I was exhausted, and my left leg was in pain. I crossed to Fairfax Square because I was tired and hungry.
I stepped up to the receiving desk of a nice, small Italian restaurant, and was greeted by a pleasant, smiling young lady who introduced herself as Sophie who said that she was originally from Naples, as I waited for a table.
The restaurant was busy and loud, but hunger convinced me to persist.
I was in Virginia because of shopping. Shopping the day before Christmas is a daredevil’s challenge. I had no choice and went from Tyson’s Corner to the shopping mall to buy some last-minute presents.
I was 90 percent successful and decided, as a self-reward, that a nice burrata plus a Spaghetti Bolognese was well deserved.
I don’t usually go to restaurants alone, but on this occasion my family all had separate commitments. As Sophie was seating me, she also seated two young gentlemen at a table to the right.
A server appeared instantly, put some ice water in a tumbler and gave me a menu. Although I knew what I wanted, I glanced at the menu.
The mussels looked appealing, but I remained focused on what I wanted.
The recently-seated table beside me ordered calamari, carpaccio, ravioli and grilled salmon, along with a bottle of wine. They indicated that they expected two more guests, but they would wait 20 minutes for them to arrive and order.
I placed my order, asked for a lemonade and started ﬁddling with my phone, answering messages and checking emails.
The table on the left was reasonably quiet – a family of ﬁve. The father was eating his veal Milanese with a relish, and the mother had a discarded pasta and was supervising as her three children ate their food.
As I put my cell phone on the table, I overheard the two young people on my right discussing Israel and Gaza. I heard one saying: “You should recognize Super Israel. Bibi is surviving, the Palestinians are on the run, Gaza is destroyed and not a loud peep from anyone.” The same voice added: “And with America’s unﬂinching help, whatever Israel does and the amazing statement of Israel’s right to defend itself parroted by the White House, the UK and the EU, we are the winners.”
I turned, and the two men were sitting across from each other. I noticed for the ﬁrst time that the person who just spoke had dark hair, a slight beard, and beady eyes. His elbows were on the table and he was leaning forward. Across from him was a redhead wearing a black leather jacket and resting in his chair.
The redhead responded by saying: “So you don’t mind the genocide and the deaths – as a matter of fact, the cold-hearted murders of over 20,000 souls, of which half or more are women and children?”
I noticed the person with the dark hair looking my way. I turned my head but kept my ears sharp.
He responded to his friend, pointing his ﬁnger as I could glimpse sideways: “We will break them, kill them… whatever is needed. There will never be a Palestine.”
My burrata and lemonade arrived, and I noticed the redhead responding that such an attitude and objective would make October 7 a walk in the park, as the future would be horriﬁc unless Israel could vanquish over seven million Palestinians.
Interesting point, I thought, as I have been worried for years that Israel’s occupation and horrible treatment of the Palestinians will cause a disaster.
As I started on my burrata, I heard the louder of the two men say: “You have no idea. Israel is super; we can get away with anything… and we will.” He added: “We will bend all to our will with many processes, some transparent and many not. You have no idea.”
I wanted to respond and say that such an attitude is not in favor of the Israelis that I knew, Israelis who wanted peace for their children and grandchildren, and an end to the occupation. But I remained silent.
My appetite was souring.
Moments later, a couple arrived at the two young men’s table. They got up to greet them, and the man with the dark hair, who seemed to be the host, introduced the couple to the redheaded person with him. I could hear him say: “Connor, these are my friends Ariel and her brother Levi.”
They all sat down and the server approached them. My cell phone beeped, and I noted a message and looked at my watch. I ﬁddled with my burrata for another moment and placed my knife and fork together on the plate, signalling to the staﬀ that they could remove my appetizer plate.
It appears that the new guests joining the table on my right ordered, and after some pleasantries, the subject returned to the Israel-Gaza issue. Levi wore a kippah and was supporting the host, saying: “Israel is in control of the media and narrative, regardless of what it does. Moreover,” he added, “Bibi wants to extend the war as it serves all his objectives. No more protests, no more legal headaches for him, and he is in control with his dream of vanquishing the Palestinians as he repeatedly declared.”
Ariel looked her brother in the eye – I could not help angling my head and peeking – and she said: “Levi, you can’t be supportive of what is going on. This is ethnic cleansing. You and Isaac need a wake-up call. What we are doing to the Palestinians is what Hitler and the Nazis did to our grandparents and ancestors. Even Hitler did not massacre so many children in cold blood.”
I could not help but admire Ariel’s courage and opinion.
Isaac disrupted the server as she was placing the orders and said: “In defense of Levi, we must destroy Hamas and send the Palestinians to Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon… I don’t care where. No one will stop us.” Levi said: “Yes”, as he began on his starter. “Remember October 7 and the atrocities Hamas did.” he added as he was munching. “We will break the Palestinians, degrade them, destroy their dignity as we now strip their men naked, tie them up like animals, and detain them for hours or days.”
Connor pushed his plate from in front of him and said: “This genocide and destruction was totally unnecessary, and if you read the Washington Post report of December 23, you would realize how Israel manipulates the facts and gets away with it without blinking an eyelid, feeding the world through its top-notch media machine, social Internet posts, inﬂuencers and paid situation rooms with false claims. How can you justify killing 100 UN workers and over 60 journalists, destroying over a dozen hospitals, and causing mass graves of patients, nurses and doctors?”
My main course arrived, but I had already lost my appetite.
Isaac, munching his food, pointed to Connor with his knife and said: “You and your Dear Ariel here are naive – wake up. Israel is Super and will achieve its objectives. No one can touch us, whatever we do. If anyone criticizes us, we go after them. Remember the poor Secretary General of the UN, Antonio Guterres.”
Putting his fork and knife down and taking a big gulp of water, Isaac added: “No one can criticize us and get away with it. Moreover,” he added, “we have the unassailable weapon of antisemitism. Any criticism of what we do can be defeated by claiming antisemitism. Remember our former Minister of Education, Shulamit Aloni, who clearly said that antisemitism is a weapon to silence criticism of Israel.”
Connor and Ariel looked at each other. Levi said: “Let’s change the subject.” Isaac smiled.
I had not touched my spaghetti. I waved to the server, asking for the check. My mind and heart were in such a knot causing me a headache, as I saw evidence of what Isaac was saying around me.
Students, professors, politicians, journalists, and even protesters not being able to speak their minds in lands that are supposedly free.
I paid the bill and walked to my car. It was cold, rainy and windy.
I hoped that the sun, wisdom and rationality would rise over the horizon soon.
About the author
M. Shafik Gabr is a renowned leader in international business, innovation, investment and one of the world’s premier collectors of Orientalist art, and an accomplished philanthropist.
During his career, Gabr established over 25 companies plus three investment holding companies including ARTOC Group for Investment and Development which, established in 1971, is a multi-disciplined investment holding company with businesses in infrastructure, automotive, engineering, construction and real estate, over the past three years focusing on investment in technology and artificial intelligence.
Gabr is the Chairman and a founding member of Egypt’s International Economic Forum, a member of the International Business Council of the World Economic Forum, a Board Member of Stanhope Capital, an International Chairman of the Sadat Congressional Gold Medal Committee, and a Member of the Parliamentary Intelligence Security Forum. Gabr is a Member of the Metropolitan Museum’s International Council and serves on the Advisory Board of the Center for Financial Stability, the Advisory Board of The Middle East Institute, and the Global Advisory Council of the Mayo Clinic.
Through the Shafik Gabr Social Development Foundation, Gabr is helping to improve elementary-school education in Egypt, introducing students to arts and culture and promoting sports and physical fitness for youth. The Foundation has its first Medical and Social Development Center in Mokattam, Cairo, offering free medical and health services. In 2012 Gabr established in the US the Shafik Gabr Foundation which supports educational and medical initiatives plus launched in November 2012 the ‘East-West: The Art of Dialogue initiative promoting exchanges between the US and Egypt with the purpose of cultural dialogue and bridge-building.
Gabr holds a BA in Economics and Management from the American University in Cairo and an MA in Economics from the University of London.