The Orange Ball
A war is winding down but emotional scars, in Israel and the occupied territories, do not heal with any immediacy.
Our story takes us to an ordinary park in East Jerusalem:
It was a simple ball, round in shape and Orange in color. It was highly attractive for the eight ten year old children who were gathered around it to commence a harmless game of Futball- for the innocent children the ball was the magnet. In this neck of the woods it was called Futball not Soccer. The reddish hue of Ariel’s hair was near in its tint to the ball in fact- for that matter so were the freckles dotting his face. On the other side of the small pitch, was a boy with long curly hair named Karim leading his newly found friends against Youssef’s side. To watch them from a park bench as their mothers intently did, you would think Germany was about to kick off against Argentina in the final of the World Cup. But it was only the innocence of the world’s game that had these eight boys tantalized, unaware of the violence that had wracked their land for the past three weeks.
There was nothing remotely professional about how their little feet made contact with the Orange ball. Nonetheless, within a minute the first goal had been punched- in more by divine intervention than by Karim’s tiny feet. As the action started to build and sweat started to trickle one boy fell to the ground, after another powerfully, or as powerfully as an eight year old can muster, smacked into his shoulder. There was no injury faking here on this playing field. Only a warm quick hug of apology and a resumption of innocence on the pitch. On this field sportsmanship was the natural default; you could see it in the eyes of the parents watching calmly, on opposite sides of the field, with an increasingly relaxed body language.
But fate is, more often than not, a wicked companion. Along the right flank of the pitch came Ariel barreling down and heading towards goal. The boy defending was lagging two steps behind. From behind, at an intersecting angle, with Ariel came a, surprisingly, agile Karim. His eyes weren’t focused on Ariel, per se, but instead only had the ball in his proverbial Futball camera. Ariel’s mother, Chana, as though forewarned, suddenly sprang to her feet from the park bench, trying the physically impossible: lasso her son away from impending danger. But what is meant to be will be, more so in this part of the world than other parts, it seems.
By the time the 2 boys collided Ariel was a mere seven yards away from goal. Had Karim fallen, or slowed down this tale would lack the tragedy that seems to intertwine itself with every sentence involving Israelis and Palestinians. Instead of foot meeting ball, Karim’s foot met Ariel’s knee. Within 3 seconds, upon seeing his own blood, helpless Ariel, laying prone, was wailing-not crying. Strangest of all was the reaction of the two mothers. Rather than rush to the immediate aid of the fallen boys-though Karim was getting up to aid Ariel- they both exchanged glares so menacing they could freeze professional soldiers in their place.
In that instant two things happened: Karim was standing over Ariel, clearly apologetic and trying to, innocently, pull his playmate up to comfort the boy, and at once, comfort himself. Nadia, Karim’s mother, ran with an energy she hadn’t known seen her teens to rescue her boy. Chana was no slower in making her way to her bloodied eight year old. Where the twain met the negative energy was immediate as Arabic words of comfort intermingled with Hebrew tenderness. East Jerusalem is place where Israeli Arabs and Israelis have lived side by side for decades but history, here, is not full of maternal kisses and motherly hugs. Off the Futball pitch embraces in East Jerusalem, between both sides, are as rare as snow in the Sahara in mid-August.
The two women didn’t even realize that the two boys were on the verge of resolving this mini crisis on their own. Ariel’s wailing was fading, he had taken Karim’s extended hand and was rising to his feet. Karim was smiling to him reassuringly. But flowers have difficulty growing in the desert and it would not be. Chana did not so much lift her son as she snatched him and Nadia did not hug her boy so much as ensnare him.
When you fear you cannot love. Just as abruptly as the game innocently began that is as quickly that reality struck down the brief utopia. As both mothers walked away in different directions latching protectively unto their boy’s hands only that Orange ball remained near the edge of the penalty area.
A goal had not been scored.