Zelda Harris
Five on the 100 aliyah from UK list!

Did I find “peace in Jaffa”?

“Yes indeed,” I answered. A walk on the beach from Tel Aviv to Jaffa and then lunch, what could be a nicer way to part from a dear friend from the UK, who had been in Israel on a fact-finding visit?

He had to be at the Arab-Israeli Community Centre for a meeting at three, so that’s where we parted.

I know the area reasonably well. I go to Jaffa at every opportunity and especially with visitors from overseas. My only problem is that I have no sense of direction and actually do best walking from place to place rather than seeking public transport.

However, since I was facing the sea I wandered down to the edge of the cliff and just sat thinking that I really wanted to find “Peace in Jaffa”

I had no plan in mind except to simply to get back to Jerusalem Boulevard which was where I knew I could find a bus that would transport me home, eventually.

So I asked someone passing if they could put me in the right direction. No “maps” for me I prefer human contact.

I did as directed and came to Yefet Street which was where we had earlier eaten lunch in a delectable bookshop selling a range of political and other books, which also has a kitchen. My friend had invited me there years ago and it was good to go back.

There I asked a  man who was selling strawberries if he could tell me where to continue to Derech Yerushalayim, as it is known. He pointed ahead. “You will need to keep going as its quite far but on the way, you will see a small park and you can rest there”.

It was more of a large garden than a small park and quite scruffy. The municipality had not made much of an investment here. However, there were kids playing on swings, mothers, with babies in strollers or hung around their mother’s bosoms. Also, there were cockerels both on the lawn and in a garden nearby. I put my mobile on record and started to film the cockerels. I thought to myself this is my day to find “peace in Jaffa” to observe the everyday life close to, not as a tourist, just passing through.

A woman came out of her house and asked me what I was doing and I told her. She said “Would you like to come in for a drink it’s still quite a long walk to your bus. Also, you may like to use the toilet”?

I entered the house and was shown into the living room. There were eight or maybe nine women of different ages, some with head coverings others not.

So I blurted out “Oh is this a meeting”? “No, this is a family gathering, Grandma lives here and we all love her, so there’s always family here visiting, the locals call us THE KIBBUTZ. We come from Jaljulia and other places too.” I then needed to explain that I was a social activist and used to going to meetings.That I had quite a few Arab friends and was a member of Women Wage Peace. The oldest of Grandma’s daughters said “I do not want to hear about that” I  quickly apologised. Perhaps she thought I would inject political opinion into the casual meeting. I did not feel threatened, only embarrassed.

At that moment I was reminded of a day some months before when WWP held an unusual and impressive event to create a message filmed from the sky which read “Ready for Peace” I had left the group of more than 100 women to search for, no less than a public toilet. I noticed some Arab women sitting and chatting and approached them telling them of my need, also mentioning why we were there. I asked if they wanted to join us. We WWP, of course, had moslem women amongst us but these were not of the same ilk. The response was thunderous silence.

In the living room were sisters and in-laws who were also cousins. One 18 years old, who was doing her “Bagrut” (Israeli matriculation) asked if I could help her to learn English as she was doing at least 8 subjects and one was tourism. She wanted to make a career in the hotel industry. I replied that she should definitely learn English but I was not the one to teach her only to help her if she wished. I explained that this would be the key to furthering her ambitions. She had her hair completely covered, while some of her Aunts did not. I was worried that the hotel Industry which I do know a lot about would be a difficult environment for her.

The lady who had asked me in told me that shee lived in Jaljulia with her family.  She was less orthodox and yet had to abide by the strict customs of her tribe. Her hair was not covered and her clothes, western style. I admitted that I would like to return with an arab speaking friend they smiled and said “Only if it isn’t a male” we are not allowed to sit with a male who is not a member of the family.” Her son had popped in during the time I was there and he shook hands with me. I was surprised, but it seems he was totally secular.

From water to traditional black coffee served in ornate cups and cake made from semolina, our conversation continued and they wanted to know about my family.Since one woman lived in Rosh Ha’ayin I told them that both my husband and precious son were buried in Kibbutz Einat close by, so I was often in that area.

Again someone asked me how I got to them and I told them that I had asked directions in Yefet St from a man vending strawberries.”Oh that’s our cousin they said in unison and burst out laughing”.

Then I made as if to leave  inviting them to visit me. The grandma who was my age insisted that I take a string of “worry beads” (as I knew them).I declined but she placed them around my neck so….!

It was an emotional yet empowering experience. I had found an oasis of peace in Jaffa. Some things in common like family, food, life, and death.Mostly that we are all human beings.What so impressed me is that with all the differences, our aptitude for hospitality, making people welcome, eating and family, give us a great deal in common.

I had left my friend at 3pm I arrived home at 7pm.

I rushed into the house grabbed a bite to eat and then went to my Monday evening dance group.

I took the box of strawberries to share and the story, of course.

About the Author
Zelda Harris first came to Israel 1949, aged 18. After living through the hardships of the nascent state, she returned to England in 1966. She was a founding member of the Women's Campaign for Soviet Jewry. In 1978, she returned with her family to Israel and has been active in various spheres of Israeli Society since. Together with the late Chaim Herzog, she founded CCC for Electoral Reform, was the Director of BIPAC in Israel, and a co-founder of Metuna, the Organisation for Road Safety, which received the Speaker of Knesset Quality of Life Award for saving lives on the roads and prevention of serious injury. She is now a peace activist, blogger for Times of Israel and is writing her life story.