“Zamzam water is known to heal...”
“Ayy!” Ibtisam winced, pressing her hand to her head.
Something had flown through the window and struck her near her temple. Sticky, dark brown liquid splattered her black hijab, sprayed across the dashboard, and dribbled onto my mother and me, sprinkling Yuval, Eitan, and Ahmed in the back seat.
“Mommy, we got wet!” cried Yuval. Though I did not turn around, I could feel his stare boring into the back of my head, clamoring for an explanation.
Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a rust-red can perched upright on the floor of the front seat. I picked it up: “Cristal Cola,” it read, in Hebrew and English letters. It was dented, chilled—and still half-full.
Someone had intended to drink the soda until he or she saw our car and its passengers, and decided to hurl it at us instead. I glanced at three Palestinian teenagers congregating outside Ibrahimieh College, but paid them little heed. Had the provocateur targeted me? Or had the assailant aimed at Ibtisam, who was more visible at the window, for fraternizing with me? Or had he aimed at both of us? Was it an indiscriminate act by a bored hoodlum, or was it spurred by clashes that morning between the Israel Defense Forces and Palestinian worshipers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque?
Shocked by the unprovoked violence, everyone in the car grew quiet. After a few moments, Yuval broke the silence.
“Mommy, why did that guy throw cola at us?”
At first, my inclination was to protect my children.
“Someone got confused and made a mistake.”
But the words rang hollow as soon as they came out of my mouth. My husband and I tried to model and teach tolerance. Would explaining my relationship with Ibtisam and Ahmed undermine its authenticity? Would clarifying the situation make my children stereotype Palestinians or fear going to East Jerusalem?
A stronger voice inside dictated: Tell them the truth.
“Some people don’t want Jewish Israelis and Palestinians to connect. They don’t like it. So they do things that are not nice.”
Through the rearview mirror, I studied my children’s faces. They seemed to be studying mine.
“But we disagree. We don’t choose our friends based on things like whether they are Israeli or Palestinian. We choose our friends because we like them and care about them. Ibtisam and I just like each other. That’s why we're going to keep on being friends.”
And then, in a heartbeat, “Yes!”
Ibtisam. Ahmed. My mom. Three voices, in unison, resolute.
That moment affirmed that Ibtisam and I share something more visceral and fundamental than our big personalities and breast-cancer-diagnosis-while-nursing. When it comes to relationships, neither one of us backs down, even when the threat is real.
Nobody spoke for the rest of the five-minute drive. Ibtisam massaged her head with her palm, tightening her brow. I pulled over across from the stores on Salah al-Din street. Ahmed hurried out. Ibtisam walked around to my side to say goodbye. This time, we didn’t hug, out of fear of getting hit again.