I didn’t know him. But, I knew his father. Or it might be better to say that I saw his father. He was The night watchman at the American International School of Gaza. A very old man with a smiling open face. I was watching him greet the teachers one morning when I realized that he would never leave the Strip. No passport, wrong passport, relative of a fugitive, whatever. There are thousands and thousands of people trapped in Gaza for various reasons. This old man was just one on them. That weekend, I was thinking of him when I visited the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. I bought a set of prayer beads at one of the stalls along the Via d,La Rosa. Back in Gaza, there he was greeting us at the begining of our next school day. I pressed the beads into his hands and got the idea across with my poor Arabic: “Al Haram Sharif” and “Al Quds”. He got the idea. His eyes teared a little and he thanked me. Maybe it helped.
That was four years ago. I finished my teaching year and came home. I heard that the old man died a couple of years after that. But before he died, he managed to give his job to his son Salem Mohammad. So it was the son who was on duty the morning of January 3rd at 4:00 AM when the bombs came. The F16’s come in low and fast in Gaza. As a practical matter there is no time to react. And there are constant flyovers, so Salem Mohammed probably didn’t even look up in the few moments he did have. And why should he? He was guarding the American School, the one building in Gaza that the Israelis had promised not to attack..
The American International School in Gaza was reduced to rubble and is no more. In the debris somewhere they found the body of Salem Mohammed Abu Kalik age 24. I wonder what became of the prayer beads?
The Buffalo Activist May 2009