Following His Father, A Palestinian Hopes For Peace
Each week, Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin brings listeners an unexpected side of the news by talking with someone personally affected by the stories making headlines.
Yousef Bashir was 11 years old when Israeli soldiers took over his home in Gaza. His family's house was right near an Israeli settlement, and the military transformed it into a sentry post.
But Bashir's father refused to leave, out of fear he would lose his land for good. The Israelis would stay in the Bashir home for five years.
Today, the situation between Gaza and Israel remains tense. More than a dozen rockets from Gaza were fired at Israel last week, to which Israel responded with airstrikes.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas meets with President Obama at the White House on Monday in an attempt to move forward with peace talks that have been stalemated for years.
Back in 2004, when Yousef Bashir was 15, United Nations officials visited his family to check on their situation. Bashir was with his father in the front yard, seeing the officials off, when he was shot in the back by an Israeli soldier.
"I remember exactly a beautiful afternoon — blue sky, clear air — and as soon as I waved goodbye, I hear something and I felt that I was no longer able to move or even talk," Bashir tells NPR's Rachel Martin.
Bashir says it felt like it took hours to get his father's attention and for him to realize his son had just been shot. Bashir's father put him in a U.N. car and rushed to the hospital. With his father comforting him, Bashir says, he remembers apologizing for his math and English grades, saying that he would "take it seriously" if he came back.
"I literally thought I was dying because everything within me and around me started to change and felt like the world was slowing down on me," he says.
Bashir was taken to a hospital in Tel Aviv, Israel. He said it was a shock to suddenly be taken care of by people who only weeks earlier he knew as the people with guns who he had to ask for permission to watch TV or to go to the bathroom.
"But now they are surrounding me, playing with my hair [and] asking me how I am doing," he says. They ultimately saved Bashir's life.
"It was a life-changing experience that taught me how to understand my father's passion for coexistence," he says.
Israel eventually left Gaza, and Bashir's home, in 2005. In an interview with NPR at the time, Bashir's father said that this was "not a time to gloat," and that he wished "to build a new, cooperative [and] healthy" relationship with the Israelis.
In the hospital, Bashir says, his father told him that he would turn his pain into something positive and not let the bullet define how he lived his life or his future, and that is what he is trying to do today.
Bashir says it took him some time to believe in his father's values, and it had to happen the hard way. "In the end I feel very privileged that I am his son," he says.
His father passed away in 2009.
"He believed so much that one day the Palestinian people will live in peace and dignity," Bashir says, "but that will mean that everyone, including their neighbors, will be satisfied and will live in peace and dignity as well."
Yousef Bashir is currently studying for his a master's degree in Conflict and Coexistence at Brandeis University. He hopes that one day he'll become a diplomat and return home.
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.
YOUSEF BASHIR: So, with time, I started realizing that the soldiers were not going to be there for a matter of weeks or months. It just became more and more frustrating. I don't think I understood the meaning of the soldiers being in my house until I actually grew up.
MARTIN: That's the voice of Yousef Bashir. He was 11 years old when Israeli soldiers took over his home in Gaza. His family's house was right near an Israeli settlement, and the military transformed it into a sentry post. But Bashir's father refused to leave out of fear he would lose his house and his land for good. The Israelis would stay in the Bashir home for five years. Today, the situation between Gaza and Israel remains tense. This past week, an Iranian-backed armed faction has fired dozens of rockets from Gaza into Israel, which has responded with airstrikes. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas meets with President Obama at the White House tomorrow in an attempt to move forward with peace talks that have been stalled for years. Back in 2004, when Yousef Bashir was 15 years old, U.N. officials paid his family a visit to check on their situation. Bashir was with his father in the front yard seeing the officials off when he was shot in the back. Yousef says the Israeli defense forces later apologized to his family and suspended the soldier. Yousef Bashir is this week's Sunday Conversation.
BASHIR: I remember exactly a beautiful afternoon - blue sky, clear air. And as soon as I wave goodbye, I hear something and I felt that I was no longer able to move or even talk. It felt like it took me hours to get my dad's attention to look at me and realize that I just got shot. He quickly carried me and put me in the U.N. car and I remember the driver saying what happened? Why did they shoot him? And my dad and my nemesis at the time for not letting me go live with my grandmother, kept on holding my eyelashes and saying that you're going to be OK. And I started saying I'm sorry about my math grades and my English and if I come back I will take it seriously. And I literally thought that I was dying because everything within me and around me started to change and felt like the world was slowing down on me.
MARTIN: You were taken care of at a hospital in Tel Aviv. What was your experience like there? When did you realize the extent of your injuries and what was the relationship like with your caretakers?
BASHIR: I woke up in Tel Aviv. And to me that was kind of a shocking surprise because my entire life or really just weeks before, I'm used to the people who come from Israel with guns and they were the people I needed to ask for permission to open my television or go to the bathroom. But now they're surrounding me, playing with my hair, asking me how I'm doing. And I look at my father standing in the corner, and he shakes his head and says in Arabic that they were going to save my life. And eventually that's what they did. There, it was a life-changing experience. It taught me how to understand my father's passion for coexistence and the meaning when he used to say that we are all the sons of Abraham.
MARTIN: When the Israelis finally pulled out of Gaza in 2005 and left your family's home, your father was actually interviewed on NPR, and he had this to say. Let's take a listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED INTERVIEW)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And in spite of everything, if it's not time to gloat, gloating over another's grief. It is time for tolerance. I do wish the Israelis (unintelligible) with luck. I do wish to build a new cooperative, healthy relation with them.
MARTIN: It obviously must have been so hard for you when you were growing up living in this prison essentially, that in part you blamed your dad for creating. But as time passed, what kind of influence did his attitude have on you?
BASHIR: Well, it's great to finally hear his voice again. His impact began pretty much since he didn't allow me to leave the house. And when I was paralyzed at the hospital he told me that I was going to turn my pain into something positive. I was not going to let the bullet define how I live my life and my future. And that is what I am doing today. It took me some time to believe in his values and it had to happen the hard way. But in the end, I feel very privileged that I am his son, especially since he left my world in 2009 and passed away. I became even more committed to his message. Because he believed so much that one day the Palestinian people will live in peace and dignity. But that will mean that everyone, including their neighbors will be satisfied and will live in peace and dignity as well.
MARTIN: Yousef Bashir. He's studying for a master's degree in peace, conflict and coexistence at Brandeis University. He hopes one day he'll return home and work as a diplomat. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.