An Iraqi and Israeli Iraqi

In 1982, I was among a group of Yarmouk University Jordanian students who were attending The First Arab Youth and Environment meeting in Cairo. Delegates from several Arab countries came and we felt the Egyptians just wanted another meeting in Cairo to say the Arabs have forgotten Camp David and they are back to our bosoms. Cairo post-Camp David agreement had some Israeli tourists and we happened to share a hotel (The Nile Hotel; Nasser days grand thing) with a small group of them. A police officer was stationed in the lobby and I saw that he escorted them on their bus tours. One day after the sessions, we stopped at the Lobby desk for the keys, and this couple who looked like they are typical Middle Easterners in their mid 50s, were curious and started chatting. I said I am from Jordan. They said they were originally from Baghdad and I remember the name Souq El Shurjeh came up. Israeli Jews of Arab origin. Wow! The woman was talking in a nostalgic if not sad tone and concluded by saying “Inshallah Yeseer Salam” [Inshallah there will be peace] and we get to visit Iraq again. A little Iraqi delegate was reading the newspaper and obviously listening to the discourse but was not saying much till then. He interrupted her by shouting “La Salam w La Kalam. Nelteqi Weyakum Ala El Jabhah.” [No peace (or greetings); no words between us. We meet at the front]. Dead silence. I was between shocked that he was so direct and mean to a couple of tourists who were being just polite or shooting the breeze; and between admiring the fancy words of combat “no words. we meet at the front.”

I went back to my room. Minutes later, the door knocks. It was the other Iraqi delegate. He worked (I can’t remember his name now, Dr. Khalid?) with the Iraqi Red Crescent. He was attending the meeting because at that time “environment” or “ecology” or “recycling” were totally new concepts. Anyway, a nice, older man, who wore glasses and has a fair complexion that for sure, not the typical Iraqi. He was staying in a room on my floor. He had a box of Iraqi sweets in his hand and he said I want to ask you a favor. I said sure. He said, please keep this between us. Can you go and offer some of the sweets to the couple who just talked to us? I was puzzled. Why don’t you go and offer them yourself? He said “Aini” [my eye or dear friend] the guy who shouted at them today is the [Iraqi] intelligence guy they sent with us. If he sees me talking to these tourists, that will be a very bad thing! He said: please, just offer them some. They will like it, they mentioned Souq El Shurjeh! We knew they were 3 doors or more down the corridor. I did. They loved the gesture. I don’t remember if they asked who offered it but I remember them recognizing the sweets. Men El Sama in Arabic? something like a white Nougat with cardamom? I thought to myself. Peace is possible. No matter how many nut jobs each side has. Human spirit will prevail at the end.

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