Our Israeli guide was (ready?) a left-wing, Communist party voting, tefilin-wearing, modern Orthodox carpenter studying to be a psycho-analyst whose paternal great-great grandfather composed one of the more traditional melodies for the Hatzi Kaddish.
Our Palestinian guide was from the Galilee. His narrative was less quirky, more typical for a Galilean Arab from a middle-class family.
Though they were cordial to one another and guided us around with interesting stories about their lives and their devotion to sharing a land mutually beloved by both their broader familial and national narratives, we were all left with the impression that they're not actually friends. Their accommodation to one another was not tense, mind you, just necessary in a rather mundane way. Each man expressed a deeply jaded view of their mutual national leadership: no faith in the Israeli political leadership to forge peace and no faith in the Palestinian political leadership. They grew up believing in a two-state solution but now, in their thirties, they have abandoned that hope.
"What's the solution?" someone asked. And both espoused bi-nationalism. This then led to a frustrating discussion about demographics, the ticking time-bomb of Israel's Jewish democracy. Park Slope wasn't so typical after all: our group was perplexed and rather unified in the view that bi-nationalism would mean the ultimate dissolution of Israel as a Jewish state. We left the conversation with the hovering dread that both Israeli and Palestinian leadership were locked in and that without negotiations soon, the end result would be bad for Israel.
What to do? Our guides parted ways--again, cordial but distant. Like they both were exhausted from a youthful hope disappointed. Of course, what is adulthood without a few shattered illusions? Our Israeli guide pointed us up the hill from the port toward Abu Hassan, where we drowned our sorrows in the best hummus on the planet. Palestinian and Israeli residents of Jaffa and Tel Aviv crowded around the window; warm pots of boiled chick peas were transported into the kitchen; there were no distinctions among the men and women present save one: who had yet to be served.
Practically screaming with ecstasy, a few of us gathered on a park bench to eat. The sun beat down hard; the sea was a ridiculous blue. A man's needs are basic: a home; a meal; the comity of friendship. How maddeningly ironic that in such a place that reduces one to his most elemental state--after all, who has not come to Jaffa port for any other reason than finding his way home?--we can't seem to get off first base.
|at a shakshuka cafe in the jaffa flea market|
It was a different melody, an unfamiliar sound, but it went straight to the heart nevertheless. And in its directed trajectory, its intentional expression, the words and the song enabled the men assembled to reach the place they sought to be.
It brought to mind those fated words of Amichai: "I said to myself: redemption will come only if their guide tells them, 'You see that arch over there from the Roman period? It's not important. But next to it, left and down a bit, there sits a man who's bought fruit and vegetables for his family.' "
I know what you're thinking: stupid, naive, condescending, bleeding-heart American Jew, coming to tour in Israel and telling us how to make peace, with hummus no less. On one level, it is a problematic paradigm. I'll admit it.
"They hate us." It's true. So is: "We hate them."
But it doesn't apply to everyone. Some can see through the fires of hatred, can stand strong against the headwinds of intransigence. There one finds shared ideals like freedom, justice, a roof over one's head, a window onto a horizon, and a meal with family and friends. I saw it with my own eyes. That's true, too.