This story has a very happy ending, so read till the end.
Until 8pm today, my day sucked. I went to the dreaded Israeli post office to pick up packages, saw a man screaming at a postal worker so loud he had to be escorted out, got swindled by a cab driver who tried to make me pay 50 shekels cash in addition to my fare, was shown three illegal apartments, and had to listen to a real estate agent bash Orthodox people (I told him I was religious too and I love all communities). Then, I went to a baklava place where, when I asked the guy behind the counter how he was doing, he said “I don’t like to talk to people, tell me what you want. This is business, leave me alone.”
So like I said, that really sucked.
Feeling despondent, I headed to the beach in Yafo. First off, I love nature. Also, I love Yafo. And third, I know that no matter how shitty things get here, someone or something always help turn them around.
That’s exactly what happened, in the most unexpected way.
First, I bought tea from an old Bedouin guy sitting on a bench. Bedouin tea is made with sage and it is delicious. He invited me to sit and we chatted in Arabic as he went in and out of slumber. Ibrahim, probably in his 70s, can’t be in the best shape. After a nice chat (and helping him market his tea), I left him some extra money and continued homeward.
On the way back, I saw a middle aged man and his teenage son. I recognized them because they had been talking to the Bedouin man. The older man, Mounir, stalks talking to me in Arabic-accented Hebrew. I was unsure at first if he was Mizrachi or Arab, but then I asked if he spoke Arabic and suddenly his son Basil joined in.
If this were America, the conversation would’ve probably lasted a minute or two and then ended with a “have a good night”.
But this is not America, so it instead lasted two hours and ended with exchanging phone numbers.
Mounir and his son Basil, 16 years old, work together in shiputzim, “renovations”. I kept asking where they live and I couldn’t quite understand- something was said about Lod and something about Yafo. I just basically tossed aside the question and moved on.
Basil is a cute kid. Every time a Tel Avivi girl would walk by, his eyes would open wide with excitement. He said he was tired of all the girls in hijabs at his school. He saw one beautiful woman walking with a man and I joked with him that I would talk to the guy for him. He laughed and said the guy would beat me up!
I noticed something curious. The dad loved to talk in Hebrew and the kid would ask him to switch to Arabic. I asked Basil if he spoke Hebrew and he said no, not really. If this kid was indeed from Yafo, this is pretty out of the ordinary. Seeing as how more than half of Yafo is Jewish, even an Arab kid educated in an Arab-language school would probably have some command of Hebrew.
That’s because they’re not from Yafo. Perhaps sensing that after an hour or so of speaking to each other in Arabic about why I made aliyah, the attack in Vegas, the situation in America, and the beautiful women of Tel Aviv, I was trustworthy and kind, he told me they’re from Tul Karm. Mounir and Basil have Israeli-government work permits that allow them to leave the West Bank and come to Tel Aviv. Honestly, I was a bit in shock and for a moment, scared. I had of course met Israeli Arabs and even Palestinians from East Jerusalem and a guy from Hebron while visiting Yerushalayim. But never had I met a Palestinian right smack in the middle of Tel Aviv.
As we continued to talk, they told me how impressed they were that an American spoke Arabic and that the dad believes Jews are wise and built a beautiful city in Tel Aviv. I said thank you and that while some Jews are wise, I’ve met some who are less so and that there are good and bad (and semi-ripe) apples among all peoples. He agreed with a chuckle as my fear began to fade.
As the night drew to a close and they had to head home, I couldn’t help but think how this never- and I mean never- would have happened if I didn’t speak Arabic. While the father spoke (some) Hebrew, the kid spoke none (other than an interestingly placed “hevanti” instead of “fahman 3aleyk” when he wanted to say “I understood”). He didn’t speak much English either. If the peoples of this region are to ever live in peace, we’re going to have to learn each other’s languages. It’s a sign of respect and it’s the only way to truly understand each other and open hearts. What good are propaganda posters and demonstrations if in the end we can’t talk to each other?
As Basil and I exchanged WhatsApp information, Mounir put his hand on my shoulder and said, “inte mitla ibni” – you are like my son. I have no family in Israel and, as I wrote in a previous blog, the vast majority of my family in America is toxic. The only family I have here is the one I make. Who would’ve guessed that that would include Palestinian workers from Tul Karm?
I don’t know if you believe in God, but sometimes I just see signs of the divine in my everyday life. I can’t think of something more spiritual and special than what Mounir told me. That’s God’s love.
Walking alongside the sea, the tension of the day disappeared. My heart lifted towards the sky as I thought about the little miracle happened in the most mundane place in the holiest of lands. Between the crash of the waves, the sleeping Bedouin, and the lights of Tel Aviv.