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September 20, 2014 | 25th Elul 5774

Neighbors II

Galilee Diary #348, July 29, 2007

Marc J. Rosenstein

The blood-avenger himself shall put the murderer to death; it is he who shall put him to death upon encounter.

-Numbers 35:19

We are eating a lot of stuffed grape leaves this week. It’s a long story. Six years ago, when we still operated a restaurant here, our assistant cook for about a year was a young woman from the nearby Moslem Arab village of Dir El Assad. C. was about 30, mother of two young children, petit, but strong, a hard worker, and a natural cook She left us to start a small restaurant in her village, which she gave up to open a catering business out of a commercial kitchen she and her husband installed in their home.

Two years ago a young man from the dominant Assadi clan in the village beat up a member of the Musa clan, over an issue of personal insult. The perpetrator, who was apparently not a model citizen in any case, then spent two years in jail over a different matter. Three weeks ago, he had attended a wedding in the village after his release. On his way home, he was ambushed and gunned down by three of twelve brothers of the Musa clan, in front of dozens of witnesses. (As it happened, this was the same night that members of the St. Louis Arches youth circus were being hosted by their peers in the village – but that’s another story). The murderers were arrested immediately. The next morning the loudspeakers proclaimed that the dead man would not be buried until all of the Musa brothers had left the village. Which they did; the funeral was held that night, and turned into a riot, in the course of which cars and homes belonging to the banished Musas were torched.

A sulcha committee was formed. Sulcha refers to the classical process of arriving at a peaceful, negotiated settlement to such clan vendettas. The committee includes community leaders, religious and otherwise, but of course has problems of built-in bias because of the clan-determined nature of the local leadership (e.g., the Assadis probably constitute half of the 10,000 residents of the village). So far, they have decreed a three month exile of all the Musa brothers. While their wives and children are technically exempt from this ban, they have all relocated to temporary housing in other villages – their neighborhood in Dir El Assad is totally abandoned. Apparently some kind of monetary settlement and public apology will ultimately be negotiated. Unless some hotheaded young macho type messes up the process.

C., it turns out, is married to one of the Musa brothers (not one of the three perpetrators). Thus, she has become somewhat of a refugee, without access to her home and kitchen, a major blow to the family’s livelihood. But she has managed to organize a kitchen in her temporary accommodations, and her Jewish friends have posted a website for purchasing food, delivered by volunteers. That’s why we’re eating a lot of stuffed grape leaves. Also vegetarian kubeh.

This is not about feminism, nor is it about Islam. The gangs in LA are a lot more lethal. It is just another example (like violence against women) of the price Israel pays for cultural pluralism. In the interest of the freedom of minority groups to live according to their own cultures, Israel’s political system has to a significant extent abdicated the task of defining and enforcing certain basic, common cultural and legal norms – not only among the Arabs, but among the Ultra-orthodox as well.

It’s a tricky business, navigating the straits between pre-modern and post-modern; and every time we bump up against the side, someone gets hurt.

OK, so we live in the Third World; but C.’s grape leaves - they really are delicious.

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