Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Strange Story of O'Neal

3-minute trailer with clips of O'Neal speaking English

Full documentary

Panim Amitiyot (Real Faces) with Amnon Levi

English translation by Janna Weiss

Amnon Levi (narration): Shalom, Good evening. He’s a young boy. O'Neal is only three years and nine months old. He’s Druze. He lives in Majdal Shams in the north. He speaks a few words in Arabic. But he speaks fluent English with a British accent. His parents, however, don’t speak English, and don’t understand what he says. That’s how he was born, they tell us — an English speaker.

A few months ago, O'Neal’s grandmother contacted us and asked us to come and see. We were very skeptical. But then she sent us videos of him. We went to Majdal Shams and were amazed. We returned to Tel Aviv. We recruited experts, a neuroscientist, a linguist, even a psychic, we even went that far. Perhaps science or mysticism will have a convincing explanation for the story of the Druze boy who was born speaking British English.

“The Real Faces of the Boy Wonder” — Report by Moshe Harush and Havi Klaiman

Moshe Harush: Let’s go here. We’re looking for a boy named O'Neal who was born speaking English. Do you know which family? Do you know the story?

Druze man: Yes, yes.

Druze woman: He’s three years old. He speaks English like someone who lives in America.

We arrive in late morning in Majdal Shams at the foot of Mount Hermon, to see with our eyes and hear with our ears about the miracle that took place in the village. A boy wonder who was born speaking fluent English, when none of his family members know the language.

His grandmother, Jamela, left us a message on Facebook and asked us to come to the village to see what happened to her grandson.

The Facebook post:

Good evening Mr. Amnon
I'm a grandmother from the Golan Heights
We have a grandson who does not speak Arabic
He speaks British English, as his mother tongue
I wanted to consult with you
I can send movies if you’d like
He is three years old from Majdal Shams
After entering nursery school he began to have social interactions and to speak Arabic
He sometimes feels lonely
And is not expanding his relationships
He only feels comfortable when he finds an English speaker
According to a decision of the Education Department and of the maternal care program (Tipat Halav), in a joint meeting,
they decided that has a higher level of knowledge than a student
with a BA in English. My name is. .. Shams Jamela

If you take an interest in this gifted child
maybe it will lead him to something wonderful …

[end Facebook post]

Moshe: So, he was born here?


Moshe: And…

Druze man: He speaks English.

Moshe: Speaks English.

Druze man: Let’s say, the toys and such, everything he says not in Arabic, in…

Moshe: In English.

Druze man: In English.

Jewish man: They have stories here

Druze man: Yes, we’re Druze, we have, yes.

Jewish man: Something special.

Druze man: At the top of the hill. On the left.

Moshe: Yes.

Druze man: The house right on the corner.

Moshe: Hi Amir.

Amir Mahmud, O'Neal’s father: Hi.

Moshe: How are you?

Amir: Okay.

Moshe: It’s an incredible story, isn’t it?

Amir: Yes.

Moshe: Now he’s three and a half.

Amir: Three and nine months,

Moshe: And how old was he when you found out about it?

Amir: Two and a half.

Grandmother Jamela invited us to the village, but the boy’s parents are hesitant. They are humble people, who live at the far end of the country and are not used to attention from the media.

Moshe: He’s home?

Amir: Yes.

Moshe: So, I guess we’ll go in, no?

Amir: Please.

I don’t know what we expected, but even after the preparation by phone, O'Neal manages to surprise us — a curious, funny toddler who gleefully assaults our cameras.

Jewish woman: Boo!

O'Neal Mahmud: What is that? Hey, what is that? What is that? Hey, it’s us.

We spend a whole day with him and can’t figure out what’s going on here. What are we seeing?

O'Neal: Sit here. Sit!

Moshe: Where are you going now, O'Neal?

O'Neal: I’m shopping, to buy Kinder Surprise eggs.

Moshe: Which candy do you like?

O'Neal: White and red.

Moshe: What?

O'Neal: White and red! It’s the Kinder Surprise.

Moshe: Kinder Surprise?

O'Neal: Yes.

Moshe: Oh.

O'Neal: They have toys. They have a toy.

Moshe: Where?

O'Neal: In the Kinder Surprise inside. And I eat the chocolate. And squash it. Look! See! Look! It’s a smoke. See! Look. See the smoke.

Moshe: The smoke? Where do you see the smoke?

O'Neal: See it. See it, look, it’s here.

Moshe: Ah, smoke.


Moshe: Okay.

O'Neal: Put the rectangle on me.

Moshe: What to do?

O'Neal: Put the rectangle on me.

Moshe: This way?

O'Neal: Just on me. Just on me. Here’s me. Hi.

Moshe: What are you doing?

O'Neal: It’s a waterfall. Waterfall, waterfall.

Grandfather Yihya: What’s he saying?

Moshe: He says it’s like a waterfall.

O'Neal: Waterfall, waterfall. Waterfall, waterfall.

Moshe: It’s funny.

Grandfather Yihya: I don’t understand every word, and sometimes I say, “Yes, okay” and I don’t understand what he’s saying.

O'Neal: Waterfall, waterfall. Waterfall, waterfall.

It’s a strange situation. You give birth to a child who doesn’t speak his mother tongue, the language of his mother, father and family. And they don’t know how to speak to him. They say that the past year they learned a few words in English, so that they can at least communicate with O'Neal.

Jamela Shams, O'Neal’s grandmother: We didn’t understand. We would… I have a daughter in college now. We would ask her what he was saying. She translates for us.

Moshe: You didn’t know any English?

Grandmother Jamela: We don’t remember. What we got in high school, we forgot it all. Everyone forgets it.

Yihya Shams, O'Neal’s grandfather: I tried to use Google Translate on the cellphone. It tells me, so I understand in Arabic. You understand? Whatever it tells me, then I understand what he wants.

Moshe: You would translate him?

Grandfather Yihya: Yes. I don’t understand him.

Amir: Sometimes he talks to me in words that I don’t understand.

O'Neal: Mickey! He’s on my bed!

Moshe: And what’s his level in Arabic now?

Grandfather Yihya: No, no, he doesn’t know it. He doesn’t have… he knows a few words. A few words.

O'Neal: [Arabic: Int halast?] Are you done?

Grandfather Yihya: Look, he’s speaking now. He’s telling me: Int halast? Are you done? That is, Are you done? You’ve finished.

Even though the English is rather impressive, it’s not useful in day-to-day life and the family is trying to teach O'Neal Arabic.

O'Neal: Wow! Telephone.

Grandfather Yihya: [Arabic: Shu hadi?] What’s this?

O'Neal: [Arabic: Se’a.] A watch.

Grandtather Yihya: [Arabic: Tayib. Shu hada?] Good. What’s this?

O'Neal: A computer.

Yihya: A computer. That’s not Arabic.

Moshe: Do you remember the first time you heard him? What did you…

Amir: Yes.

Moshe: What were you thinking? What did you say to yourself?

Amir: At first, I panicked. What’s going on here? What’s he saying? How can he speak English? Who taught him and so on.

Moshe: What were you thinking?

Amir: I thought reincarnation.

Moshe: In the previous reincarnation.

Druze man: In the previous reincarnation, maybe it was in America. Maybe in England. We believe in that.

Grandmother Jamela: I, as a Druze, I know, the Druze believe in reincarnation. All of them. Everyone.

Grandfather Yihya: I believe in it. Sometime I would ask him: Where are you from? He would say, “England, London.” He’s a person who’s like he’s from there, and he was an old man.

Grandmother Jamela: O’Neal was born four years ago. It was such a joyous occasion for us.

The young parents decided to name him an unusual name for the region: O'Neal.

Amir: No, I like that name.

The mother: Shaquille O'Neal is the name of a basketball player.

The joy at the birth of the son changed to worry. Infants usually already start speaking their first words by the time they’re a year and a half old. But O'Neal didn’t say anything until he was two.

Moshe: He didn’t speak at all.

Sigalit Bar, director of the Education Department in the village: He didn’t speak at all.

Moshe: Which is not normal.

Sigalit: Not normal, to not speak at two years is not normal.

Grandmother Jamela: He didn’t reply, didn’t say much. He didn’t respond to their requests. Maybe he has a hearing problem.

Sigalit: And they were afraid he might have some problem, either that he can’t hear or can’t speak. That he has, I don’t know if maybe an intellectual disability, but some sort of problem.

They took O'Neal for testing and everything seemed normal. At about the same time, he started mumbling some sort of unintelligible gibberish.

[O’Neal speaking gibberish. 7:50-8:04]

The worried parents decided to get in touch with Irit Holman, a nurse who works in the village, so that she could help them understand what was wrong with their child.

Irit Holman, community nurse: His mother contacted me for a test, a language test, a speech test, because his speech was late. I referred him for further testing. And she came back to me and asked to meet with me once more, because she said, “My child has a problem.”

Irit Holman: I said to her, “What’s the problem?” She said, “He speaks, but he speaks like the King of England.” That’s what she told me.

Moshe: Oh, what, this is chicken??

O'Neal: No, it’s a dinosaur.

Moshe: Oh, no.

O'Neal: It’s a cr…. It’s crazy.

Moshe: This a chicken?

O'Neal: No, it’s a zebra.

After two years of silence, O'Neal starts speaking almost all at once and in English.

Moshe: This donkey?

O'Neal: No.

Moshe: What’s this?

O’Neal: It’s a motorbike.

Moshe: Motorbike.

O'Neal: Dinosaur eggs. Dinosaur eggs.

Moshe: What’s that?

O'Neal: It’s a big tummy.

Moshe: Do you have a big tummy?

O'Neal: No. A small tummy.

Irit: His vocabulary…when I spoke to him and I said something to him, and he said, “Oh, my goodness!” A child doesn’t say things like that. A child doesn’t use expressions like that, like he does. Sometimes it’s so astonishing that you’re left speechless, you don’t know how to respond. He knew a few old terms that don’t exist nowadays, and that children don’t recognize. We showed him pictures of all sorts of objects. So he recognized a picture of… an old scale and he simply said water buckets, that’s how water is carried from place to place.

Irit: Do you know what this is?

O'Neal: A water canny.

Irit: What?

O'Neal: A water…

Irit: A water… A water canny. Okay. In other words, this gesture of two buckets on a… it’s…

Moshe: Yes.

Irit:  …it’s something that a child doesn’t recognize. Not in this area, at least.

Grandfather Yihya: He’s an old man. He said words to her that only very old people in London say them. I don’t know how water is carried from place to place, the truth is I don’t know anything about that. I don’t know what to tell you, where he gets this language from, I don’t know.

Irit: An old key, one of those old keys that no one uses anymore…

Irit: This one?

O'Neal: A key.

Irit: No child, this age more or less, when I ask them about the same pictures, knows what it is. He knew.

Moshe: They don’t know at all.

Irit: They don’t know at all.

Moshe: It’s not that they don’t know how to say it in their language.

Irit: No, no, no, they don’t know at all. That have no idea what it is. He knew.

Moshe: He knew, and he also knew how to say it in English.

Irit: Yes. It’s a key. Everything in English.

Jamela: He says, “So sorry, my dear.” Every sentence he says “my dear.” All the phrases they use in Britain, he uses them.

Irit: It’s the first time I see something and I don’t have a rational explanation for it. Druze parents who born here in the village, who were never abroad, who don’t speak English.

Moshe: If we try to come up with another explanation besides reincarnation, what could it be?

Irit: Say, he watches television in English 24 hours a day every day. And he picks up the language and he’s very smart. That’s a possibility, it’s a possibility. But it’s not. That’s not it.

Moshe: You rule out that possibility.

Irit: Because he doesn’t do that.

Moshe: Let’s say, phenonemal learning ability and phenomenal memory.

Irit: Okay, so why in Arabic? Why didn’t he pick up the Arabic first? They spoke to him in Arabic. The family speaks to him in Arabic. Why didn’t he pick up the Arabic? That’s the language he was spoken to from birth. The accent. The accent is not something that he could have gotten.

Irit is a nurse who is 22 years in the profession. She a medical professional who tells us that after she looked into this matter in depth she couldn’t find any explanation for it other than reincarnation.

Irit: If you can give me another reasonable explanation, I’m willing to accept it. But as of now, it seems simply incredible to me.

Moshe: Did you share this idea with other professionals?

Irit: Yes, look. For a person who believes in it, it’s just one more bit of proof out of many that reincarnation exists. And for someone who doesn’t believe and sees O'Neal and hears him, it undermines everything they believe in… It’s as if all of sudden you have something right in front of your eyes that you see and hear and you have no explanation for, no logical explanation for it, as of now. Unless someone finds something. It undermines.

When he was almost three, when he was supposed to be officially enrolled in the educational system, O'Neal meets Sigalit Bar.

Sigalit Bar, director of the Education Department, Majdal Shams: I’m the director of education in the village.

Sigalit was shocked. She decided to consult with her superiors in the Ministry of Education.

Moshe: You called the supervisor and what did you tell her?

Sigalit: I called the supervisor and told her there’s a boy here in my office who is one of a kind, who speaks fluent English, with adult expressions, who doesn’t know Arabic.

Moshe: What was her reaction?

Sigalit: She was also like, you know, the Druze believe in reincarnation. So, for her, it was a major ‘wow.’

In the educational system, they didn’t know what to make of this strange story. A Druze boy who speaks only English. By law, at the beginning of September he was required to enter nursery school. What to do?

Sigalit Bar: From September 11 he was essentially officially my responsibility.

After countless consulations, they decided to enroll him in a place where the nursery school teacher speaks English, but the nursery school was Druze, and the children there speak Arabic. That way, according to the experts, he would be able to assimilate into the village.

Sigalit Bar: At first there were difficulties in the nursery school, communication difficulties, especially with the children. Because there are all kinds of words that are spoken in English and in Arabic they have different meanings, and there were many problems, the boy had angry outbursts. The way to communicate is to learn a language. And if I assign someone to teach him English, the boy will not acquire Arabic. If he wants to assimilate here socially, he must learn Arabic.

Moshe: Do you really believe that inside this boy there’s the soul of someone from England?

Sigalit: After I saw this boy, yes.

Moshe: And before?

Sigalit: Before, you know, I heard stories, but after I saw the boy, I left… I reached my community. I had some meeting there. I walked in and said to them, “I believe in reincarnation.”

Moshe: Really?

Sigalit: Look, you see. I don’t have another explanation. I’m convinced now, from my conversations with him. It’s something that you… I never encountered it. I never encountered a phenomenon like it, I don’t know anything else like it. There’s something about him that’s like an adult. If you saw him, his language, what he talks about… He’s like an adult, not like a boy. The first time I met him, he wasn’t like a two and a half year old boy.

Moshe: Isn’t it easier to assume that his parents have been pushing English on him from age zero?

Sigalit: There are parents here in the village… who play English so the children can hear it, so that they’ll learn English. It’s not at that level, because usually you hear a level of English that’s in children’s movies. It’s a child’s level of English. He speaks with an accent. His accent is also an English accent.

Meeting O'Neal convinces skeptical professionals like the nurse and the education woman from the village, that maybe here it’s really reincarnation. The family seeks out a psychic who will try to give an explanation, to find out whose soul has reincarnated into this boy.

Tamar Galili, psychic: It didn’t make sense to me, why English and not Arabic. Another reincarnation, okay, but why aren’t you speaking the local language?

The first thing she does is to record him, to try to figure out where this accent comes from.

Tamar: I played the recording to a few people so that they could hear the accent. They said it sounded like a Pakistani accent from south London. Not ancient. That means it’s someone who lived not long ago, not something ancient.

Moshe: Try to explain to me a minute. The same way a soul goes in, it goes out? How does it work?

Tamar: Um… let’s say your body is a body, and it has some consciousness. Okay? You know who you are. You think you know who you are. You live in some body, you walk around here on earth, but where does this consciousness come from? What was there before?

Moshe: In other words, we are all reincarnations of something prior.

Tamar: (Tamar nods her head ‘yes.’) We’re reincarnating all the time, sometimes we don’t come back in another reincarnation. Now, this repeats a lot in many religions. It repeats a lot in many cultures. It’s not my invention, or our invention, or the Druze people’s invention.

In Tamar’s world, it’s entirely clear that O'Neal speaks English because the soul of a British person reincarnated into him.

Moshe: I am go home. Okay?

O'Neal: No.

Moshe: Yes.

O'Neal: No.

After the first encounter with O'Neal and his family, we returned to Tel Aviv confused. Since we did not believe in reincarnation, we looked for a scientific explanation for what we had seen, and invited Dr. Keren Ben Yithak, an expert in neuroscience who is also involved in experimental psychology research, to the network.

Moshe: Do reincarnation and science go together?

Dr. Keren Ben Yitzhak, expert in neuroscientific research: Not as far as I know. I don’t think there’s anything like that.

We brought her to our editing room so that we could show her what we had filmed.

Dr. Keren Ben Yitzhak: The assumption in reincarnation is that today I have some sort of consciousness that I haven’t ever encountered before. My present nervous system that I was born with and grew up with in this world, this system didn’t directly encounter… the nervous system that my previous reincarnation had.

Moshe: Let me show you.

O'Neal: A mouse. A apple and a paper and a owl. And a princess and a egg and a house and a banana.

Dr. Keren Ben Yitzhak: The boy definitely knows English.

We ask Dr. Keren Ben Yitzhak if science had ever encountered a similar phenomenon.

Dr. Keren Ben Yitzhak: Xenoglossy. It’s called xenoglossy. There are reports…

Moshe: Which is?

Dr. Keren Ben Yitzhak: It’s exactly that. It’s a condition in which a person, by the way, mainly after head injuries… it happens after embolisms from stroke, for instance. Tumor removal, head injuries like trauma, etcetera. And in these conditions the brain is damaged and rearranges itself anew. It has the ability to compensate, to change. In these conditions there were reports of this. For example, just a few years ago, there was a report about a 50-year-old Italian man after stroke who suddenly started chitchatting in French.

Dr. Keren Ben Yitzhak is relating an incident that appeared mainly in the scientific literature in which a man named J.C. one day simply started speaking in French.

When the case was discovered, the medical world was shocked, but after an extensive investigation, it turned out that the man had learned French in school and had a romantic involvement with a young French woman in his youth. He didn’t speak the language for years. He forgot it and simply remembered it. According to the same article, this was a very rare phenomenon that has been documented only a few dozen times throughout history. But O'Neal doesn’t fit that description. He’s only three and a half years old so he could not possibly remember any language that he learned in the past.

Dr. Keren Ben Yizhak: Language acquisition can’t be ‘something from nothing.’ Okay? I mean, it doesn’t work like that. Assuming that that’s really the case, it’s… very rare. It's very intriguing. As a neuroscientist, I have no explanation as to how this happens. I do not know of any case where language is acquired from nowhere.

Moshe: Science is missing something.

Dr. Keren Ben Yizhak: (laughs) Science is missing a lot of things.

We tell Dr. Ben Yizhak about the diagnostic pictures that the community nurse used with O'Neal, in which he recognized an old key. She was not so impressed by that.

Dr. Keren Ben Yizhak: Often at those ages certain children can already sort objects into categories. So if I now have a key that is this size and I know it’s a key, I will definitely know—by the way, that’s part of language acquisition—I will know to say that a key this size is also a key. We know how to say that a table like this is a table like this, and a slightly smaller table is also a table.

As we continue to give her more details about the boy’s strange case, she says that there’s a missing detail. Evidently, O'Neal has a source of exposure to English from which he acquired the language.

Dr. Keren Ben Yizhak: It can happen that, especially if there’s also a phenomenal brain in terms of its language acquisition ability. Yes? Or to really remember sounds. It’s sometimes enough to have a figure who is not necessarily the dominant figure in the home. In other words, in the Ministry of Education, in any setting that is… in which the boy has some frequent exposure to this person who will expose him to English. And that could trigger a process like that.

Dr. Keren Ben Yizhak sends us to search for someone to the village that O'Neal might have learned English from, and very quickly we discover that maybe there is such a person. One of the family’s neighbors is a man named Wajdi who once lived in London and knows English. Later on we find out that O'Neal knows him and is even close to Wajdi. Have we found a simple and trivial solution to the mystery? 

Wajdi Afif, O'Neal’s neighbor: Okay, tell me, what’s this? Now, what’s this?

O'Neal: A milk.

Wajdi: Milk. Okay, and what is this, O’Neal? It’s a cow?  

O’Neal: Yeah.

Wajdi: What color is the cow?

We decide to go back to Majdal Shams once again to meet with Wajdi and to try and find out if O’Neal really got the English and the London accent from him.

Moshe: Could you have taught him English?

(Wajdi shrugs.)

Is that really the answer? The neighbor Wajdi? So simple? What does he have to say about all this? When we travel to see him, we bring an expert with us who is a speech therapist with a doctorate in linguistics. She will meet with O’Neal, play with him, examine him close up, and will try to understand: What is this boy’s story? We’ll return shortly.

After consulting with experts, we go again to meet O’Neal. This time, traveling with us is an expert who is both a speech therapist and a doctor of linguistics. She will examine O’Neal close up. At the same time, we want to meet Wajdi, O’Neal’s neighbor who speaks English. We were told that O’Neal is quite close to his neighbor. This could be the trivial solution to the whole story. Here is the rest of the report.

We decide to return to Majdal Shams one more time in order to meet Wajdi and to try to find out if O’Neal got the English and the London accent from him. This time we bring an expert who will examine him closely, Dr. Khaloob Kawar, who is a speech therapist and clinical linguist. Dr. Kawar speaks English and Arabic [and Hebrew]. Her expertise is, as we said, linguistics. She will spend several hours with O’Neal and will diagnose him.

Dr. Khaloob Kawar, speech therapist: I don’t think it’s reincarnation, I don’t even believe in it. Definitely.

Moshe: You are going essentially in order to try to obtain what? An explanation for where he got this language from? For where he got this English?

Dr. Khaloob Kawar: I want to see his communication abilities, first of all. And also his linguistic abilities, in English and Arabic. And then maybe it will be possible to come up with another picture or another explanation for where the English came from.

Moshe: Can a child suddenly know a language without being exposed to it?

Dr. Khaloob Kawar: From a scientific viewpoint, no. A child aquires the language that he is exposed to from his surroundings. And if the surrounding is Arabic-speaking, then he should speak Arabic, but… It could be that he is exposed to English from television or from other sources.

Even before Khaloob starts the examination, we try to find out if the source is really the neighbor. We arrange to meet Wajdi. One thing is clear from the outset. Even if there’s a chance that O’Neal got his vocabulary from Wajdi, the accent evidently didn’t come from him.

Wajdi: Where to? Where to?

O’Neal: Cameraman.

Wajdi: There’s a cameraman.

Moshe: You lived in England for seven years?

Wajdi: Yes.

Moshe: And that’s where you learned English?

Wajdi: Yes.

Moshe: O’Neal was never in London?

Wajdi: In this lifetime?

Moshe: (laughs)

Wajdi: No, no.

Moshe: I mean in this lifetime.

Wajdi: No, no, but maybe I’ll take him. If his parents let me, I’ll take him.

Moshe: Could it be that you taught him English?

Wajdi: The first time I met him he was speaking in English and I was suprised, I was shocked.

Moshe: What did he know? When you met him for the first time, what did he know? A word here and there?

Wajdi: No, no way. You saw him, speaking sentences, saying things and what surprised me most of all… I told you he came into my house and we spoke and he said he wanted to go for a ride in the car. I put him in the back and said I’ll take him for a short ride.” He looked in the mirror and was looking for something. So, I said to him, “O’Neal, what’s wrong?” So he says to me, “I”m looking for my seat belt.” I stopped and said, “Holy shmoly, man.”

Wajdi says that O’Neal chose to get close to him because he speaks English and not the other way around. The boy had no one to talk to in the village. No one understood him. That’s why they brought him to him.

Wajdi: Listen, I’ve been teaching my children English for a long time and they don’t know a fraction of what he speaks. They know words, you know, frog, camel, lion, things like that, sun… Even his accent is better than mine. I forgot my English. Listen, I haven’t spoken English since ’99.

Wajdi told us that in the past five years he has been working in the center of the country. He only goes to northern Majdal Shams on the weekends. So the idea that significant exposure came from him is not realistic. We bring up the possibility that maybe he had a lot of exposure to content on television or on a tablet.

Wajdi: If it’s from the videos, then why can’t O’Neal speak Arabic properly?

Moshe: That’s a good question.

Wajdi: If he learned English from videos, then why not from his parents? Why not Arabic? Why did he start replying in English? Why does he reply in Englsh? Everyone around him speaks Arabic. Why would he pick it up from television and not from the… at least the basic… you know. O’Neal, bidak khalib, do you want milk, do you want this.. Why wouldn’t he get that? It’s incomprehensible, as if… you know, for a person who has… I’m totally secular… I don’t know, I’m totally secular. Suddenly you know, it pulls me a little in this direction, even though I’m fine where I am, in this space of mine.

Moshe: It undermines your beliefs?

Wajdi: It undermines my disbeliefs.

Moshe: The ‘dis-“

Wajdi: Yes, it’s as if, you know… you think…

Moshe: Maybe there is something after all.

Even if he didn’t learn English from the neighbor, those faithful to the reincarnation theory have another proposition regarding the two of them.

Tamar Galili, psychic: I began to realize that maybe this neighbor knew someone who was killed there. Maybe a Druze friend in England. There are Druze in England. And maybe it’s his reincarnation. In my opinion, the neighbor’s friend, someone he knew there. Otherwise, why would he be born, what for? Why be born there?

Moshe: Wajdi, if O’Neal is a reincarnation that’s connected to you, I would feel very uncomfortable.

Wajdi: Now you’ve given me something to think about, and something, you know… I never thought about that. Now you… are waking up the…

Moshe: If I were in your position, I would start feeling very uncomfortable.

Wajdi: What? A soul from someplace else…

Moshe: Somebody who’s connected to you…

Wajdi: I don’t now, I… don’t know…

Moshe: I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night.

Wajdi: I sleep well.

The meeting with Wajdi was interesting, but didn’t give us an unequivocal answer. We had no choice but to wait for Dr. Khaloob’s examination. Maybe she will give us the solution to the problem.

Moshe: Is there any chance that after you meet him and communicate with him, that you will become convinced that it’s reincarnation?

Dr. Khaloob: No, no chance. Based on my experience with children with communication disorders, who, for example, speak in literary Arabic instead of spoken Arabic, even though they are exposed to spoken Arabic daily. But they acquire literary Arabic from television and prefer to speak literary Arabic in their daily interactions.

Moshe: Hi.

Grandmother Jamela Shams: Hi.

Moshe: How are you?

Grandmother Jamela: Thank you. (to O’Neal:) I have a friend, new friend.

Dr. Khaloob: I have toys. Do you want to see them? Do you want to play with me? Can we sit there?

Grandmother Jamela: Come, come.

For over an hour Dr. Khaloob stays with O’Neal and examines him with board games and cards. She conducts the exam in English and Arabic.

Dr. Khaloob: What color is this dog?

O’Neal: Green.

Dr. Khaloob: (speaking in Arabic: wahi… wahi…) And this… and this…

O’Neal: (speaking in Arabic: dorje) Step.

Dr. Khaloob: (speaking in Arabic: silaam) Ladder.

Throughout the entire exam, Grandmother Jamela sits with us in great suspense. She can see that her grandson can’t identify things in the pictures, like, for instance, a ladder. She asks Khaloob to ask him in English.

Grandmother Jamela: If you ask in English, he’ll tell you.

Dr. Khaloob: Just to ask him to say it in English?

Grandmother Jamela: Yes.

Dr. Khaloob: He can distinguish between English and Arabic?

Grandmother Jamela: Yes, whenever he gets stuck in Arabic, he explains it in English.

Dr. Khaloob: Okay. Let’s see.

O’Neal: Ladder.

Dr. Khaloob: A ladder. (speaking in Arabic: sakh) Right. And that?

O’Neal: A bell.

Dr. Khaloob: (speaking in Arabic: masboot, sha’ater. kif khalak? mabsoot?) Right. Great. How are you? All right?

O’Neal: No.

Dr. Khaloob: (speaking in Arabic: ana ismi miki. inte, shoo ismak?) My name is Miki. What’s your name?

O’Neal: O’Neal.

Dr. Khaloob: (speaking in Arabic: bidak titla’ab ma’i?) Do you want to play with me? It’s strange, really.

Moshe: So, Khaloob, what do you say? You never encountered anything like it?

For over an hour Khaloob played with O’Neal. She arrived here extremely skeptical. She doesn’t believe in reincarnation. What are her conclusions? How does she explain the O’Neal phenomenon? We’ll take a break and will be right back.

Khaloob is a linguist and speech therapist who we brought especially to Majdal Shams in order for her to examine O’Neal and try to explain how a Druze boy was born speaking a language that no one in his family knows. After examining him for over an hour, she joins us outside and are we waiting to hear her diagnosis. Here’s the end of the story.

Dr. Khaloob: (speaking in Arabic: kif khalak? mabsoot?) How are you? All right?

O’Neal: No.

Dr. Khaloob: (speaking in Arabic: ana ismi miki. inte, shoo ismak? My name is Miki. What’s your name?

O’Neal: O’Neal.

Dr. Khaloob: (speaking in Arabic: bidak titla’ab ma’i?) Do you want to play with me?

Dr. Khaloob: It’s strange, really. He’s really a communicative child in every respect. The grandmother insists on exposing him to English as much as possible, and to develop the language too.

Moshe: Why?

Grandmother Jamela: It’s a miracle, it’s something unique.

Dr. Khaloob: Okay.

Grandmother Jamela: It doesn’t happen all the time.

Dr. Khaloob: That's right.

Grandma Jamela: It’s like a stream flowing past the rocks.

Dr. Khaloob: That’s right.

Grandmother Jamela: It flows and flows and can’t be bypassed or blocked. It’s our dream.

Dr. Khaloob: It’s really unique.

Grandmother Jamela: Yes.

Moshe: You haven’t encountered a case like that?

Dr. Khaloob: No, no, not at all.

When we go outside we ask Khaloob to summarize the conversation.

Moshe: So, Khaloob, what do you say?

Dr. Khaloob Kawar: I’m surprised. He’s a completely communicative child, completely. He initiates and responds to communicative interactions. He’s cute. He demands attention.

Moshe: “Surprised” is an understatement. You told me you were shocked.

Dr. Khaloob: Yes. He also communicated in Arabic, but his Arabic… Indeed his Arabic is not proper or appropriate for his age. He has difficulty conjugating, he mixes up the conjugations between male and female…

Moshe: In Arabic?

Dr. Khaloob: Yes. And he… his accent is not…

Moshe: And how’s his English? What’s your impression regarding his English?

Dr. Khaloob: His English is good. It’s appropriate for age three, three and a half, indeed.

Moshe: For a child who was born in England.

Dr. Khaloob: Yes. For a child whose mother tongue is English. One hundred percent, yes.

Moshe: You never encountered anything like it?

Dr. Khaloob: No. I have encountered children who speak another language, but, on the other hand, they also exhibit communication difficulties. With him I didn’t see any.

Moshe: Does that give you pause for thought?

Dr. Khaloob: I’m really surprised. I don’t have a scientific explanation for a phenomenon like that.

Even a professional diagnosis could not explain the strange case of O’Neal. In the Druze community, he has become a symbol, proof of the belief in reincarnation. Science will continue to search for an explanation, to search for answers. But the bottom line is that here is a little boy, just three and half years old, who needs to be cared for. Today, he isn’t completely able to integrate into the village he lives in, and his father and mother are worried. The question of whether his soul came from north London or from south London does not really interest them. They want help for their son. His life will be here in Majdal Shams. We need to think about how to help him. It’s important for his parents to have a teacher who will speak to him in English, to maintain his uniqueness. On the other hand, it’s important for them to educate him so that he will be able to integrate into his Arabic speaking village.

Amir Mahmud: What we’re interested in, is, now, someone who will speak his language.

Moshe: What would you like to happen? Yes?

Amir: Maybe some paraprofessional, or… a special school for him. Because I think he… has a hard time here. He manages, but he needs something good.

Moshe: Are you excited about it even now?

Amir: Yes.

Moshe: Why?

Amir: Because I have a special son. Very special.

O’Neal: Go home.

Moshe: Okay.

We'll add that O'Neal's mother did not want to be photographed, but she was with us the whole time. That’s it for now. We invite you to visit our Facebook page "Panim Amitiyot" (Real Faces) with Amnon Levi in Hebrew, to respond to the report and talk to us.

34:41 (followed by a brief preview of next week’s show)

Related Links

Times of Israel: Druze Toddler Amazes Expert By Speaking English Without Having Learned It
Michael Bachner | June 3, 2018

3-Year-Old Israeli Boy Baffles Doctors by Speaking English Without Ever Having Learned It

Young boy speaks English without ever having learnt it! A Reincarnation Case?

Walter Semkiw, MD: Reincarnation and Xenoglossy or Unlearned Language

Walter Semkiw, MD: Evidence of Reincarnation - 10 min

Past Lives: Science and Documentation 


  1. Hi Janna
    Its been a long time. I actually have to wonder about a type of brain dysfunction because his arabic is so poor. Unfortunately not proof in either direction

  2. Read about xenoglossy. It's unusual, but hardly "brain dysfunction." O'Neal is an extraordinary xenoglossy case; children in most xenoglossy cases say only a few words in a foreign language. You can read more on xenoglossy at Walter Semkiw's xenoglossy page (link posted above), or in this book (free online and download): New Clothes for Old Souls: Worldwide Evidence for Reincarnation