On Thursday evening, Jewish and Arab families sat in a Palestinian-Israeli restaurant in a shopping mall in Arab Nazareth. A three-quarter moon or so hung in the sky, and the city lights could be seen through the windows of the bustling restaurant. Palestinian-Israeli and Jewish-Israeli waiters served chicory in olive oil, stuffed grape leaves, freekeh (roasted green wheet) salad and sayyadia (a traditional fish and rice dish) from the wonderful kitchen of Luna Zreik, the owner of the restaurant named after her.
The Doer wine, a 2014 red blend from the Ashkar Winery in Kafr Yasif, was also excellent. According to the label, the Ashkar family was originally from the Palestinian Christian village Iqrit and the wine-making tradition was handed down from generation to generation until 1948. The tradition was revived in 2010 with the establishment of the winery in Kafr Yasif.
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Around the next table sat a group of kibbutzniks from Ginegar nearby. I told them my mother had fled Europe with the Youth Aliyah program and had come to Ginegar along with the future aunt of Benjamin Netanyahu. The kibbutz archivist told me she would publish this in the next edition of the newsletter.
At the next table were three men from Nazareth, each in a Uniqlo down jacket. Normality pervaded the air. The descendants of refugees from Iqrit and the descendants of refugees from Ostrava, Czechoslovakia, in one restaurant for both nations. Outside noise seemed not to penetrate.
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And what was happening outside? The prime minister said Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid were dependent on “a blocking majority of Arab parties that are acting to destroy” the state. The election campaign is being waged between those who want to expel the Palestinians (Otzma Yehudit) and those who merely want to hide them behind a high wall (Lapid). Population transfer and race theories versus separation. Your choice.
Netanyahu or Gantz, the degeneration is coming to a head. Meir Kahane is at the gates of the Knesset, the Arab parties have been rendered illegitimate, the nation-state law has been passed – and it will be followed by more race laws. And everyone agrees that Arab parties can’t be in the governing coalition. One person incites against them, a second counts their corpses, a third calls them “Zoabis,” a fourth says they’re a fifth column, and a fifth doesn’t believe in reaching an agreement with them.
You don’t have to be a prophet or historian to understand the road ahead. The difference between the two camps is only a matter of tempo: One will race into the abyss at a terrifying speed, the other will do so more slowly.
Watching from the sidelines with desperate longing are the “Israeli Arabs,” to use the colonialist term. Their state is closing in on them. When Netanyahu says their representatives are acting to destroy the state, inciting his listeners to fight and expel them, no one in the political center stands up to repay him in kind. When Balad is likened to Lehava – the former an Arab party that champions equality, the latter a despicable, violent, racist Jewish organization – no one is outraged.
Here’s the truth: The Palestinian Israelis are among the most loyal of minorities. Most of their representatives in the Knesset are excellent lawmakers. They’re not acting to “destroy” the state, it’s the right wing that’s doing this. There is virtually no political violence among Israeli Arabs, immeasurably less than the violence of the Jewish settlers. Despite a past of military rule and a present of discrimination, unending abuse against their brethren and racism against them, most continue to believe in coexistence.
They don’t try to ingratiate themselves with us, as in the initial years of shock after their catastrophe, but in the face of the aggressive Israeli machine. There’s also the rightward hurtle, the Moloch of the military and security, the condescension, the racism and the ultranationalism. They are being pushed to the wall.
In the end they will be forced to undermine the wall. No Jewish Israeli can imagine what Arab citizens of our state go through, from a public bus to airport security, and still they maintain their unbelievable loyalty and inconceivable hope for different treatment and a different kind of government.
The glass walls of Luna Arabic Bistro remained sealed Thursday evening against the terrible noise outside. For one sweet moment, the illusion of normality, decency and equality returned. Not only in one restaurant, but also in one state, for both peoples. One day.