I went for a bike ride this morning, out to Ramat Rachel and through the Arab village of Tsur Baher and back through East Talpiot. When I ride my bike through an Arab village, I feel like quite the adventurer — most of the Jews I know NEVER travel through Arab villages, not in their car, and certainly not on foot or on a bicycle. Except of course for a trip to Abu Ghosh, for a taste of their excellent hummus, but everyone knows that Abu Ghosh is safe and "good Arabs" live there.
There are no Army checkpoints blocking the road to Tsur Baher; it’s just another southern Jerusalem neighborhood, except one whose residents are Arab. Kind of like Harlem in New York–no checkpoints to get in there either.
Maybe it’s different now, but when I was a kid, normal white people didn’t go on expeditions to Harlem. It would have been considered rather avant garde, not to mention risky. I’ll never forget one time when I was a teenager living in Queens I had a black friend named Eric. Eric and I took the subway into New York to go to concert. We got off the train on the wrong side of Central Park. He starts heading off across Central Park (it was 10pm). I said, "wait man, aren’t you worried about muggers?" He replied "Hell, we the muggers," and charges off across the park, with me gamely following behind. And no, we did not mug anyone; as misspent as my youth might have been, whatever I did wrong never involved crimes against another person or his property.
That comparison of Arab villages to Harlem or Central Park at night is also reinforced by the attitude of many Israelis. A few months ago, when we were living at the absorption center in Beit Canada, Lauri was riding home in a cab, and the cabbie missed his turn; Lauri told him "it’s OK, you can get there going around this way," pointing the way. As soon as the cabbie saw the way went through an Arab village he turned the cab around, refusing to go that way. And this is in a suburb of Jerusalem, not Gaza or the West Bank.
I was reflecting on all this as I rode my bike this morning, and I was wondering whether the Arabs feel the same way about going through a Jewish neighborhood, when I read an article in this morning’s Jerusalem Post about an Arab cab driver who was murdered by a homeless man, simply because he was an Arab (you can read about it here ). I’d have to say you see such random acts of violence happening in roughly equal proportions to Jews and Arabs, but it’s not terribly common, not an everyday occurence, in either direction.
The struggle between different peoples is of course the heart of the story of this week’s Torah portion, Toldot. At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion Jacob and Esau are struggling in the womb. Doesn’t get much more basic than that, does it?
Despite a lot of rabbinic skepticism about Esau, later on in the Torah we do see an emotional reconciliation between Jacob and Esau, with them falling on each other’s shoulders and crying. I hope Condoleeza Rice is successful in bringing about a similar reconciliation between the sons of Isaac and the sons of Ishmael here in the Middle East. Otherwise, I’ll be really mad — all the time wasted in traffic jams because Condi’s convoy is moving around town will have been for naught!