Ali had been there since the start of the war, October 7th. He had also crossed the border into Israel with the first wave of attackers and had seen a lot of Jews killed but he hadn’t killed anyone.
He had shouted ‘Long live Allah!’ and waved his gun and shot it in the air as he helped corral some hostages that had then been dragged back into Gaza, but he did not take a single life.
For that he had his friend Tarif to thank.
Tarif was his closest friend ever. They were both now 18 and had grown up together in Gaza but 4 years before, Qasim, Tarif’s uncle in Germany, had asked his mother if Tarif could go live with him in Berlin.
Tarif’s mother had cried when she had got the offer. She had cried because she didn’t want to let him go but cried, too, because she knew it was best for her son.
So Tarif went to live with his uncle Qasim.
Ali and Tarif had promised each other to keep in touch and they had done so. They spoke on the phone once a week, sometimes more.
What struck Ali was how different their lives had become. Tarif was learning so many more things. And after school he could do various sports or take art classes or spend time in a computer lab. And on weekends he’d go to the movies or on short trips to the countryside with his uncle and his family.
It was a world of difference, thought Ali. For him, after-school was instruction on how to handle a weapon. How to take it apart and put it back together, taking target practice and listening to a Hamas instructor on the duty they all had to reconquer Palestine, kick out the occupying Jews.
After all, hadn’t Muslims reigned over all those territories for centuries and centuries? Hadn’t Muslims spread West and taken over Spain?
Muslims were the real chosen and it was up to them to regain their preeminent status in the world. What right did the Jews have to now come and take their land?
Gazans were destined to lead the Arab world back to its glory days.
Tarif would listen to Ali’s account of what he was learning and feel sorry for his friend.
And he would add, ‘I wish you could get out and come live with us. I’ve spoken to uncle Qasim about it.’
‘I can’t leave my mother alone,’ Ali would reply, ‘she has no one but me.’
‘Do you have a girlfriend?’ he once asked of Tarif. And Tarif answered he had and that it was a wonderful thing to happen to a young person. And Ali would listen and feel bad that he had yet to have a girlfriend in his life and sometimes thought he…