My roommate J. pointed out to his friend A. that I’d bought two video tapes when I’d last visited the Central Bus station: a documentary on Jerusalem and a porno. I never saw either to the end. The porno almost made me vomit. I wanted to enjoy myself but when it got down to it, the scenes made me sick. The documentary on Jerusalem had been made for tourists, or so I thought.
Allah is a typical Palestinian student. He bears no grudge towards Israelis or Jews. He feels he’s a second-class citizen. He yearns for the creation of a Palestinian State. On the other hand, he knows the Palestinian people will be better off under Israeli occupation. I ask him to come see my room. I have an array of hard-core religious-Zionist stickers on my wall. One announces the words of Noam Federman: Ein Aravim, Ein Piguim”: “No Arabs, No bombings.”
I expect A. to erupt in anger. Then I plan on telling him who he is: no one. Lower than scum. Pathetic. He doesn’t belong here. If they decide to transfer your family tomorrow, I’ll be amongst the first to help the effort.
Instead A. says calmly:
“Yeah, I know a lot of people feel this way. I understand them.”
His head is a little bowed. He feels embarrassed. And I pity him. I resort to that voice inside me telling me this man in front of me earns for peace; that he belongs here as much as I do. I forget who I am for a second: a proud Zionist Jew. Forget the violence taking place twenty kilometers to the East.
“I didn’t think you’d react this way. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…”
“I know. And it’s OK. You don’t need to apologize.”
“My name is Eitan. I’ve been in Israel for four months. I got most of these stickers in Hevron and I don’t regret it. I just regret hurting your feelings.”
“No problem. I’ve seen these things my whole life…”
“Anyhow, it’s A.” he says extending his hand.
“What are you up to these days?”
“Staying up late, getting up at 11am or so. Running five miles every morning. Nothing.”
“I’m studying medicine at Tel-Aviv. J. and I want to become doctors. He’ll serve as a medic in the army. I can’t serve because I’m Palestinian. He’ll go back to his village and become the local doctor. I’ll go back to mine.”
“Where are you from?”
“Jenin. Heard of it?”
“Sure, West of Efrat. Right?”
“A little East but yeah.”
“Well, it was nice to meet you. Hopefully, I’ll be seeing more of you.” A. and I would be steadfast friends for the remainder of my stay in Israel. Even when both of us graduated from Tel-Aviv we'd still get together over a cup of Turkish coffee or to smoke some hookah and talk. Not politics. Because politics is only a small fraction of an intricate process called "life."
J. has been trying to teach me to prepare spaghetti. He’s an expert chef. My grandma warned me that I’d need to know a few recipes when I’d be on my own. Didn’t listen to her. J. is Cearcasian. His people live in Syria, Lebanon and Israel. They’re loyal to whichever country they happen to be in. Some of the Israeli ones serve in the army but they aren’t required to. J. is a pragmatic.
When he met me, I began telling him about my political outlook. He tried proving me wrong. Experienced in these matters, I nonetheless had no answers for him. He frustrated me to no end. I happened to witness him arguing along the same lines I’d argued then with his Arab friends. Jon told me he was caught in between. He was neither Arab nor Jew. If Israeli Arabs had no place to call home, J. and the Cearcasians had no place to call exile.
Went running that sunny Tel-Aviv morning when everything seemed perfect. A, responsible for the North American Nefesh B’Nefesh Aliya office encouraging Jews from all walks of life to come live in Israel, was to visit me today.
He had come here some thirty years ago. His son was a pilot in the IAF-the most coveted job in the Israeli army. He had raised a family in Israel: the dream of every religious-Zionist Jew. It didn’t seem like an improbability for me.
I took a short cold shower, dressed, and waited for Alan to call. J. was preparing something tasty in the kitchen while A. sprawled out on in the living room studying anatomy. I didn’t tell them who was coming. Alan would be uncomfortable in the presence of an Arab. Then again, he dealt with them on a daily basis-a lot more so than me.
We had a long conversation. He asked me what my plans were. Told me that if I were to last in Israel, I’d have to change my regiment: get up earlier, get a job, plan a career, eventually get married, raise a family.
“Agreed. But how!?”
“The first step is to organize yourself. Plan ahead. Set goals. Do something productive.”
“That’s always been my problem. It’s so difficult to focus.”
“Take it one step at a time.”