Two weeks ago I went to pick up food from our restaurant, which is 7 kilometers from my house in Kiryat Motzkin and close to the port town of Acre. We don’t own the place, but we refer to it as ‘our restaurant’ because for many years it has been a place that we call a culinary home away from home, we eat there at least once a week, we do take-outs we bring family and friends to celebrate, to enjoy good food and good company. When the restaurant is not busy, or when we stay late, the owners join us for coffee and conversation. We know about each other’s life and families.
As I picked up the food ready to pay, one of owners noticed that I had a bag from a bakery in my town. He asked me about the baked goods, about the cakes and cookies and I told him that it was absolutely the best bakery in Israel. He mentioned the upcoming birthday of his wife and that he would like to try the bakery. I gave him the name of the place and the address.
A week later I went back and asked him how he liked the bakery. My friend was visibly upset, “It was terrible, a complete failure. When I got to town I asked a woman near a bus station for directions to the address that I had and she started screaming, “A suspect, a suspect.” She took out a cell phone and started dialing and I knew that she was calling the police, so I turned around and went back. I understood, the woman was afraid. So I never got the cake for my wife’s birthday.”
I saw the pain on his face, “Is there a day that you are free? I will come and take you to the bakery in my town.” He said that Tuesday would be good. I came on Tuesday to pick up a man who was visibly excited and happy and I gave him a tour of my town, which in the last few years has turned into a beautiful place with public spaces, parks and playgrounds where kids can play and adults can take walks, a place where there is attention to people’s civic daily needs. Seven kilometers away, and my friend had never been to my town. He looked around and said, “I wish that our Arab village would look so well tended.” His village, a population of about 2,000, has none of the amenities of my town, no parks, no playgrounds for children to play and no public space for mothers to gather. I mentioned that our city has changed, has become people-friendly because we elected a talented and energetic mayor and wondered if they could get together in his village and do something similar. He was doubtful, saying that it was not part of rural Arab culture, “My wife stays home with our child and feels imprisoned, there is nowhere for them to go in the village. I tell my wife, you have a car, take the kid and go somewhere, and she says, ‘and where would I go’?” It was clearly not an option to come to predominantly Jewish cities, which are not safe places these days for Israeli Arabs in their own country.
We made our way to the bakery, my friend bought various cookies for his wife’s (belated) birthday, he liked the place that a week earlier he could not visit, and praised the owners for the quality of their products.
We drove back to the restaurant, his brother joined us and I had coffee with two warm, smart, caring people. I thought of the service they offer, always friendly, efficient, and welcoming, providing high quality food, fresh and creative. We talked about cultures (what could we say about politics?) about the difference between my town and their village that they criticized for the absence of public spirit, of not caring for common spaces, a culture where everything is within the walls of the house. The brother recently travelled in Europe, “When I was in Italy I thought how clean the street was, I dropped a piece of paper and quickly picked it up. After Europe I have vowed, my kids will not go to school in the village. I am sending them to a private school in Nazareth.” He looked at me, “I want you to know that you have made my brother very happy and he was deeply moved that you offered to come and drive him to your town and take him to the bakery.”
I was thinking how I could go to his village and not fear for my life, but he could not feel safe in my town. This is not normal. A human being, a citizen, is afraid in his own country that he could be attacked by a mob, be killed, be arrested because a woman looked at him and saw an Arab and that he would say to me, “I understand her, she is afraid. “ To me this is not a normal life. It is a terrible thing we have here. I say to the owners, “We are brothers, here. We live here together, these are our problems and we must solve them together.” We hug, I take food and drive home on this road that we should, but can’t share equally right now in the ongoing turmoil. This is not normal, but we live here together, Jews and Arabs and we must solve it together.
David Langerman served in the 1973 Yom Kippur Armored Unit, שריון, the first to cross the Suez Canal, and is a supporter of Combatants for Peace. He lives in Kiryat Motzkin, Israel.
Translated from the Hebrew by Ayala Emmett