Nimer Nimer and Ahlam Nimer
Nimer, 71, takes pride in dozens of apples that grew from the sturdy trunk of the family tree. Ahlam, 42, his third daughter, is an example of a child who fulfilled her father’s dream: to close the gap in education and to be a spearhead in a conservative, insular Druze society.
Both Nimer and Ahlam were born in Hurfeish, a Druze community in Upper Galilee. He was born in 1941, she in 1970.
Nimer lives in a spacious house which stands on his forbears’ land in Hurfeish. Ahlam and her family also live in a house in the village.
Nimer’s wife, Samiha, and their children (in addition to Ahlam): daughters Gada, 46, a special-education teacher; Tamam, 44, a teacher; Akbar, 40, a social worker; Salam, 37, a social worker; Vaam, 27, a teacher; Regda, 25, a teacher; sons Fikri, 38, a surveyor; Hilmi, 30, a construction engineer; and Marzuk, 24, an economist. Ahlam’s husband, Gazi, 45, is employed by the Israel Prison Service. They have four children − Shada, 19, a student; Nimer, 15; Aroa, 10; and Shima. Nimer Nimer has 21 grandchildren.
Israeli and Lebanese:
Nimer’s mother fled Lebanon in 1925, during the Syrian revolt against French colonial rule. His father’s family has lived in Hurfeish for untold generations. “I am half Israeli and half Lebanese,” Nimer says, “a fellah who lives on the family’s land, even if agriculture is not what it used to be.”
Closing some gaps:
Nimer attended primary school in Hurfeish and high school in Kafr Yasif. He acquired an undergraduate degree in education, psychology and political science from Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan. “I still have friends from that period − lecturers and students,” he says. His seven daughters and three sons all have academic degrees. “You are the People of the Book and we are trying to close the gaps,” he says. His children’s framed diplomas cover a whole wall in his house, such that everyone who enters has to go by them.
Nimer was a medic in the minorities unit, “and when the Old Man did headstands in Sde Boker we guarded him,” he says, referring to David Ben-Gurion.
After his army service, Nimer taught primary school, afterward moving on to junior high and high school. In the course of teaching he “caught the bug” of Hebrew literature and of translating literary works from Hebrew to Arabic, and vice versa. His Hebrew is excellent and he spices his remarks with epigrams from the Scriptures. “In high school I was very fortunate to have a Jewish teacher for Hebrew. She taught us the language and the grammar exceptionally well, and I really loved it,” he recalls. “We studied Bialik, Tchernichovsky, Agnon and medieval poetry. In our school we treat Hebrew language and culture reverently and with great esteem.”
Dozing on a shelf:
Nimer devours newspapers and books obsessively and is well informed about cultural and literary developments. Among the writers and poets he has translated are David Grossman, Amnon Shamosh, Meir Shalev, A.B. Yehoshua, Dahlia Ravikovitch, Nathan Yonatan and Shlomit Cohen-Assif. “I had the honor to translate them into Arabic, and that impelled me to look for what the two cultures have in common,” he says. “In our society the usual thing is for people to bring home furniture and other good things for the house, but I bring newspapers and books. I had arguments with my wife. ‘Wallah, we don’t have room, bring something nice home,’ she would say. And I would tell her, ‘I am bringing the best thing: a book.’ There is a saying, ‘If you don’t read, you won’t be up to speed.’ And another one, ‘A book that is dozing on a shelf does not impart wisdom.’”
During the Second Lebanon War, in 2006, a group of writers visited the north of the country to show solidarity with the residents. “A Katyusha rocket landed 30 meters from here,” Nimer relates. “I rushed everyone into a bomb shelter in my son’s home and went outside. People shouted to me that I was crazy. I said I have a fatalistic belief that what fate wants is what will be. Then David Grossman’s son was killed and a few of us went to offer our condolences. There was a whole ‘who’s who’ in his spacious home, but as soon as he saw us, he said, ‘People from the north have arrived, and with your kind permission I would like to be with them.’ We sat in a corner of the house and he said, ‘I appreciate your coming to offer condolences, but tell me how you got through the war.’ That was two days after his son fell. Since then we have been friends. Afterward I translated one of his books and he wrote me a moving letter of thanks.”
A Gentile like me:
Nimer is an odd bird in his society: knowledgeable, educated and yet despairing. “I learned from a study that Jewish readers spend about an average of 70 hours a year reading, compared to half an hour for Arab readers. But still, I am continuing to translate,” he says. “It was a great pleasure to come to grips with Agnon, with all his Jewish motifs and difficult writing style. Yet, a Gentile like me from the north was invited to Agnon House in Jerusalem to give a talk on two of his books to a Jewish Jerusalem audience.”
Taming the Druze:
In addition to teaching in Hurfeish, Nimer taught Arabic in kibbutzim and moshavim (cooperative rural communities), took part in Jewish-Arab forums for coexistence, was a member of the central committee in the left-wing Mapam and Meretz parties, and was active in Peace Now. He took no interest in national politics. Now retired, he writes articles for the Arab press. He was forced to retire against his will. “I am a citizen of this country,” he says, “so why is someone from Ma’alot or Kibbutz Sasa allowed to express an opinion against house demolitions, but I am not allowed to object to the drafting of Druze into the army? The prevailing view within the Jewish community, which derives from Ben-Gurion − that the Druze asked to be drafted − is incorrect. It was Abba Khoushy, head of the Arab department of Mapai [the forerunner of Labor] who came up with the idea. To draft them, because that would make it possible to tame them and through them reach the secret services in the Arab states. I was active, together with others from our community, on a committee which opposed drafting the Druze. There was a parliamentary question, and the deputy education minister said, ‘Nimer Nimer’s place is not in the education system.’ In 1993, against my will, I was made to take retirement.”
The bad boy of the Druze community feels he is constantly under a magnifying glass. A few years ago, Nimer was asked to lead the memorial ceremony for the fallen soldiers of Hurfeish. He recited a passage from Ecclesiastes: “A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together ... A time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” The mention of stones got Nimer an invitation to the Acre police station. “Some guy from the Shin Bet [security service] said I had called for an intifada in a military cemetery − that I had called for stones to be thrown. I didn’t lose my wits. I volunteered to go to a bookstore, buy a Bible and show them the exact place. He said, ‘Nimer, go home, but you should know that the people in your village drove us crazy with dozens of phone calls.’”
Nimer had hoped for a son. “I brought my wife to the hospital in Nahariya and waited outside,” he relates. “Even now in our community, it is not the custom for the husband to be present at the birth. Then they told me, ‘Another girl.’ I said, ‘Wallah, welcome.’ Who was I supposed to complain to, the Lord above? With us, as long as there is no son, the family is considered childless. But we definitely accepted the girls. I didn’t feel pressured after she was born. After her we had another daughter.”
Ahlam in school:
“It’s not easy for me to say this, but my children were at a high level in terms of [academic] achievement, including Ahlam. She was outstanding in school. I was never summoned to the school, and I would always observe from the side the way she studied.” Ahlam confirms this with a shy smile. “There was an atmosphere of learning at home,” she says. “I saw my older sisters studying, and I did likewise.”
Not what it used to be:
Nimer is nostalgic for the “old values” of education, and appreciates the fact that in his community the pupils still stand up when the teacher enters the classroom. “But it’s not what it used to be,” he says. “Our children are also running wild, though not like yours. In our society it’s out of the question for a girl to bring a boyfriend home and shut herself up in the room with him. With us, she can bring the boyfriend only for a serious purpose.” Ahlam, who met her husband through a matchmaker, agrees that the education and discipline of today’s young generation are very different from what she remembers: “We were 10 children at home, and I remember it was fun. We got along somehow, and no one complained. Now, with four children, it’s hard to get along.”
Rebel with a cause:
Ahlam doesn’t remember arguments and quarrels at home − but says maybe her choice of profession spawned some anger. “My father loves literature and I studied mathematics, so we had a few quarrels and disagreements,” she says. “But the quarrels were tolerable. He wanted me to study art, but I told him I was good at mathematics. In the end, he gave in. I think there is a great deal of art in mathematics.” Ahlam holds an undergraduate degree in mathematics and education from the University of Haifa.
There are no nerves or tensions here, and if there are, they are bottled up. “There will never be agreement, but we live with reality,” Nimer says. “I never forced anything on the children. I relied on their common sense and good judgment, provided they preserved our honor and our tradition − which is not self-evident. We have a permissive society around us.” Ahlam believes that conducting life according to tradition, setting boundaries and having children marry early and leave home prevents much friction in the family. That also makes it hard for her to remember anything especially irritating about her father.
Reflections in the mirror:
According to Nimer, politeness and good manners are qualities they both share. “She doesn’t like to quarrel with people, she is quiet and sometimes introverted, like me.”
Nimer wanted to be a fellah. “Not an astronaut, not an officer, not a wazir and not a member of the Knesset − only a fellah.” Ahlam wanted to be a construction engineer, and she believes that when her children grow up, they will realize that fantasy and study construction engineering in the Technion − Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa.