As the Israeli tour group from Tel Aviv is filing into the dining room for lunch, the Moslem call to prayer drifts across the valley from the electronic muezzin of the neighboring village. The bus driver comments: "all it would take is a couple of rpgs (rocket propelled grenades) to shut them up!"
And I consider my comeback options: "Oh, actually we get along with them fine;" or "Zionism may not be racism, but why are there so many Zionist racists?" or "Perhaps, but that really would not solve anything;" or "You know, after you live here for a while, you don't even hear it any more;" or "But I have friends over there, coworkers, professional colleagues." Or silence and a weak smile, which is what I usually respond.
A Moslem friend and coworker reports that she heard on Al-Jezeera (an Arab TV station broadcasting from the Persian Gulf) that few Jews were killed in the September 11 attacks, as they all got phone calls the night before, telling them to stay home. She wants to know what I think of this. "You know I am always willing to listen to the other side, to give the Arabs the benefit of the doubt - but this is a blatant, obscene, antisemitic lie. Period. And I have personal anecdotes and hard data to prove it."
And I am thinking, was she really considering this? Is she surprised at the answer? Was she curious what I would say? Are her friends and neighbors debating its truth? Or have they already accepted it?
In a coexistence discussion group of Israeli Palestinian teens, when asked to describe their "ideal person," one group of boys responds: "Osama ben Laden."
And the facilitator comes back to our staff meeting looking for help: how to respond without giving the view credence and credibility, but also without driving it underground and hence strengthening it. We agree that the opinion needs to be discussed, unpacked, its implications understood by all - and her personal response articulated clearly and forcefully.
H., an Israeli Palestinian teacher of geography whose son attends the local experimental Jewish-Arab elementary school, has just finished speaking to a group of Jewish teachers from the U.S. His main point: as a loyal citizen of Israel, with no interest in being a citizen of any other state, all he asks is equality of rights and opportunities for all citizens. Afterwards, one of the teachers (a former Israeli) is furious. "That's what they all say: that all they want is equality; but you can't trust them; why don't they say what they really believe?" I tried to find out if there was anything H. could have said that would not have made her furious (presumably what he "really believes" would have made her even angrier), but she wasn't in the mood for rational dialogue.
The week of September 11, a group of Israeli teens, on a study-tour of Holocaust sites, is stranded in Munich airport by the closure of Israeli air space to foreign carriers. Arkia (an Israeli airline) sends a plane to bring them home. As they are boarding, the staff blocks the kids' Arab teacher: "We are here to save Jews, not Arabs."
My hair stood up when I heard this the first time (from the teacher's sister), and does each time I repeat it. It makes me ashamed and afraid of what we have become. It depresses me to think about how many Israeli (and Diaspora) Jews would not be able to understand why the story upsets me.
So what happened, you'll be wanting to know. Actually, this time there is a happy ending: the teens refused to leave without her; so in the end she came home with them.