I had flagged him down to take me from a Palestinian section of the city back to my hotel. He was a talkative sort, gregarious and friendly. I noticed he had Arabic writing across his dashboard, on the sun visor and elsewhere in the car. I asked him what it all meant. He said these were religious phrases that meant a lot to him.
To my surprise, he became emotional, telling me he had great regard for members of the church. He became emphatic, thumping his dashboard with his hands as he spoke.
He told me how a gunman had opened fire at an important mosque a few years earlier, killing and wounding many Palestinians. It was a difficult time for him and many of his friends. But amid that tragedy, students from the BYU Jerusalem Center had voluntarily shown up at hospitals to donate blood and help the wounded.
This, he said with great emotion, he would never forget.
Then he began pounding the dashboard. "Mormon blood is Palestinian blood, and Palestinian blood is Mormon blood!" He declared it as if it were a solemn oath.
I have shared this story a few times before in various columns. It has lingered in the back of my mind and made me more aware of the long-term implications of everyday actions, as well as the power of kindness.
I have thought about it a lot this week as news reports once again are filled with the details of rockets flying through the air in Israel and Palestinian-controlled areas.
Age-old animosities feed prejudices and fuel lingering resentments that wait constantly for an event to ignite explosions. In this case, leaders of Hamas claim police raids on the Aqsa Mosque holy site in East Jerusalem justified a rocket attack. That, in turn, led to retaliatory attacks by Israel on Palestinian territory.
There are political implications to it all, as Hamas tries to regain its claim as leader of the Palestinian resistance, and as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu struggles to form a government and remain in power.
Meanwhile, the Israeli Supreme Court has postponed a hearing on the planned evictions of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Harrah neighborhood of Jerusalem, land claimed by both sides.
But facts hardly matter in the face of the victims.
One of them is Osama Soboh, a 31-year-old resident of Gaza who lost both his mother and his brother when a missile directed at a militant leader hit the block where his apartment sits. His comments to a reporter ought to have special resonance so close to Mothers Day in the U.S.
“This is my mom,” he told the New York Times. “It’s a very hard thing to say farewell to the most precious person you have on earth.”
On the other side, 61-year-old suburban resident Maria Nagiv told the Times she wasn’t aware of the issues in Jerusalem as she tried to walk on shards left by a Hamas rocket.
“What have I done wrong?” she asked. “I didn’t do anything and they still send us bombs.”
Which brings me back to my cab driver. When people perform acts of kindness, no one is left to wonder what they have done wrong. No one is left fighting feelings of bitterness, resentment and vengeance.
The Mayo Clinic website says being kind benefits the giver as well as the receiver. It boosts self-esteem and compassion, provides a sense of a person’s connection to others, and decreases blood pressure and stress.
“Physiologically, kindness can positively change your brain,” the website says.
I’m not naive enough to suggest that everyone in the Middle East should just be nice to each other and problems will disappear. I don’t mean to suggest that a group of BYU students can end millenia of animosities and soothe complex political motivations. Blood donors seldom wield such power.
But the emotions of a grateful cab driver have lingered with me through the years as I’ve met with diplomats, secretaries of state, Israeli ambassadors and Muslim leaders.
One man’s reaction to kindness amid destruction and violence was a glimmer of light and hope, not just in Israel, but in all corners of a dark world. That includes our own neighborhoods. Surely, such glimmers, repeated enough, can add up to lasting light.