We are commanded by the Torah to love our neighbour as we do ourselves. In its most basic form, it means treating people with kindness. I am the kind of girl who appreciates the little things. I never forget to say please and thank you to those who show me any type of kindness – big or small – and that especially includes people in the service industry. It’s a tough industry – having to please people all day no matter how they treat you. A genuine smile and a sincere “Thanks!” can go a long way. It’s like I tell my kids: You catch more bees with honey than vinegar. Setting that cliche aside, I happen to like having a personal relationship with the people I encounter on a regular basis. Last week I was in Jerusalem, strolling down Jaffa Street, when I saw one of the checkout clerks from Mega Modiin sitting on a bench. It was weird to see her out of context. She didn’t see me and I could have walked by, but I walked over to her and said a big hello. She smiled and asked me how I was. Vicki has worked in Mega Modiin for at least 15 years since the day I moved to my yishuv. And we always share interesting conversations while she tallies up my grocery bill. I continue to break my teeth speaking Hebrew to her while she chats with me in English. And then there’s the guy at the local gourmet shop who asks me what I’m going to bake with all the stuff I’ve bought and we end up segueing into which diets work and why. But I’m not just friendly with the Israelis that I come into contact with, but Arabs too.
I don’t know what my friends who live in the US and Canada think, but just because we live in Israel, doesn’t mean we only come into contact with Israelis. I happen to live just over the green line and there are plenty of Palestinians (not Israeli Palestinians, who are full citizens of this country) who work in and around our small community and in the larger city of Modiin. But just because they are Arab, doesn’t mean I don’t have similar conversations with them as well. We have an older Arab gentleman who works for our yishuv keeping our streets clean and plenty of families here use him to clean their windows which he does for extra cash. And every time he sees me, he waves and asks me how I am. There is quite a skilled staff of Arabs working at the chicken and meat counter in a couple of the local supermarkets, as well as some working at the gas station. While I don’t get into conversations at the gas station, I definitely do at the meat counter. Sometimes it’s about what cut of meat to buy, or which method would work better, oven or BBQ. When Thanksgiving rolls around and I pick up the 15 pound turkey that I ordered, we have a whole discussion about what Thanksgiving is all about and why I, as a Canadian, choose to celebrate it. They laugh about it and then ask me how I prepare the turkey, with which spices and at what temperature and for how long. And they often hand me the meat and then wish me a “Shabbat shalom.” My husband has worked with plenty of Arabs in the past and some of them even tried to “friend” him on Facebook. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that we live with them and they live with us, and I, for one, don’t ignore them. I say please and thank you to them as I would to anyone who did me a kindness. It never occurred to me to do otherwise.
But now things have changed. I filled up my car with gas the other day and while I still smiled and wished the gas attendant a good day, I drove away with a clenching in my stomach. I couldn’t help but wonder if he was forcing himself to be polite while seething inside at the very fact that I am part of a nation that is attacking his. And thinking about how easy it would be for him to throw a lit match into my tank as it was filling… (I know – I tend to be morbid sometimes…) And when I thanked the clerk at the meat counter for picking hairless wings for me (a big deal here…) I wonder if he’s secretly wishing he could somehow poison my meat. My 16 year old daughter pointed out that they could be thinking exactly the same thing about me. And that thought had never even crossed my mind.
My house is situated at the far end of our community and the view outside my window is one of hills, valleys, craggy stone and olive groves. And the ugly, tall, imposing, concrete security fence, too. While it somewhat ruined my bucolic view, I’m glad it’s there. Before it went up, there was one Friday when I was standing in the shower, my hair full of shampoo, when my daughter burst in and screamed, “the Arabs are coming down the hill!” I grabbed a towel and ran out of the shower and stared out the window. Hundreds of Arabs were chanting while making their way down the hill towards our chain-link fence. A call was made to the security company that sits at the entrance of our community and the army was called in. For weeks afterward, while the security fence was still just a concept and not yet a reality, several army jeeps were situated on our side, using their night-vision technology to watch the valley, to make sure we had no other surprise visitors other than the occasional deer leaping through the hills. Then the security fence went up. Now, every Friday, the Palestinians behind the wall – there are three villages just beyond – come out to protest the wall among a host of other things. Sometimes it’s peaceful, but most of the time not. Too often, the army has to throw either a stink bomb or tear gas at them, which the wind then carries over the valley and makes it difficult to stand outside or even keep the windows open. Never thought I’d ever experience tear gas in my life, but I have. Many times. I know that some of those same Palestinians are coming over the security crossing every morning in order to work. And I wonder sometimes if the guy who cuts my chickens up into eight neat pieces is the same guy that’s burning tires and trying to topple the concrete wall in view of my house.
I’m not sure what to make of this whole weird relationship that we now have. I’m still trying my best to love my neighbour and continue being kind and grateful, because that’s the kind of person I am. I’m still smiling and still polite, but I’m conflicted and the clenching in my stomach has only intensified. It’s not like this hasn’t happened before. With every war in the past, there were the same thoughts, the same concerns, but now it seems much more complicated. This war has escalated beyond what we had imagined. Sure, we figured there would be terrorists, but we weren’t counting on the “human shields” or the twelve year old gun-toting kids, or the sheer number of mind-boggling tunnels that must have been in the works for decades. The anti-Israel riots that have erupted all over the world hasn’t made it any easier on us, either. Educated European and American Arabs are now taking to the streets, not in peaceful protest with flags and homemade posters, but with bats, sticks, stones and fire and with an anger-driven violence that has not stopped shocking me. And while these local Arabs – who I come into contact with each and every day – don’t live in Gaza, plenty of them are loyal to Hamas.
When will the tides change for them? When will they care more about their loyalty to Hamas than their steady jobs? When will they decide to put down their butchering knives, or the gas nozzles and take to the streets? Is it only a matter of time?