The Arabs Next Door

Everyone says it's time for me to own a house. It's become awkward, even frustrating. My counter-arguments - that houses in Jerusalem are expensive, that I don't have money for an apartment and that I still don't really know where I want to live - aren't convincing anyone around me. For several years now I've been unable to shake the feeling that I'm a loser as the head of the household, and the older I get - and the kids along with me - the more I'm starting to feel that the fact that we don't have an apartment of our own indicates a terrible failure in dealing with life. "Come on - The kids are big already, you're not going to leave them anything," my home-owner friends ask me, and I usually mutter softly, "Yes, you're right," and cast my eyes down. "How long are you going to continue throwing money away on rent? Isn't it a waste?"

A waste, I agree. But how? Where exactly? In Jerusalem? East? West? I can try for a moment to ignore the financial realities and go along with those who say, "Take a mortgage, rent your place and the rent money will repay the mortgage," except that I know that it's not true. Certainly not in my beginner's state. No rent money is going to repay half a mortgage when in addition I'll still have to pay rent for the place where I live for another 30 years, and then maybe, if nothing goes wrong along the way, the kids will have an apartment - either that or a bigger debt to the bank.

I've already overcome the mental barrier to mortgaging a house, and even started to look for apartments in the village and other neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. After about a year of searching and exploring, I've come to know firsthand about the housing crisis in East Jerusalem. Not only are the prices astronomical, but it's nearly impossible to find a property that can be registered in Tabu. And without the Tabu, any rookie bank clerk will tell you, there's nothing to mortgage. So if we want to live in an Arab neighborhood, the payment will have to be in cash.

Where am I supposed to get all that cash, I wonder, as I pass by beautiful buildings and new construction sites. Where did I go wrong? Do I really make such a bad living compared to the rest of the population? Why does it always seem to me that the opposite is true, that I earn a relatively good wage, to the point that sometimes I feel a bit uncomfortable around construction workers who are out there roasting in the sun - Do they make more than me, too? Where do they live? In what professions do the people with the houses work? Are the economists lying when they announce the average wage in the economy?

And the teachers - How is it that they have houses? I know a few, they're all pretty well set. Maybe my wife is right when she says that I spend all my money on cigarettes? How much is that? Sixteen shekels twice a day, times 30. "Why times 30?" I always hear in response. "Why not times 365 days of the year?"

But it's not the cigarettes, I know. Some of the owners of the fancier houses smoke more expensive cigarettes than I do.

"And alcohol, why don't you include alcohol in your calculations?"

I do, but I drink cheap beer and vodka while they start off with Campari, then wine from a good vintage with the meal, and then cognac with dessert.

Meanwhile, the dream of taking a mortgage and buying a house or a plot of land in East Jerusalem has become a nightmare, and I've come to see that the chances of it happening are close to nil. We'll just have to go on renting and waiting for an economic depression severe enough that four-room apartments will be bartered for a 10-pack of Winston Reds. I'm keeping two packages in a safe for just such dire circumstances.

"Okay," my wife said on Sunday morning, after another failed attempt to talk up a home owner from Beit Hanina. "There's nothing new in the east, but what about the west of the city?"

"Yeah, sure," I answered, unable to suppress a guffaw. "Even if the bank were willing to give us such a big loan, let's say - Who do you think would want to live next door to us?"

"They'll want to, they'll want to," my wife said, wearing that familiar expression that says - You've run out of excuses now, Bud. "Here, look," she waved the newspaper in my face and then tossed it in my lap. "Read it."

"What's this?" I tried to understand the connection between our housing crisis and the headline of the article she was pointing to. "This isn't even the real-estate section."

"No. But it's a report from the Association for Civil Rights. Read it carefully."

I read out loud. Fifty-five percent of Israelis are in favor of encouraging Arabs to emigrate; 75 percent think they're dirty and stupid.

"Go on, go on," my wife urged.

"Sixty-one percent," I continued out loud, "don't want an Arab to visit them at home, 75 percent wouldn't live next to Arabs ..."

"Exactly!" my wife interrupted me.


"Twenty-five percent of the Jews are willing to live next to Arabs."

"Wallah - one out of four? That can't be right. Maybe there's a standard deviation?"

"It is right, and you better believe it. So you can't say anymore that 'They'll never want us in an apartment house in Kiryat Yovel.'"

"You're right. What a surprise."

"You see? You're just a pessimist."

I smiled with relief and scratched my forehead, pleasantly surprised by the statistics.

"So what do we do now?"

"What do you mean? We're going to make appointments with several realtors right away."