Today being Rosh Chodesh, I went to the barbershop for my monthly haircut. The television was on loud and we heard the unhappy news of another tragic incident in Jerusalem. Two Arabs boarded a local bus and began shooting and stabbing passengers until one of them was shot. In another Israeli city, there were five reported stabbings of Jews.
I asked Albert, the barber, “when will it stop? Why don’t we have the death penalty here in Israel? There has only been one execution in our State’s history… the hanging of Adolf Eichman, the Nazi monster”.
Albert put down his scissors for a moment and turned to me. “yedidi, it will never stop. There will never be peace between us and them. We are too different with two different mentalities. Do you really think that if we had a death penalty it would stop the attacks? We Jews honor life. The Arabs honor death. They dream of going to paradise in search of seventy-two virgins. They will be lucky if they can find even one”.
He resumed cutting my hair and kept on talking. He told me that he arrived in Israel from Bukhara in Uzbekistan in 1995. In those days he frequently shopped in Arab markets for fruits and vegetables and never had any quarrels with the Arab merchants.
“You have to understand. I came from a Muslim country and I understand those people. I know how to talk to them. They are all smiles but you have to be careful when you turn your back”.
I told him that once I knew a Christian Arab very well. He had been the superintendent of the Jerusalem YMCA, the largest and most beautiful YMCA in the world. There, Jews, Muslims, Christians met together, exercised together, swam together, drank coffee together, attended lectures together. It was a harmonious place in which to meet, talk and even to socialize.
Raffoul and his wife Widad often invited me upstairs to their charming apartment. Each visit was accompanied by steaming Turkish coffee and a plate of home-made baklava. Raffoul was a Lutheran Christian and had been educated in Jerusalem’s Schneller school. I don’t know if he could read simple Hebrew but other than “shalom” and “l’hitraot” he spoke no Hebrew. Over and over again, at each visit, he offered the same remark: “our country could be a real paradise if only the politics were different”.
I understood that to mean that all would be well if only the Jews had not created their own State.
He was a soft-spoken man, courteous, polite and friendly. He never encouraged violence but longed for a peace when he could once again attend church services in the Old City of Jerusalem and visit family members on the other side of the Mandelbaum gate. Raffoul was the only Arab I have ever really known. And I liked him.
My barber insisted that there is no difference between a Christian Arab and a Muslim Arab. I had to disagree. The shining example of the differences could be found in our northern neighbor’s country, Lebanon, home to one of the world’s outstanding poets of the 1930’s, Kahlil Gibran.
In his masterpiece, The Prophet, he wrote of good and evil.
“Of the good in you I can speak, but not of the evil.
For what is evil but good tortured by its own hunger and thirst?….
You are good when you are one with yourself….
You are good when you strive to give of yourself….
You are good when you are fully awake in your speech….
You are good when you walk to your goal firmly and with bold steps…
In your longing for your giant self lies your goodness: and that longing is in all of us.”
Albert, my barber, scoffed. “Poetry is poetry, peoples’ behavior to others is a different story. Look at how Arabs kill one another in Syria, in Iraq and even in Lebanon and here in Gaza. They live by the sword and there can never be peace between us and them.”
I don’t know if Albert is right or not. The present situation is gloomy with no prospect for a quiet solution. But Jews are an optimistic people and we always hope for better things.
My haircut was finished. Albert said. “Now go home and color your hair. You will look twenty years younger”. “Why only twenty?” I asked. “Why not thirty years?”
Albert the barber smiled. “Bring me a falafel next time you come for your haircut”.