Rebecca Zeff
Rebecca Zeff
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An Arab asked me if he could use my sunscreen

The road to peace begins with 'political flirting' and beach diplomacy

Today at the beach, an Arab asked me if he could use my sunscreen, after a couple of Israeli girls denied him and his friends their sunscreen “because…you are Arabs.”

But that was after he and his friends denied the girls some of their vodka (to go with the girls’ energy drinks) “because…you are Jews.”

But that wasn’t before the couple of Israeli girls teasingly offered AND denied them strawberries, “because…you are Arabs.”

But that exchange didn’t happen until the girls asked the boys why they wouldn’t stop staring at them. One of the boys answered “because…you are Jews, but you are pretty Jews.”

Who started it? Is that not the age-old question?

And then there was me — sitting between the two groups, headphones on, but music on pause, with a front-row seat on Bograshov Beach to the Israeli-Arab conflict, or was it a typical beach day of young people flirting and raging hormones? Or was it the conflict? Was I watching the war on a small scale or a full-blown battle…of love and desire?

Side note: Why have we not coined the term, “Political Flirting>”

Frequently, over the last two and a half years that I’ve been living in Israel, when a non-Jewish man introduces himself to me, he feels compelled to tell me within the first few minutes, if not seconds after he has said his name, that he is not Jewish, or that he is an Arab Christian, or even, drum roll please, that he is a Muslim. And every time, these men act like they’ve dropped a bomb and mentally duck for cover, as they anticipate that I am not familiar with this mysterious concept of cross-religious social interaction.

I try to keep conversation light, although my American-raised nature has me internally hyperventilating, considering that I do not want to say anything in response to offend said man from other religion. But I am in the United States no longer. What better way is there for me to tranquilize the elephant in the room than to go according to the non-politically correct ways of the Middle East and drop my own bomb on this awkward conversation?

“I figured that was the case, because most Jewish parents don’t name their children Abdullah,” I smirk in response.

And we continue on to have a drink and exchange words and laughs regarding how he will probably never be able to bring me back to his village to meet the parents, and how religion is the worst and best thing out there. Because I am a fiend for learning languages, I bat my eyelashes, asking him to “teach me something in Arabic, Abdullah,” and, in exchange, I teach him some Spanish, the least politically charged language of the Middle East.

This, habibi, is political flirting.

If you skipped over my side-note, it’s basically the age-old, no one knows who started it, forbidden love and friendship of Romeo and Juliet, except in this case, Romeo is Rashid and Juliet is Hadassa, and the forbidden love is ancient and we all have trouble finding the middle ground because it’s a shared ground, but because we are human, we instinctively want to love each other, no matter how much we think we hate each other.

Back to the beach.

I’ll say that again: Because we are human, we instinctively want to love each other.

I watched the Arab boys and the Israeli girls for hours. One of the girls reapplied her blush, telling her friend, “But he’s so cute,” and one of the other boys walked over to borrow a lighter, even though he’d had his own earlier in the day. The two sides kept making eyes at each other, giggling and then talking smack, blowing kisses, followed by putting up middle fingers, and looking for any reason to talk and sit with one another, but neither being brave enough to make a serious move to be more than strangers on a beach on either side of the conflict, I mean me. The attraction, the hormonal desire for human interaction was all there, but the conflict and the enmity were so deeply rooted that love, even if it was young love, was seemingly impossible.

Unfortunately, the flirting plateaued and then rolled downhill, resulting in the Israeli girls pulling their chairs away and sitting elsewhere, but my question will always be, “What could have been had this encounter occurred anywhere else in the world?”

I do not need to remind anyone of the complexity of the Israeli-Arab conflict, but what we do not realize is that there are large scale and small scale battles, and the small scale battles start with us, i.e., beach- and party-goers, lovers of summer and sunshine, the up-and-coming, local and foreign, young and beautiful generation of our entire region.

There is a thin line between love and hate, and it is as thin as a layer of sunscreen.

Today, an Arab asked me if he could use my sunscreen.

I said, “Yes.”

Because we are all human and his skin burns like mine.

About the Author
Rebecca made aliyah from South Florida in 2014 and is working at a fin-tech startup in Tel Aviv.
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