Chapter 13 - April 4, 2003 AM - Episode 2Listen to podcast
Q: When and where were you born?
A: I was born on May 1, 1968 in Beirut.
Q: Beirut, Lebanon?
A: That is correct. Beirut is the capitol of Lebanon.
Q: I have been told that you identify yourself as Palestinian.
A: Yes, I am Palestinian.
Q: But you were born in Beirut, which you have just reminded me is the capitol of Lebanon. How does that make you Palestinian? Have you ever lived in Gaza or the West Bank?
A: I have never lived in the occupied territories. My family is from Palestine...
Q: Did they live in Gaza or the West Bank?
A: They lived in what is now called Tel Aviv. That was their home for many generations. They were driven from there. Our house was confiscated by Zionists. They went into exile in Beirut. They lived there when I was born. That does not make me Lebanese.
Q: What does it make you?
A: I am a Palestinian who cannot go home. I am a Palestinian whose home was stolen from him. Like many other Palestinians. Are you Jewish?
Q: During this interview, I ask the questions. Are you Muslim?
A: I would like to know the answer to my question. I know a great many Jews, especially since I have come to the United States. My ... Miss Roth is a Jew. Larry Lazard is a Jew but his father is not. I cannot tell whether you are a Jew or not.
Q: What is your opinion of all these Jews you have met in the United States?
A: They are quite intelligent. They do not think so differently than how we Arabs think. I believe we Middle Eastern peoples are more like each other than we are like the Europeans or other peoples who are here in the United States.
Q: But there is great conflict between Middle Eastern people.
A: There is great conflict between European peoples. There is great conflict between African peoples, Asian peoples. We are not unique in that.
Q: You sound quite enlightened.
A: Are you surprised? Perhaps you have an American prejudice against Arabs. Are you a Jew?
Q: That reminds me that you did not answer my question: Are you Muslim?
Q: Would you consider yourself an observant Muslim?
A: I observe my faith as I believe is appropriate. I am here in Western clothes. I live among Westerners. I have not performed the Haj.
Q: Will you make the Haj? Do you attend a mosque?
A: God willing, I will perform the Haj. I do attend a mosque.
Q: How often do you attend mosque? Which mosque?
A: I attend mosque infrequently here in the United States. The mosques I have attended are usually in Brooklyn.
Q: There’s not one mosque which you consider to be your home mosque?
A: There is not.
Q: Why is that? Isn’t that unusual?
A: You have not told me what religion you have. I believe it is common for many Americans to have no place of worship that they attend regularly even when they identify themselves as belonging to a particular religion.
Q: Are you an American citizen?
A: I am not, but I have made my residence here for many years. In some respects I am American.
Q: Have you made a study of Americans?
A: I do not understand that question.
Q: You have shown your familiarity with our former President Clinton; you have made a comparison between the various ethnic groups which live here; you talked of American prejudice; you have now made a correct observation of American religious life. Are you a student of American culture?
A: I am not a student; I am a businessman.
Q: Have you studied American culture academically?
A: I did in preparatory school. Now I study Americans as a businessman. I must know the people I make business with.
Q: Please tell me your educational background.
A: What would you like to know?
Q: What schools you attended and when. What degrees you achieved.
A: From the age of six to nine, I attended the Koranic uh ... Institute, I think you would call it in English. It is in Beirut. I did not receive a degree from there.
Q: I understand. Was that first through fourth grade?
A: That system is not used in that school. We were there and we progressed at an appropriate rate.
Q: I assume from its name that this is a religious institute.
A: The school was not formally associated with a mosque, if that’s what you mean.
Q: But you did study the Koran?
A: Of course. The Koran is the well-spring of our culture. The study of the Koran is the study of Islam. But it is also necessary for understanding the secular as well as religious aspects of the cultures of Islamic peoples.
Q: Were the teachers in this school Imams?
A: Some were and some were not.
Q: Were you taught in this school to hate America and Jews? Was it a Madras?
A: I believe you mean Madrassa. No, it was not that kind of school. All Muslims are not taught to hate; that, itself, is propaganda. We do not have the fanatic separation between secular and non-secular that you Americans have. Often they cannot be separated at all. But the schools I attended, while certainly Islamic, were at the secular end of the spectrum.
Q: Thank you for clearing that up. Why didn’t your parents have you attend schools which were more religious?
A: They had me attend schools they believed would best prepare me for life, as your parents probably did.
Q: Where did you go after the Institute?
A: I attended the Palestinian Middle School also in Beirut. I was there through what Americans would consider Junior High School, until I was fourteen. I did not receive a degree from that institution, either. Nor was I taught hate there although many of us — students and faculty alike — were very bitter at having our homes stolen and being exiled from our country.
Q: I understood that most Palestinians left Israel voluntarily because they were informed that the surrounding Arab countries were going to attack and they should get out of the way. Is that why your family left?
A: I think you were taught propaganda in your school. Was it a Jewish school?
Q: I’ll ask the questions. Why did your family leave their home?
A: They left because they were driven out by Zionists.
Q: Literally? Did armed Zionists come to the door and drive them out?
A: I believe so. I was not yet born.
Q: Where did you go after middle school?
A: I attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts until I graduated from that institution.
Q: Is that a religious school?
A: It is not. It is a secular school although it was religious at one time.
Q: When was it religious? What religion was it associated with?
A: I believe it has been secular for the last century. It was originally associated with some denomination of Protestant. I do not understand these sects well.
Q: Join the club...
A: What do you mean? I do not understand that. Do you mean that one must be Protestant to join some clubs in the United States? Have you been excluded from the clubs because you are Jewish?
Q: Please forget that last remark. Did your parents pay for you to attend this school in Massachusetts? Where did you live while you were there?
A: Yes. My parents did pay for me to attend Andover and to board there as well. I lived in a dormitory called Abbot Stevens House.
Q: Are your parents wealthy?
A: They have been blessed with good fortune.
Q: Were they blessed when they left Israel?
A: They lost much when they were driven from their home. However, part of our family business was located in Beirut and so they had assets to draw on there in their exile.
Q: What was your family business?
A: My father and his father were involved in trade.
Q: What did they trade?
A: Fine items. Sculpture. Fountains. Islamic art. Their business was quite well-known.
Q: Are your parents still alive?
A: Yes, thank God.
Q: Are they still in Beirut?
A: They are now here.
Q: Here? The United States? New York? The precinct house?
A: They presently reside in Park Slope in Brooklyn.
Q: When did they leave Beirut? Why?
A: They left in 1982. Beirut had become inhospitable and no longer was a good market for the fine art they represented. They did not believe there was a good future for Palestinians in Beirut.
Q: Why is that?
A: Lebanon has become a bone over which the Syrians and the Israelis fight. It has been destroyed. It is no longer a center of culture. It is no longer a place which is hospitable to Palestinian people.
Q: Did your father lose his business when Beirut became “inhospitable”?
A: He did not.
Q: Is the business still in Beirut?
A: It is not.
Q: Please explain.
A: The business is no longer in Beirut.
Q: Where is the business? Do you not want to answer my simple question?
A: I have given simple answers to your simple questions. The business is here, in the United States. While they were in trade in Beirut, my father and his brother, my uncle, established a part of their business in New York. So they had assets to draw on in New York when the time came.
Q: That’s happened twice, then?
A: I do not understand.
Q: When things got bad in Tel Aviv, there were “fortunately” assets in Beirut. When things got bad in Beirut, there were “fortunately” assets in New York.
A: Praise be to God.
Q: Where are there assets in case things get bad in New York?
A: You would have to ask my father.
Q: After this school in Massachusetts, did you go to college?
A: Yes, I did.
Q: Where did you go to college?
A: Here in New York City. I attended Columbia University.
Q: Where did you live when you attended Columbia?
A: Here in New York City.
Q: Did you live in a dorm? In a fraternity house?
A: Columbia does not have fraternity houses. I lived with my parents in Park Slope.
Q: In the same place they live now?
Q: Did you graduate from Columbia? If so, when? What did you major in?
A: I did graduate in 1990. My degree was sociology with a minor in mathematics.
Q: That’s an unusual combination. Did you attend graduate school?
A: Yes, I did.
Q: Where did you attend graduate school? What degree, if any, did you receive? When?
A: I received a Masters Degree in Computer Science from the Courant Institute at New York University in 1992.
Q: Where did you live while you were at NYU? Why did you go from sociology to computing?
A: I continued to live with my parents. Did you ask another question?
Q: Yes. I asked what made you switch from sociology to computing.
A: I believed that computer science was a better career path than sociology. I found that much of sociology consisted of making excuses for how people act. I did not wish to do that as a profession.
Q: Did computer science turn into a career path for you? Did you go to work after your Masters or did you continue in school?
A: I went to work after graduation from the Courant Institute. However, I did not work in computer science initially. It has proven to be a career path, however.
Q: Please tell me each place you have been employed since your graduation — with dates.
A: From 1992 until 1999, I was employed by my father and my uncle in our family business.
Q: That is located in Park Slope?
A: The business is located in Queens on Rockaway Boulevard.
Q: And you were employed at that address during this whole period?
A: That is our office. My business for the firm took me all over the world.
Q: What were the countries you visited most often? What’s the name of the firm, by the way?
A: The firm is named Qali, Qali, and Qalid.
Q: You are the second Qali in the name?
A: No, that is my uncle — my father’s brother.
Q: Who is Qalid?
A: Qalid is the third partner.
Q: I already figured that out. Who is he? Another uncle?
A: He is not my uncle. He is another partner. His name is Muhammad Qalid.
Q: Where does Muhammad Qalid live?
A: He lives in Jenin.
Q: Where is Jenin?
A: Jenin is in the occupied territories of Palestine.
Q: When did Mr. Qalid become a partner?
A: He became a partner in 1998.
Q: Why did they need a partner in Jenin?
A: I assume because he could help the business. My father and my uncle are businessmen and they make decisions based on what can help their business.
Q: You don’t know why he was added?
A: I’ve already told you...
Q: You told me what you assume. You did NOT tell me that you KNOW why he was added.
A: That is correct.
Q: Do you know why he was added?
Q: Let me digress a moment. Before you came to see me for this informal interview, did you ask anyone for advice on how to conduct yourself?
A: I did. I—
Q: Before you answer, let me make sure you know that you have every right to have consulted with an attorney and, if you did so, you have every right to claim attorney-client privilege for that discussion and need not answer any questions about that discussion. Now you may answer.
A: I consulted with my uncle.
Q: Is your uncle an attorney?
A: He is, as I have told you, a businessman.
Q: Do you consider him to be your attorney representing you in this matter?
A: I do not.
Q: Fine. Did your uncle advise you how to answer questions?
A: He did.
Q: What did he advise you?
A: He advised me to answer the questions that were asked and not to answer questions that were not asked.
Q: You can tell your uncle you’re doing that quite well. Did he advise you to tell the truth when you answer questions?
A: He did not.
Q: Did he advise you NOT to tell the truth?
A: He did not.
Q: Why do you think he didn’t advise you to tell the truth or not to tell the truth?
A: I think he thought that such advice was unnecessary.
Q: Because you would know when to tell the truth and when not to tell the truth?
A: I resent that implication.
Q: You have not answered my question.
A: My uncle KNOWS I would tell the truth. He would have no need to so instruct me.
Q: What other advice did your uncle give you?
A: He advised me not to be intimidated. He also advised me that I should expect to find prejudice against Muslims.
Q: Was he afraid you would be intimidated?
Q: Then why did he advise you against being intimidated? You said he didn’t advise you to tell the truth because he knew you would tell the truth. If he knew you wouldn’t be intimidated, why did he advise you not to be?
A: His English is not so good. I do not believe he meant intimidation in the sense that you are using that word even though that is the word he used.
Q: What do you think he meant?
A: I believe he meant to remind me that the authorities in this country do not have the same powers that the authorities in certain other countries have.
Q: If we did have those “powers”, then we’d be more intimidating?
Q: Did your uncle give you any advice on how you should discuss your relationship with Ms. Roth with me?
Q: Did you and your uncle discuss Ms. Roth?
Q: Does your family know about your relationship with Ms. Roth?
A: My parents have met her.
Q: Do they approve of this relationship?
A: In their culture, unmarried men and women do not share apartments.
Q: So they disapprove? Why do they disapprove?
A: This is not clear? They disapprove of my sharing an apartment with a woman.
Q: Do they disapprove because she is Jewish?
A: They disapprove because she is a woman to whom I am not married.
Q: Would they disapprove of your marrying Ms. Roth?
A: The issue has not come up.
Q: Would they disapprove, in your opinion?
A: They would disapprove because she has shared an apartment with a man.
Q: But not because she’s Jewish?
A: They would prefer that I marry in our faith. They would prefer that I marry a Palestinian. They are not anti‑Semitic, if that is what you mean to imply.
Q: What other advice did your uncle give you?
A: He did not give me any other advice.
Q: Are you sure?
Q: You can, if you wish, follow your uncle’s advice and give the shortest possible answer to every question. You don’t even have to answer questions you don’t want to answer. But if you continue to follow that advice, this will be a very long interview.