I was a man born into a fight for things I didn’t understand, things that held no value to me even as I grew into adulthood. Money, oil, land, power, prestige, the right religion, the proper beliefs . . . they were just words. They were the battle cry that tore from my lips before I even knew how to speak in full sentences.
I was a man given life by a woman fueled by rage and anger, in a place that fed on those very things. Her cause became my own, and even though her fight was never mine, I wanted to make her proud, wanted to be a good son, so I let the things that filled her up and burst out of her bleed onto me. I lived inside her hatred and animosity for so long it was all I knew. I took her cause as my own. Only none of it led to my mother’s approval or adoration. I was never nurtured or coddled. Instead I was honed and molded into a thing that barely had any scraps of humanity left inside of it. There was no childhood, only revenge and vengeance. To her, that was how I honored her and my deceased father. It was how she forced me to honor a cause that was never mine.
My mother was a widow and I was a fatherless son caught between cultures and seeking revenge for deeds that I had no concept of. I was nothing more than an instrument of destruction, and often used to obliterate things I didn’t understand, things that mattered nothing to a boy, to any child. Mother knew best, and I followed blindly. I was never allowed a childhood or any semblance of a happy healthy home life. We lived in a war zone and our home was part of the battlefield. We were soldiers, not a family. I played with weapons, not with children my own age. I learned war tactics and how to handle explosives before I knew how to read and write.
Before I grew facial hair or reached my full height, I had already done and seen more than any child—any person—should. And with each new and increasingly violent and dangerous act I committed, with each new violation to my tender soul, I thought I would finally make my mother proud. In my young and untried mind, I foolishly thought that once she was proud, once her burning need for revenge was sated, I would be set free. Once the war was won, I could go back to being a normal boy. It was naive to think like this in a place that was historically unstable and soaked with the blood of the innocent.
There was no end in sight, and as I grew, as I became more skilled, my mother became more feared and ferocious. Her soul seemed to become greedier and more bloodthirsty. Soon it wasn’t enough to go after the people, the men she felt had wronged her, the men and the government they represented that had taken my father away. No, she wanted the entire infrastructure to collapse. She wanted to wage war on an ancient land, which had conflict soaked into every grain of sand that filled its hostile desert landscape. It was futile, but she wouldn’t listen to reason or to the pleas of her scared and scarred son. She handed me off to men who continued to use me to kill and destroy, all before I had even kissed my first girl. My mother never said good-bye or explained where I was going. She never once let me believe that I had lived up to her expectations of me or let me fool myself into believing that I had ever managed to honor the memory of my late father.
The rest of the world hears words like “holy war,” “the Gaza Strip,” “the promised land,” “fundamentalist terrorism,” “infighting,” “genocide,” and can turn on CNN or click on a link to see shaky footage of bombs dropping in the desert, but for me it was my day-to-day. I wasn’t just part of a war . . . I was the war. A man with an American mother and an Arab father and no place that was mine. The men whom I was handed over to, basically a trained child solider already with bodies and blood on his hands, tried to stoke the blind rage inside of me that my mother had ignited at birth. They tried to take all of the hostile and horrific teachings I learned at my mother’s side and turn me into a machine that was fueled only by the need to fight for customs and country. They tried to fill me up with the same kind of fury that my mother had inside of her because of the loss of my father, who had sacrificed his life fighting for the supposedly right side. Always the cause . . . it was everything to these people, and nothing but words to me. To me there was no right or wrong side. There was no promised land and hereditary right to the sand that blew everywhere and stung my skin. All I could see was the side with the highest body count and the side inflicting the most damage depending on what day it was. By the time I reached my midteens, I didn’t want anything to do with any of it and my loyalty to my mother and her cause was fractured enough that I was starting to see the world beyond it.
I wanted to be a man, not a weapon.
I was over it all, soul-sick and exhausted from living in a war zone, depleted from years of seeking my mother’s approval, and then the acceptance and praise of the men who took me, all to no avail. Right at the moment when I was ready to surrender it all, give up myself for the only kind of peace I would ever know after all the horror I had created, the government came calling.
More accurately, I fell into their hands when they stopped the loaded-down truck I was supposed to be protecting. A truck full of explosives and headed for a primary school in a UN compound. I didn’t want to protect the truck. I didn’t want to be where I was. I didn’t want to be anything or anyone. I couldn’t see any more people die in a war they had never asked to be part of. If Mossad hadn’t intercepted us, the truck would have blown long before it arrived at the school grounds, taking me and the actual devotees to the cause with it. I had my hand on the trigger of a submachine gun and was beyond ready to use it. Kids were innocent in all of this and there were lines, even then, that I would not cross. I couldn’t—wouldn’t—be used anymore, and I was finally ready to make a final and drastic stand.