Following His Father, A Palestinian Hopes For Peace

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Each week, Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin brings listeners an unexpected side of the news by talking with someone personally affected by the stories making headlines.

Yousef Bashir was 11 years old when Israeli soldiers took over his home in Gaza. His family's house was right near an Israeli settlement, and the military transformed it into a sentry post.

But Bashir's father refused to leave, out of fear he would lose his land for good. The Israelis would stay in the Bashir home for five years.

Today, the situation between Gaza and Israel remains tense. More than a dozen rockets from Gaza were fired at Israel last week, to which Israel responded with airstrikes.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas meets with President Obama at the White House on Monday in an attempt to move forward with peace talks that have been stalemated for years.

Back in 2004, when Yousef Bashir was 15, United Nations officials visited his family to check on their situation. Bashir was with his father in the front yard, seeing the officials off, when he was shot in the back by an Israeli soldier.

"I remember exactly a beautiful afternoon — blue sky, clear air — and as soon as I waved goodbye, I hear something and I felt that I was no longer able to move or even talk," Bashir tells NPR's Rachel Martin.

Bashir says it felt like it took hours to get his father's attention and for him to realize his son had just been shot. Bashir's father put him in a U.N. car and rushed to the hospital. With his father comforting him, Bashir says, he remembers apologizing for his math and English grades, saying that he would "take it seriously" if he came back.

"I literally thought I was dying because everything within me and around me started to change and felt like the world was slowing down on me," he says.

Bashir was taken to a hospital in Tel Aviv, Israel. He said it was a shock to suddenly be taken care of by people who only weeks earlier he knew as the people with guns who he had to ask for permission to watch TV or to go to the bathroom.

"But now they are surrounding me, playing with my hair [and] asking me how I am doing," he says. They ultimately saved Bashir's life.

"It was a life-changing experience that taught me how to understand my father's passion for coexistence," he says.

Israel eventually left Gaza, and Bashir's home, in 2005. In an interview with NPR at the time, Bashir's father said that this was "not a time to gloat," and that he wished "to build a new, cooperative [and] healthy" relationship with the Israelis.

In the hospital, Bashir says, his father told him that he would turn his pain into something positive and not let the bullet define how he lived his life or his future, and that is what he is trying to do today.

Bashir says it took him some time to believe in his father's values, and it had to happen the hard way. "In the end I feel very privileged that I am his son," he says.

His father passed away in 2009.

"He believed so much that one day the Palestinian people will live in peace and dignity," Bashir says, "but that will mean that everyone, including their neighbors, will be satisfied and will live in peace and dignity as well."

Yousef Bashir is currently studying for his a master's degree in Conflict and Coexistence at Brandeis University. He hopes that one day he'll become a diplomat and return home.

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