‘It’s been a year since I last worked. A year.”
This is Patrice Oualid’s cry from the heart, his first words of desperation. This is his pain, even before he starts talking about that momentous day when he stared death in the face, the day when life changed completely.
“I had been working since I was 13. Everything was good with my job. And now what I’m doing is just going around in circles. My whole life was destroyed. I’m currently studying at the ulpan [Hebrew language course], but I’m 50 and it’s quite difficult to learn a new language at this age. I’m doing my best to hang on, but for what? What will happen? There is nothing. Not even a job.”Click here for more stories from the "2015 - The Year That Was" Jpost special
It’s been a year now. But who remembers? Except the journalists, who have papers to sell. “They never stop calling me. They harassed my wife as well,” But he is willing to make an exception for The Jerusalem Post
, a publication he says he appreciates.
Living in Israel, he has been unable to escape terrorism.
The current wave keeps turning in his head, never leaving him completely alone. Because after his face-toface experience with the terrorists, abandoning France and a difficult aliya, there is yet another cruelty: indifference from Israel.
“I SAW hate and death in his eyes,” says Oualid of his encounter with one of the terrorists. “No doubt he took drugs, it seemed obvious; he wasn’t human.”
At this point, Oualid believed it was the end, but in a final gasp, thinking of his wife and children, he started to run away.
The machine guns targeted him as he escaped from the store.
“He shot me in the arm. Why not in my back? I was only two meters away from him,” he asks.
Oualid is positive he was saved by a miracle.
“There were lots of miracles that day,” he recalls.
One, for example, when the main alleged assailant, Amedy Coulibaly, shot the cashier twice, but she was not injured. Then he told her: “Since you don’t want to die, come and serve me.”
Another miracle: The bomb that the terrorists had assembled did not explode; apparently the assailants used a faulty detonator.
“Moreover, the store was crowded with people that day. And then, it suddenly became almost empty just a few minutes before Coulibaly arrived in here. A miracle, again, otherwise the carnage could have been greater,” he says.
“Four hours. It took four hours for the security forces to intervene, can you believe this? And when I went out of the store, while I was injured with a Kalashnikov bullet in my arm, bloody, I saw a police car parked not far away. Behind me, one could hear shootings inside the store. I shouted at the police but when they saw me they went away. Unbelievable. They just went away,” he remembers, appalled at their sheer negligence.
“The government should have been proactive,” he says. “Unprepared to challenge barbarism, French people don’t always have good reflexes. We arrived at the French Foreign Ministry. My wife had to walk up the stairs, even though she was six months pregnant, to finally find herself facing the killer’s sister; they also made my four-year-old daughter wear a bulletproof vest, which gives her nightmares to this day.”
France has proven unable to cope with terrorism.
When terrorism strikes, the country reacts like a deer in headlights – reacting with delays and wreaths of flowers – lighting candles, delivering nice speeches to victims at the President’s Residence or delivering platitudes like “everything will be okay” with a kindly tap on the shoulder. France is good at doing this. But this empathy is not translated into deeds, Oualid believes.
And now, after the attack in the Bataclan theater, France has to deal with 4,000 pending files for compensation.
So when it comes to Oualid’s own file for compensation, the backlog is overwhelming.
“I used to love France. But the country has abandoned us,” he laments.
OUALID’S CHOICE, then, to make aliya was an obvious one.
“I am religious and I heard some kind of clear and strong call,” he asserts.
But afterward, he became disillusioned. When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to Paris, he didn’t contact Oualid, even though he’s had Israeli citizenship for 10 years. With the Jewish Agency, it is no better.
Both in Israel and in France, Oualid is denied the status of victim. He feels that everyone sits on their hands.
Solidarity often comes from unexpected places. In France he received support from his local community in Charenton, where he used to pray every day. He says he misses those connections. He also got support from the mother of the policeman who was killed, shot in the head, as he was lying injured on the ground in front of Charlie Hebdo offices. This mother, a Muslim, who has cried in Oualid’s arms, keeps calling him regularly to ask how he feels. He also receives support from the former customers of the Hyper Cacher, who are concerned for him as well.
Because Israel is not an El Dorado, one must start all over again.
“I want a job,” says a broken Oualid. “What is needed are associations to retrain us, I would like them to come and help me to find a job and reintegrate.”
How many new immigrants have no choice but go back to France? How many are those French Jews who have to behave like “Marranos” in French suburban estates, and hide the practice of their religion, simply because they have no money to make aliya? Many French Jews, according to Oualid, are definitively lost.
Moreover, if Israel remains so indifferent to olim, many French Jews will refuse to make aliya.
Oualid has been dreaming of entering politics to move things along. But first he has to feed his family.
“I would like so much to forget, but that’s impossible.
I feel injured in my head and in my heart,” he confesses.
Though he is the one who needs help, he is committed to help others, because in Israel, people don’t always have enough to eat. That’s why he has created, with his brother, an association that helps to provide Shabbat meals for people in need. This association, called Lev Tov, and friends who ‘like’ the association on Facebook, are the two things that lift Oualid’s spirits.
With only a shoestring budget, some shekels collected and their own donations, they succeed in providing hot meals: This makes him happier and helps him to hang on.
Each Shabbat with Lev Tov brightens the world for Oualid and gives him reason to smile again.