Disclaimer: I really don’t agree with the methods of Israel and the US regarding the highly contentious Middle East, but the title is slightly true and it sounds provocative so I’m going to keep it.
This was Jan 1, the first day of the new year. We had 3 of the kids’ cousins with us that day. We decided it might be nice to take the cousins to a nearby mega-park, a place so good, they could charge admission and people would still line up to get in.
It’s situated right near the site of all the toxic cleanup that occurred prior to the Sydney Olympics in 2000 (the Olympic committee clearly saw the location as ideal, and so the toxic waste had to go, sorry toxic waste!). The park is also located right next to Silverwater Prison, a maximum security facility where hardened lifers are sent In fact it’s very easy to get confused and turn one turn too early, and soon enough you have a prison guard checking your food for nail files and lockpicks. If the prisoners escape, that park would be the first port of call, for hostages, or for stealing ice cream cones and scarfing them wildly. We are lucky enough to live across the water from this local attraction (the park, not the prison).
The parking makes a huge L shape, down and across, and encloses maybe 50 football fields. There’s ready to use BBQ’s tables and shelters up one end a little closer to the long part of the L, and then a huge grassy meadow with hills under which detoxified soil has been piled up and covered with completely innocent virgin soil and grass, and trees on each. Opposite this huge grassy meadow with big bumps is where the play equipment starts. There’s a wooden tower to climb, rope bridges, rope swings, climbing walls and hills, huge metal slides embedded in the hill, huge swings, with a variety of swinging objects, a funny tilted merry go round, a water park with water squirting jets and fountains, and sand nearby to play with. There are nice toilets, nice drinking fountains, and even a little cafe and shaded seating. And not to forget 2 flying foxes (aka zip lines)! There’s a nice wide walking path to get you from play area to play area, and near the path there are some very large yellow deck umbrellas with plastic turf underneath.
It is under these umbrellas that the following drama unfolded.
We got to the park right around 10 am, which was about average for us, usually it takes that long for the process of checking that everyone has eaten, realising we want to leave, and then getting everyone ‘ready’ and into the car. If you factor in the fact that we had 3 extra children, I’m going to change that rating to an ‘above’ average level of arrival time.
So we all tumbled out of our cars (2, since even a minivan can’t hold that many people). Onto the wide pathway, reminding the kids to stick close until we’d anchored the group and they could run and circle back periodically through the late morning.
As Sharole and I scanned the park while walking down the pathway, we slowly rounded one of those mounds covered in virgin dirt and grass and could see that the large umbrellae’d turfed sections seemed mostly free. Under the first 3, in the middle, some men sat, menacingly. I figured they liked sitting menacingly, maybe it was a pasttime for them, until I noticed that 2 objects had been placed under each umbrella either side.
We walked over to the nearest one, all of us, which then activated one of the men. I knew he’d been there for a while even before he told us what time they started sitting there, I knew because of the casual, self-assured menace that he projected as he walked over, fake non-threateningly slow. He also projected average intelligence at best. He was small, chunky and bald, with bags under his eyes, the epitome of a taxi driver or a recently appointed NYC super.
“Go away, you cannot sit here.” I don’t remember his exact words, it’s been weeks. “We got here at 6 am. You cannot sit here. We have 40 people coming.” We told him no one was under this umbrella, and besides it’s a public park, so, we’re staying.
The other two men still sitting under the umbrella next to us, watched. I started to open my chair, we set our stuff down, the first guy was still telling us to go away, but you could say the argument was simmering, until I moved a piece of cloth, a slip cover to a camp chair, I think. I’m pretty sure that in that action, based on what happened next, that had I simultaneously managed to murder someone’s mother, set his house on fire, and defile his young daughter, because that person, one of the other men, suddenly lunged out of his chair, eyes bulging, hands forward, face purple, and started screaming as loud as he could while crossing the distance between our group and his chair. I know he wanted me to think he was going to start swinging.
Anyone knows me knows that I’m mildly amused by this kind of bad behaviour, and not in the least bit ruffled. I told him to calm down, it’s just a piece of cloth, you can have it etc etc. He had to know he was being a bit silly. He was still going, picked it up, and threw it on the ground. His whole body was shaking.
There were a bunch of exchanges, I’ll try to see if I can remember some.
We said, “this is a public park, you don’t own this spot.” and they said, “Yes I do!” so I said, “Show me the paper, and then we will move.”
Sharole said, “why don’t you go home and then you can have exactly who you want in your own yard?”
They said, “You have to move.” I said, “why don’t you move?” And the first guy says, “I’m not moving. Now what are you going to do?” and I said, “well, if you want to stay, that’s perfectly fine, we know how to share.”
We weren’t going anywhere, we had our chairs out, the kids went to play. The first guy leaned against the pole, and the second guy brought his chair over.
“Where are you from?” I said.
Millisecond, and then: “Australia!” he said, with his chin out, as belligerently as he could. He was no Aussie. This second guy was made on a similar blueprint as the first, short and stocky, and clearly Lebanese.
We stayed for an hour and a half. Two wives and a few more kids arrived. Each new person was filled in on the situation, and seethed with every step, giving us the fisheye. They set a radio directly behind us and played their middle eastern music at us. They hovered and they paced, all of them, men women and children, even when they sat, they were still itching for a fight (the children less so, I think the children were more curious than anything at this strange event, their dads not having scared us off). The men got a volleyball and hit it around as close to us as they could. Menacingly. A couple arrived, they had a table, and they put it directly in front of us so we couldn’t see the playground.
We started to pack up and head to the little water park, which thankfully was down the other end. They noticed immediately, of course, that we were readying to leave. Sharole made a point to get one guy’s attention. She said, here you are you’ve been here 6 hours and there’s maybe 10 people here. You could easily have shared. And he said in reply, “Sharing is not caring. You have to take what you can get and fight everyone off.” I simply said, “bad behaviour” in their general direction. I could hear one or two of them discussing it loudly and yelling after me, clearly wanting to pick a fight. Aggressive to the end.
My moment of esprit d’escalier (a phrase that is gaining in the English language, I think) made me wish I had, in the heat of battle, reminded them that this was not the West Bank. And as I thought about how sweet that parry would be, it seemed that there must have been something of what I’d just experienced when the Jews arrived en masse to the area that is now Israel. I have no idea how willing or unwilling the Jews were to share, but with these Lebanese, it wouldn’t have mattered.