The thought had crossed my mind at the dinner table at the house of a Palestinian professor of history Tamari’s on Wednesday evening. On one side of the table was my head of department, and on the other was Reham the Egyptian. Joyce, the oldest, was American, and I am you-already-know-what. The head of department, had just made a startling confession: her parents were German Jews who fled from Germany in 1939, first to Canada, and then to the United States. The confession, in its ordinariness, however brought a new dimension to a conversation on history, the commonness of our humanity, and migration.
Where are the Jews originally from? I don’t know. But now they occupy the Palestinian region as a Jewish state of Israel. They used to live all over Europe and the Middle East however. Sitting down there trying to get it all in, here was what my brain was trying to process: Jews in Europe were gassed in millions and some managed to flee to other parts of the world, adopting a new nationality and a new home. (Well, not quite. Belinda has confessed to have felt a certain homeliness anytime she visits Germany, in spite of the contradictions of the occasional meeting with descendants of people who just a couple of decades ago could have murdered her parents or sent them to the gas chamber.) As a result of their new nationalities, these travellers have become a new people: Americans. Not even a Jewish Americans or an American Jew, she is every inch American albeit with a certain longing for the beauty of Germany. Had Hitler not begun killing, she probably would not have been born, or she might not have been born in the United States. And there won’t have been the State of Israel, perhaps, and the displacement of the Palestinian people. But now, she’s no longer German. She wasn’t born in Germany; nor is she really Jewish. She doesn’t practice Judaism. Alright.
Now, our host professor is Palestinian. His people are killed in hundreds every day in Gaza and parts of Israel by Jewish descendants of some other kinds of survivors from the pogrom of 1940 Europe. A sign at the entrance to his house says “No more war” or something to that effect. He is one of the softly-spoken people I’ve ever met. Brilliant and level-headed. He is a professor of history and he is as knowledgeable in the Palestinian cause as he is in the subject of the Jewish holocaust. Had he lived in Palestine or Israel today, he could have been killed by suicide bombers, or the Jewish state soldiers for looking like a terrorist, or arrested for being outspoken. Had Hiltler not started killing Jews in Europe, he could also have been born and raised in Palestine, living there till old age, and not ever having to have migrated to the United States, or meeting someone like Belinda, or myself.
Of course, if instead of coming to the West, Belinda’s parents had instead gone with the other right-wing folks who founded the State of Israel, she would by now have become a descendant of the right-wing Jews now occupying government in Israel today, occupying lands, persecuting people shooting Palestinians some of who might be related to Tamari. Just sitting there in their midst brought to me a new sense of amazement, at how something as little as migration could have changed the course of history.