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Khalil Kishawi shares his personal history from when he first worked in Libyan oilfields to when he worked dayshifts as an accountant and nightshifts as a taxi driver.
Standing at the six-cornered intersection where Elston Avenue crosses Western and Diversey is a woman in her mid-30s patiently waiting to cross the street. But the virtually imperceptible way her eyes darted from car to car tell veteran taxi driver Khalil Kishawi she is actually trying to flag down a cab.
This ability to read pedestrians is a skill he had developed when he first began driving in the mid-1980s. Three decades and a combination of careers later, Khalil lets me in on some of his most personal experiences living far from his home in occupied Palestine.
Khalil Kishawi is one of nine siblings born to Abdelrahman and Mozayyann in the dense Remal neighborhood of Gaza City. Born just a year and a half after Israel’s unilateral declaration of independence in 1948, he watched Gaza’s landscape transform from colorful economic and cultural prosperity to the drab green of military fatigues surrounding the territory.
For the first seventeen years of his life, Khalil bore witness to the harsh realities of foreign occupation. Control of Gaza transferred from the British to the Egyptians and then to the Israelis. His prospects for a stable future seemed to slip away after each subsequent military operation so, in 1967, he left Gaza and joined three of his older siblings in Cairo.
Khalil graduated from Cairo University with a degree in commerce (equivalent to a Bachelor’s degree in accounting) four years later. Intending to become entirely self-sufficient and to help support his younger siblings back home in Gaza, he traveled to Libya to work for Esso, known today as the Exxon Oil Company in Brega. For just under a year, Khalil handled the oil terminal’s inventory and accounting. He would work for two weeks straight before taking a weeklong vacation outside of the industrial settlement and seaport.
Eventually, Khalil moved on to work as an accountant for Libya’s state television network. Himself being Palestinian, he felt particularly sensitive to the way the television network unabashedly colluded with the Libyan government in exploiting the Palestinian struggle for its own political advancement. When Muammar Gaddafi’s 1977 speech was met with a tremendously low turnout, he contacted Khalil’s managing director and demanded the network broadcast footage from an old and more lively rally in which he championed, among other things, the Palestinian cause.
No longer capable of tolerating the network’s attempts to deceive the public in the government’s favor, Khalil quickly resigned and left the country for the United Kingdom. [Read more...]