Beauty and the beast

Oranit it is exquisite. It is a landscaped village slightly over the green line and as such is considered a yishuv. It is impossible to encompass the emotions on building a community in the land of Israel when you start from scratch and end up with perfection. I felt a kindred spirit to a man whom many considered a Zadik. A fellow Anglo-Saxon, a fellow MD, a man who had turned his back on the money and way of life that he could have enjoyed in his native America. Instead, my erstwhile hero went to live in Hebron.

One day, for reasons that are best known to himself, he opened fire on 29 Arabs at prayer and killed them. I was shattered; it must have been some sort of aberration. He must have been psychotic. How could he have done this? It seemed that the time that I was one of the few of my political persuasion who was in shell shock. However, belief structures are not shattered so quickly. Mine were cracked but still intact.

When Ygal Amir struck the structure shattered. I never admired Rabin. I still think he is overrated, but no one in no circumstance can shoot the Israeli prime minister. Someone from my part of the political spectrum did just that. It was at that point that I realised that there was something very wrong with my ideology. Since then I have had no real political home. However, that is part of another story, and I don’t want to digress just now. Ygal Amir and Baruch Goldstone are the two beasts in this story.

So who is the beauty? The beauty is Jihan. Jihan is a traditional Muslim nurse with whom I work twice a week. It is no secret that I adore her. I listen carefully to what she says and as with many a doctor-nurse relationship, she is the power in front of and behind the throne. We often talk about Islam, Israeli Arabs and the world in general. I have learned first-hand that there is a definite Israeli Arab identity. Jihan visits Rabat Amman regularly, her daughter is studying there. She told me that while there and when in Turkey she told everyone that the best place for an Arab in the Middle East is Israel. She insisted that her children learned in Hebrew. She explained that Israel is their country and Hebrew is the language of their country. However, Jihan is of a different culture, you must know how to listen to her, what she says and what she doesn’t say. To understand the nuances

As part of her Muslim identity, Jihan thinks in terms of the UMMA. She will not criticize anything Islam in front of a non-Muslim. When we were a minority in the UK, we behaved identically. Of late I have seen her reactions to the fate of those in Syria. It is similar to her reactions at the fate of the children in Gaza. Never mentioned, but always understood. Lately, we have talked about the massacre in Tunis. For the first time, Jihan only said that the world was going crazy. This was the initial implicit criticism of an act supposedly in the name of Islam being criticised in front of me. I realised that Jihan and probably many like her were having her Ygal Amir moment.

The reaction to Tunis in the British press has been almost out of control. It is now bon ton to hector openly and criticise the UK Muslim community. This will serve nothing. The internal process of change will be hindered greatly if there is a need to protect the UMMA. Once this internal process has finalised the Muslim community, like the vast majority of the right-wing Israeli, will change its attitudes and course. There can be no doubt that the actions of my two antiheroes have toned-down rightist activism and influence. I firmly believe that people like Jihan are those who set the tone and will be off considerable influence. Maybe it is not wise to draw a portrait from a thumb sketch.

I can give many examples of personal acquaintance with Arab liberalism. It appears in the strangest of places and expresses itself in the strangest of ways. I wanted to set up a joint girl’s football team of Arab and Jews. I found the Arabs, I couldn’t find the Jews. My Arab friend told me, ‘you talk liberalism. We do it.’ Similarly, I was very friendly with a worker in a medical centre where I worked. A Palestinian who in the passage of time spoke with me very freely. He was an observer and not a commentator. One day he said to me that the Palestinians had learned a lot from the Israelis, apart from one thing. He went on to tell me that Jews would go to the end of the earth to save a life and Arabs would go to the end of the earth to take a life. That was something that Mahmud, my friend was convinced that they had still to learn. Mahmud is now a policeman in Palestine. He is my hope.

We must be patient. We must understand that this is a process which cannot be hurried or dictate to. Here is the reason why. I had another friend who worked with us in Oranit. He was an Arab from the next Palestinian village. We were the epitome of coexistence. Arafat’s henchmen executed Hosseini.

About the Author
Born in Leeds in 1944, Michael Benjamin is a retired Psychiatrist and medical auditor, co-founder of Oranit, aspiring author and inveterate cynic.
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