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George W. Bush, Shoes, and Me

I never imagined George Bush and I would be sharing war stories. This one was more in spirit than over spirits. See, in the summer of 2007, I made my first trip to Israel. I was there on assignment, reporting … Read More

By / February 20, 2009

I never imagined George Bush and I would be sharing war stories. This one was more in spirit than over spirits.

See, in the summer of 2007, I made my first trip to Israel. I was there on assignment, reporting on the reconstructive impact of American Jewish money in the year following the war with Hezbollah and also spending two days along the Gaza border. Between the border with Lebanon and the Negev, the group of journalists I was with made a stop in an Arab Israeli town where the Jewish Agency of the Joint — I can’t really remember — supported a social services center.

The project didn’t interest me much, but the surrounding poverty did. So I wandered off, roaming the neighborhood before stopping to watch a young boy and two girls play in the dirt.

When they noticed me, they shouted words I didn’t understand and took a few steps toward me. One of the kids was waving at me, holding some paper in their hand. This, I thought, was my invitation to go talk with these kids about their feelings about Jews. Not sure how I was going to accomplish that in Arabic, but I walked their way nonetheless.

The paper, it turned out, was money. I guess they thought that, based on my curly hair, I would drawn to a few bucks like a mouse to cheese. I tried to brush this affront off in the most embarrassing way—by engaging the children in some dialogue—at which point the little boy, maybe 8 years old, took off his sandal and held it up like he was going to swat me.

I recalled this experience two months ago, upon hearing that President Bush had had an even closer brush with the sole of an Arab shoe.

As a refresher: Bush was in Iraq to showcase recent security gains. While Bush was speaking at a press conference in the Green Zone, al-Zaidi, a young journalist, stood up, ripped off his right shoe and chucked it at the American president; his left shoe quickly followed, as did folk hero status for al-Zaidi. But so did jail time.

Al-Zaidi’s trial, for assaulting a foreign dignitary, began Thursday. His defense: That Bush just made him so angry that he was overcome with rage.

"While he was talking I was looking at all his achievements," al-Zaidi said. "More than a million killed, the destruction and humiliation of mosques, violations against Iraqi women, attacking Iraqis every day and every hour. A whole people are saddened because of his policy, and he was talking with a smile on his face. So I reacted to this feeling by throwing my shoes. … It was spontaneous."

Bush was insulted a lot during his eight years in office. But being physically likened to the dirt beneath an Iraqi’s foot had to rank among the worst. And unfortunately for the former president, he can’t brush the attack off like I could: on curly hair and cultural prejudices.

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