War is not banal? The Middle East is not banal? This headline is frightening and too close to the reality of 1967.
In 1967 I was a starry-eyed women (or girl) headed from Amsterdam, first to the South of France, and onward South. In Lugano (Ticino, Switzerland) where I was meeting some retired friends (escapees from Nazi Germany), I met a fleeing man from Aden. In 1967, Aden was still a country. Today it is a region of Yemen.
|Aden and Yemen (Middle East overview)|
The young man, barely older than me, held his passport firmly in his hand. It read, "Landlord." Now he was landless, alone and on his way North as I headed into the fray South. He had friends in Lugano and together we visited them for tea. I thought I was already in the Middle East when we arrived. Their living room was festooned with draped swaggers, and the low upholstered furnishings were mounds of carpets and huge pillows, the cups tiny silver goblets, the pastry fresh from a local downtown bakery, the very spot where I had met this young man hours earlier.
|Shoreline of Lake Lugano, Switzerland|
|Porto di Brindisi (Wikipedia)|
I learned a great deal that afternoon, enough to know that my trip South would probably end short of Brindisi, and perhaps only take me as far as Rome.
The Middle East was on fire. This young man, let's call him Aaron, was Jewish, a landowner's son, and escaping the war that surrounded his land and his country. Living in a country that was (and remains) predominantly Arab, it was no longer safe for him to remain, as Israel fought its neighbours on all sides and Jews would not be very welcome. The Jewish Diaspora in Arab countries is little known, but this war certainly aided in its expansion and the expulsion of the remaining Arab Jewish people.
|Lago Lugano (Switzerland)|
What I learned is about war first hand, not in a history book. Moreover what they shared contrasted and diverged sharply from the imaginative mind of the 20-odd year old I was who thought that fighting a war was a grand adventure. These Arab Jews from Aden and/or Yemen were retreating from mayhem. What had earlier influenced my idea of war was the shared experiences of the brave men and women I knew in Holland who had fought in the underground, and although many were visibly scarred, continued to espouse the virtue of the fight as if we all had and were living in Leon Uris ' "Exodus." My principal role model was James, who at the start of World War II was 17-1/2 and less than five feet, six inches tall. Although a Belgian national and Jewish, he volunteered and was accepted into the US Army, survived the war on many fronts, and proceeded to go on to become the director of a prestigious medical publishing foundation. During these years James was my primary mentor and father figure.
Now a day doesn't go by without an article about the Middle East, and it does unnerve me.
Then this in at the Washington Post: a bleary headline to chill me on this already chilly day.