MK Mazalha Has Switched His Barber

For over 30 years, the life of Labor MK Nawaf Mazalha was bound up with the life of Hadera, his district town - the barbershop, the tailor, the laund

MK Nawaf Mazalha has switched barbers. He had his hair cut at the same barbershop for 30 years, once every three weeks. In recent months, his haircut has been somewhat problematic. "Had you seen me a week ago, I looked like a hippie," he says. He tried out other barbers, but was not really satisfied. Now he has found himself a new barber.

This story certainly sounds like something from a provincial tabloid, in a place where the politician and the barber are local celebrities. But the fact that MK Mazalha has switched barbers is a political story. For 30 years, the MK, a resident of Kafr Kara in the northern Triangle in the Galilee, used to have his hair cut at Sheetrit's barbershop in Hadera. He started during the time of Sheetrit's father Meir, who was a personal friend. Once, when Meir Sheetrit (no relation to the justice minister) was hospitalized, Mazalha went to visit him. Later, he entrusted his hair, about which he is very particular, to the hands of Meir's son, David.

Sheetrit's barbershop is located in the Hadera pedestrian mall. Since the events of last October [the start of the Al-Aqsa Intifada], Mazalha no longer travels to Hadera as he used to. His new barber is in Kafr Kara.

Mazalha tells of this small change in his life in a casual tone, as though these details are of no real importance. Sometimes it seems as though he is having a hard time admitting the depth of the change to himself. Instead of summing it up in one clear phrase, he chooses to stick to the small details, which add up to a sad picture.

For over 30 years, during his entire adulthood, the life of Mazalha, an Israeli Arab, was bound up with the life of Hadera, his district town. During the past year, it looks as though his life has entered a time tunnel, at the end of which his life has once again shrunk to the dimensions of Kafr Kara.

A man who is known and liked, Mazalha is not afraid to travel to Hadera. "Nawaf Mazalha has no problem," he says of himself. "Even the most extreme rightist will greet me." It's simply not comfortable for him to walk around there, as in the past. The fact that the deputy chair of the Knesset (for the third time), the former deputy minister of health and deputy foreign minister, finds it "unpleasant to walk around Hadera," should be very unpleasant for all of us.

Although he visited his barber only once in three weeks, he used to come to Hadera every Friday. His visit to the city concluded a week that was divided between his home in Kafr Kara and the days he spent in Jerusalem as a member of the Knesset. Friday in Hadera was a good day for its ordinariness. Opposite Sheetrit's barbershop is the old laundry of a man of Romanian origin named Lehrer. Mazalha still remembers the grandfather and the son, who died young. Now the grandson operates the laundry, where Mazalha used to bring his clothes for dry cleaning. That was also a regular habit, since he is a man who is careful of his appearance, and likes to wear suits, even in summer. Every Friday, he used to prepare a bundle and give it in to be drycleaned at Lehrer's. Now, he gets his laundry done in the village, too.

"It's not a matter of patriotism," he hastens to emphasize. "It's because of the conditions. I simply get there less often. What can I say, I don't walk around there as much. Not only me, Arabs in general. In the center of Hadera, where the barbershop and the dry cleaners are located, they burned Arab shops in October. The mayor, Yisrael Sadan, who is also a friend of mine, came to protect them. So it's not that I'm some kind of avenger, trying to get back at them. Not at all. But I'm not naive, either."

Next to Sheetrit's barbershop is Zimmerman's shop. When Mazalha was 18 years old, and had just finished high school, his father had the boy's first suit made by Zimmerman the tailor. The elder Zimmerman died a long time ago, and the shop was taken over by his son Gidi, who is a Likudnik [right-winger] by political inclination. Mazalha used to go to Zimmerman's shop once every few weeks, and he bought most of his shirts and underwear there. "He's a good firm," testifies Mazalha about Zimmerman's wares.

There is something sad about these intimate details supplied by Mazalha to illustrate his story. Although everything is still standing, the delicate fabric of relationships revealed by the details, the use of first names, the personal familiarity with the dynasty of every Jewish family in Hadera, is reminiscent of a spirit of the old Israel, which no longer exists. The distance of only one year has been enough to romanticize what was difficult and distorted then, too. But since October 2000, Mazalha has not entered Zimmerman's shop. "Not that our friendship has suffered," he quickly adds, "we simply have not seen one another since October." Mazalha hasn't met with other friends for almost a year, either.

Every Friday a local "parliament" used to gather in Hadera, the kind typical of small places. The one in Hadera was a Jewish-Arab parliament. Everyone would finish his shopping and errands, and come to the cafe in the pedestrian mall. There was Asher, owner of a plant that makes cables and wires; there was Musa the plasterer; there was Rami, secretary of the Hadera workers' council, and Yehoshua, head of the local tax bureau, and other Jews and Arabs. For about 18 years - it's hard to remember exactly how long - they used to come at the same hour, and sit and talk. If Mazalha was absent from the weekly get-together, everyone would understand that he was abroad. Today there is no trace of that custom. "It fell apart on its own," says Mazalha in a practical tone, which sometimes hides a deep cynicism which he will never express openly. "It fell apart without an order to dismantle and without an official receiver."

Nothing is natural anymore

At the same time, something in the delicate balance in the life of Mazalha, an Arab and an Israeli, has suffered. Geographically, at least, he has become more Arabic once again. "In the shoe stores in Hadera, everyone knew my wife and the girls," he says, as though speaking of something that happened a long time ago. "We felt at home in Hadera, and the people of Hadera - including the old-timers, the Revisionists - considered the people of the northern Triangle an integral part of their landscape and their life. Today it's not the same."

No more barbershop, no more tailor, no more laundry, no more parliament. Mazalha has returned to Kafr Kara, both physically and symbolically. His story sounds like a eulogy of the era. This remark angers Mazalha, who is careful to maintain his outward serenity. "I hate when they say now that `we've wised up,' that `it was all an illusion.' What we had here between Jews and Arabs is not a fleeting episode."

But nevertheless, Mazalha is moved to the point of embarrassment, by things which were taken for granted before. Not long ago, MK Hashem Mahameed made a big wedding for his daughter in Nazareth. He invited Jewish friends and colleagues, too. Nobody came. At 11 P.M., Mazalha and his wife were leaving. On the stairway they met Likud MK Michael Eitan and his wife going up to the wedding hall. "I grabbed Mickey Eitan, and if I hadn't been embarrassed, I would have kissed him. But I only told him how important it was for me that he could forget about everything at a time of celebration; I told him how happy I am that he, whom Hashem considers a friend, came to the wedding, the only Jew." After a short pause in this story, which still moves him, Mazalha sighed: "Look what's happened to us; I am suddenly moved by such a step, which previously was entirely natural."

But nothing is natural and self-understood any longer, neither to the Jews, nor to the Arabs. Mazalha's daughter, Jehan, who is married to a lawyer, used to go to Netanya. What Hadera was for Mazalha, Netanya was for his daughter and her family. A place for entertainment, for shopping. On the day of the big terrorist attack in Netanya a few months ago, they were on their way there. Mazalha told them not to go. One's first thought is that, like any parent, he was afraid that his children would go to a place where there would be an attack. But he was afraid of something else: the revenge of the Jews, who might harm his children. He sounds embarrassed about this fear, but he admits it.

Mazalha personally experienced not an attack, God forbid, but the depth of suspicion. At the beginning of July, he young granddaughter was hospitalized in a Hadera hospital. Grandfather Mazalha came to visit. The security guard at the entrance searched his car and his belongings, and the deputy chair of the Knesset was understanding about this, but at the same time, he pulled out his MK identity card. "We have an Arab MK here," announced the guard over the intercom to his superior, as though announcing a suspicious object. His superior replied immediately: "Let him in," but those words "we have an Arab MK here," still echo in Mazalha's ears.

Mazalha has spent the past weeks mainly in his village, preparing for the wedding of his son Mahmoud, who works for the Prisons Service. The walls of his spacious home are decorated with all kinds of honorary certificates, a signed photo of King Hussein, and several photos of the Al-Aqsa mosque that he has received over the years. "This is a place that is holy to me, even though I have prayed there only two or three times, and in my 13 years in the Knesset in Jerusalem, I have visited it only about 10 times. I don't want to mix religion and nationalism, as you do," he explains his connection with the place, concluding with a small barb.

On the floor of the living room are piles of boxes with wedding invitations. About 35 sheep and two calves gave up their lives for the 2,000 guests invited to the wedding in the village - only about 40 of them Jews. Mazalha says that there is no significance to the small number of Jews invited; the Knesset is in recess, his address book is locked inside it, and the secretary is on vacation. "It's a technical matter of logistics," he insists. But when he did invite a Jewish guest, he made sure to promise that the Wadi Ara road that leads to his house, is safe for travel.

His own private 1948

All these months, Jewish friends have been asking him, "What about the Wadi Ara road?" in a way that reminds him of other times. "Suddenly the Jews remembered 1948, when Wadi Ara was closed until the Jews received it in the Rhodes agreement, and I was reminded of Ben-Gurion's diaries." He quotes Ben-Gurion, who in those diaries would ask every day, "What about Wadi Ara?"

Mazalha's private 1948 is a sad story. His first childhood memory is of a child of four and a half being carried on his uncle's back in the panicky evacuation of Kafr Kara. At the time, 1,800 people and one truck left the village, "with Jews shooting in the background." Kafr Kara was the front line. They spent a year scattered in 20 villages in the West Bank. At the end of that year, about seven of the village leaders, including Mazalha's father, went to General Abdullah al-Tal in Jerusalem, "a man with common sense," says Mazalha. "Don't ask anyone, go back to the village," advised the general. "We actually would have been refugees until today," says Mazalha, considering the alternative, "but we returned. Today we are a village of 14,000 people, instead of being 14,000 refugees. Within 60 years we have grown tenfold."

On a tour of the large and attractive village, Mazalha is like Titus on his victory tour in the streets of Rome. In the unconcealed tone of a victor, he points out new and luxurious homes, among them the big house he built for his son who got married, shows the remains of the houses of 1948, which have been swallowed up by the new construction, and next to each house, tells the success story of the family that became wealthy, or acquired a higher education. He is proud of each and every one, as though by their success they have contributed to some great collective act.

Apparently it was his childhood year as a refugee that permanently fixed his world outlook, which contains a certain stubborn pragmatism. He is especially proud of his wife, Siham, who was the first Arab girl to study in high school, when she was already engaged to him - although then he was very jealous, while he was far away pursuing his studies at Tel Aviv University.

From afar he points out the new neighborhood being built on a hill in Kafr Kara, a hill which in 1948 was a command post of the Hagana [the pre-state military force]. In this command post there was then a young officer named Arik Sharon. Now the local residents are building attractive houses there for the next generation.

About two months ago, on the day of the terrorist attack in the Haifa suburb of Kiryat Motzkin, when they were searching for terrorists in the area of the seam line, the security forces once again raided the village homes in the neighborhood on the command post. Armed soldiers entered the houses, to see if there were any terrorists hiding there. Mazalha says that "because of the situation," the residents did not go out to demonstrate. "What do you have to say about this whole business, the good and the bad?" he is asked, and answers: "That we want to become integrated into life in Israel, without forgetting our Palestinian identity, without being forced to choose between the two."

Mazalha made his first choice in 1971, when he became the first Arab delegate at a Mapai [the forerunner of the Labor Party] convention. Since that time, he has linked his personal and political fate with the party, and has never regretted this choice, and never questioned it. All this was true until the day when the first Arab citizen was killed by police, in October 2000. Then, for the first time, the thought of leaving the party entered his head.

On the second day of the "events," he got a call from Sheikh Raid Salah, mayor of the neighboring town of Umm al-Fahm. "They're shooting at us with live bullets," he reported by phone. Mazalha called MKs Shlomo Ben-Ami and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, and said that if the shooting didn't stop, he would leave the party; he also asked for a meeting between then prime minister Ehud Barak and Arab leaders. In the evening the prime minister called him. "Don't attack me, advise me what to do," Barak asked of him.

The next day, the members of the Israeli Arab monitoring committee, including Mazalha, were at Barak's office. The meeting lasted three and a half hours; while it was going on, a resident of Kafr Manda was killed. Mazalha went from the meeting to the funeral. "Those were the moments when I said `bye-bye' to the party - but I changed my mind," he recalls. "At the time, the peace negotiations were still going on in Taba, and I thought it was worth staying."

Good for the Jews and the Arabs

But since then, things have not been what they used to be. Mazalha was always considered the "good Arab," and brought some prestige to the term. Walking a very fine line, he manages to be good both to the Jews and to the Arabs: As deputy health minister, he helps the settlers set up mother-and-child clinics; he helps his good friend Kamel Rian, one of the heads of the Islamic Movement, to open a branch of the Clalit health maintenance organization in his village. "I do not sell myself to the government," he declares defiantly. "Nobody in the world will tell me that Mazalha has sold his soul."

And in fact, they don't say that about him, although he has never spoken in favor of Sheikh Nasrallah [head of the Muslim extremist Hezbollah party, based in Lebanon], has never praised Hezbollah, has never called for an armed Palestinian conflict, as have Knesset members from other Arab parties. "I am against the attempt to make it seem as though it is better for us to identify with Hezbollah, or even with the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization], rather than with our Israeli-ness," he says, explaining his political philosophy. "They are my nations, and I love them, but I don't want to link our destiny with Syria, or with anyone else. I won't hate the Syrians, and when attorney-general Elyakim Rubinstein calls Syria an `enemy state,' I laugh. Nasrallah is the enemy of the State of Israel, but he is not my enemy. On the other hand, I can support all the Syrian demands in the Golan, but I cannot identify with any group that is an enemy of the state, even if it isn't my enemy."

Confused? Rightly so. Recently, Mazalha conducted a major debate with Nasrallah's second-in-command, on Al-Jazeera, a Qatari satellite TV station. The senior Hezbollah member was angry at him. "Let him be as angry as he wants," says Mazalha defiantly. "I'm not in that ball park. I am not willing to contribute to a further deterioration in the relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel. My Jewish friends are important to me, I like them. There are people in the Likud whom I like, as well as in parties which are better not mentioned. Like whom? Like Cheetah [Eliezer Cohen, of the right-wing National Union-Yisrael Beitenu party], for example.

"On the other hand, the Palestinians also see me as someone to whom they can turn. When two young men from Beit Safafa were killed, after coming to lay a bomb during the Maccabiah Games in Jerusalem, the father of the shahid [Islamic martyr] called me and asked for my help in releasing the bodies. I helped. What do the Israelis say? Every person has a name, and every person has a mother. But inside I'm torn to pieces, I have never been through a time like this."

In addition to these difficulties, there is pressure on him to leave the Labor Party. He hears this both from Knesset members in the Arab parties, and from ordinary citizens who have lost all faith in his party. "That definitely creates pressure on me," he admits. "But meanwhile, I am withstanding it, although sometimes it causes me to have second thoughts. In August, after the assassination of Abu Ali Mustafa [head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine], these thoughts became so strong that I was actually thinking of heresy. If I do this, I will not be a deserter," he declares. "I will not desert to another party, either Arab or non-Arab; I will simply retire from politics."

If he really carries out these plans, it will be a difficult moment in the life of Mazalha, a veteran political animal, but it will also be a problematic moment in the Israeli experience. If the time comes when there is no place in the political system for an Arab MK like him, that will be incriminating testimony as to our situation. "If I were an MK in an Arab party, I would be more popular now among the Arabs," he soberly sums up his situation. "But my way is more correct. Not the way of the Labor Party, but my way. I am in favor of integration, in the sense that Hebrew essayist Ahad Ha'am spoke of it in his essay `Imitation and Assimilation.' Imitation without assimilation is good for us, too. We have no other country."

A few days after the conversation in his home, I received an update from the field, by phone: Mazalha did go to Zimmerman's store in Hadera to buy a suit for the wedding for himself and for his son, the bridegroom. It's hard, it's not pleasant to go to Hadera, but who knows the groom's measurements (2 meters, 1 centimeter tall), as well as Mazalha's changing dimensions, which have increased by two sizes in the past year - better than Zimmerman? And thus this small story of mutual dependence in the matter of suits has turned into another allegory about "the situation."