The smell of buildings burning, the sound of bombs dropping and buildings being destroyed, the images of the dead that he saw as a child all come rushing back to Oak Park Village President Anan Abu-Taleb as he watches the indiscriminate violence unfolding from the Middle East on his television.
“When I watch it [on TV] I can smell it,” he said.
Abu-Taleb, 55, who is Palestinian, grew up in the Gaza Strip and immigrated to the United States in 1978, said he worries for people on both sides of the conflict, but fears for the safety of his family who are still in Palestine.
Hundreds have died in recent weeks since fighting erupted between the Israeli military and Hamas militants.
Abu-Taleb said in a telephone interview that the orange farm that his father planted is now “bombed beyond recognition” and the home where he grew up is “damaged and the windows are shattered.”
He said his siblings, three half-brothers and two sisters, have evacuated the home. His brother, who is an American citizen, fled the country to Jordan about a week ago, where one day later his pregnant wife gave birth, Abu-Taleb said.
Abu-Taleb said in a written statement: “The birth of my nephew under these war circumstances gives one a window into the daily lives of these people. Wars destroy everything, they disrupt the basic human needs and necessities. They disrupt the basic supplies of water, food, electricity and medical needs. They restrict every movement. They destroy homes, infrastructures and whole communities. Wars harden the hearts and the minds of those we need to change.”
Abu-Taleb said he took a photograph of an image on his television of Rachel Fraenkel, the mother Naftali Fraenkel, 16, an Israeli teenager, who along with two other Israeli teens — Gilad Shaer, 16, and Eyal Yifrah, 19 — was kidnapped in June and later found dead. Abu-Taleb said many believe the abductions are being used as a basis for the violence.
“I want to cry and I can’t cry anymore; my tears have dried up and I think to myself, what is it going to take for these people to do the right thing?” he said.
But when he saw the television image of the Rachel Fraenkel mourning the apparent murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a 16-year-old Palestinian who was abducted and burned to death in a suspected revenge killing, Abu-Taleb said he could no longer hold back the tears.
“One of the moms of the teenage Israelis at the burial of her son said, ‘You know, no mother should go through what we’re going through.’ She said, ‘I feel for the mother of Mohammed for her pain,'” Abu-Taleb said. “That’s really when I cried.”
Abu-Taleb, who was elected village president last year, said the violence on both sides is sad.
“It’s sad that they both use collective punishment on others,” he said.
Abu-Taleb said that he does not want his personal feelings concerning the violence in Israel and Palestine to affect his work or have a negative impact on the village of Oak Park.
“I’m a man of peace and inclusiveness, and I believe there are many good people on both sides of this conflict who want to live a normal life and see their children prosper. And I believe the goodness of people should prevail and propel us toward peace,” he said in a written statement.
Abu-Taleb attended a candle-light vigil in Oak Park last week at Scoville Park. The event, held by the Committee for a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine, opposes the invasion and bombing of Gaza.