Monday, March 27, 2006

An Unlikely Hero

This evening, I had the privilege to act as translator for a guest at speaking at the Rothberg International School at Hebrew U. His name is Azzam Azzam and he was freed last year from a wrongful incarceration in Egypt, partway through his sentence. I had followed his story in the papers when he was released, and have not thought about it since. However, I had the honor not only of hearing his story personally, but of being given the task to translate it into English for those in attendance. When I had been approached to translate, I was fairly apprehensive, as my Hebrew is decent but not perfect, and while I have no problem blithely mangling the Hebrew language in front of a few people, I was uncertain about making a fool of myself in front of an audience. However, flattery works like a charm (I was told that I was their ideal choice, since I act and know how to tell a story, not only translate) and I found myself onstage for close to two hours this evening. Granted, mistakes were made. My personal favorite of the evening was when I accidentally tranlated beged goof (undergarments) as body parts. I was tired and a bit distracted. The students enjoyed my recanting.

In brief, Azzam Azzam was working for an Israeli textiles factory which chose to open a branch in Egypt. Azzam is a Druse, and was sent to open up the factory due to Arabic being his native tongue. He was kidnapped by Egyptian intelligence two days prior to his departure, and accused of spying for Israel. He was tortured, forced to sign a false confession and then incarcerated after a farcial trial for 15 years. He was released after 8 years in a prisoners swap with Egypt - 6 Egyptian terrorists in exchange for Azzam. What I most enjoyed about his story was not his sense of humor, his dramatic presentation or his Power Point. Azzam Azzam is a patriotic Israeli in every sense of the word. In today's society and political climate, Israel is regularly bashed and denigrated by her citizens and millions abroad. Yet here stood a man who is a minority in Israel, but who was born and raised here, who served in the army and is the proud holder of citizenship. He consistently stressed how the government never gave up on him, never abandoned him and of how Ariel Sharon froze relations with Egypt contingent upon Azzam's release.

Azzam, tonight you became a hero of mine.
I have a strong Zionist identity, but was strengthened and humbled by Azzam's story. I have a right to this country by my birth as a Jew, while Azzam's Israeli identity was due to accident of birth. Yet he whole-heartedly embraces Israel, loves it and was supported in return. He spoke of the numerous visits he received from dignitaries on a regular basis, of how Israsel supported his wife and family during his incarceration, how the government arranged food parcels, blankets, pillows, little things which made his incarceration in a 3.5 square meter cell a little bit easier. I cannot count the number of times he reiterated how Israel never deserted him and how he knew the entire country was behind him. His blatant love and gratitude is a rare sight these days.

Thank you Azzam for giving me strength, for sharing your tale and for reminding me why I love this country and how lucky I am to be living here.

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