Soldiers dancing with Arabs

Years ago a Palestinian blew himself up on a bus in a Jerusalem killing many Israelis. He was from Daharia, a Palestinian village in the southern Hills of Hebron. I was living in Daharia at the time as a soldier serving in the Israeli army reserves. I was stationed in an abandoned building surrounded by barbwire, and it felt like I was living in the Wild West. We were shot at and had rocks thrown at us on an almost daily basis. And the soldiers I was with did some awful things to the hoi polloi, such as randomly arresting Arabs late at night, bringing them into our compound and threatening to murder them.

Just to give you a sense of a day-in-the-life, while on patrol one morning my commander told me to drive the jeep closer to a young boy riding his bicycle. He said he wanted to get a better look at him. I was suspicious yet I obeyed the order. When we got close enough the commander quickly threw open the jeep door trying to slam it into the biker. Luckily, I was able to pull away in time. There was no love lost between us and the Arabs.

One afternoon, while off duty, I went to the rooftop of the building to sunbathe. Our outpost was adjacent to Daharia’s Soccer field. The stadium was filled to capacity for the big game against the Hebron team. Instead of sunbathing, I decided to do something more productive. I found a piece of cardboard and I took a thick black marker from the briefing room and I wrote in Arabic the word Daharia. Every time the Daharia team got close to scoring, I held up the sign and cheered them on. Slowly the crowd began to notice my sign and every time I held it up they roared and went wild with enthusiasm and laughter and appreciation. My fellow soldiers came up to the roof to see what all the ruckus was about. When they saw what I was doing they ripped the sign out of my hands and tore it up.

We hate Daharia, they told me, and we should not be supporting them. I tried to explain that sports would be a great way to break the tension between us but my words fell on the uncircumcised ears and uncircumcised hearts of the circumcised soldiers.

I’m all for breaking down barriers between Israelis and Palestinians. I believe we should socialize with each other and that all Israeli schools should teach spoken Arabic instead of classical Arabic. I lean more towards universalism than I do particularism.

Yes, the active service soldiers who were caught on video dancing at a Palestinian wedding in the West Bank were irresponsible. Yes it put their lives in danger as well as the soldiers that would have had to attempt a rescue had they been kidnapped. And just because all ended well doesn’t make their act any less stupid.

But when I watch the video I can’t suppress a smirk and a feeling that Israeli soldiers dancing at Arab weddings is going in the right direction… the direction of peace and utopia. I condemn their judgement but I like their spirit. We just have a lot of hard work to do first before we begin dancing at each others weddings.

About the Author
Robby Berman has a Masters (MPA) from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, a Masters (MBA) from the Baruch School of Business and is the founder & director of the Halachic Organ Donor Society (