadcast…but I distinctly remember that night, how something within me changed…how every news on Palestine would never be the same for me ever again…

I called Alaa tonight in hope to talk to make some idle talk…but he picked my call and said…I am surprised you called, things are crazy here…I said why…I have never heard is voice terrified…I have heard him angry, naughty, passionate, crisp and business like and shaking with emotion when he cries…but never terrified…and today it sounded terrified…I asked him what was going on…I knew what it was, but somehow hearing from him made me swallow it, accept it, and then shake with anger, fear and helplessness… Haifa in Israel is where Alaa works, and today it has begun to be hit by Lebanese rockets…Lebanon lashing back after Israel literally almost wiped it out from the face of this earth…Alaa told me that he could see smoke, and he could hear the rockets land…he was trying to call his friends who did not answer his calls, he was troubled…

he was helpless… War…to me it isn’t about the Muslims in Gujarat, or the Palestineans in Gaza and Westbank or the Lebanese…it is about the people, and this is what Alaa made me realise…I worry for him, I worry for his friends who are people I many never meet in my life…But I worry…just knowing one person in a distant far off almost fathomic place has awakened this feeling in me of dread, anger and cold helplessness about the futile nature of human beings for power and wealth and territory…I cannot even encompass in words in my limited vocabulary about what I heard in Alaa’s voice today, but I know like February 15th 2006, something inside me has changed forever…

In between all this, he had the time to ask me if I was alright, he had heard about the bombings in Mumbai…I was almost guilty that I had spent the evening galavanting with my room-mate for that perfect birthday dress for her…I cannot imagine how he had spent his day today…I compared the freedom I had, that I took for granted, that I swear I will fight for if ever under siege; to a freedom that has no place to escape to…a freedom kept captive in the heart of the people who live each day without food and water even sometimes…and in that moment, I just wanted to be right there with him, and hold his hand…

I remember the exercise we had during the exchange, where we were asked to name the 3 identities that we most identified as individuals…Alaa had said Palestenian, Arab and Human being…and I had said Human Being, Woman and Social Worker…The explanation to the exercise was that we named, albeit unconsciously, those identities which we found most often challenged…and today, after that chat, it all made perfect sense to me… I tried very hard to end this with a positive message that would inspire me and my friends, but I cannot, for I hear Alaa’s voice ringing in my ears…for all that he left unsaid…and all that will be left unsaid…I wish Allah to protect him today…and give him the strength to be the strength for his people…!

For Alaa and all the people he loves…You are in my prayers…

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