The band was playing loudly. The singer encouraged the guests to complement the drumbeats with applause. The groom’s father held my arm and dragged me through the circle of guests around the dancing couple. I let him lead me as though I were a cow. When we reached the inner circle, I made an effort to imitate the dance moves. I believe that I made my good intentions clear, although the four vodka glasses I drank undermined my sense of judgment. I was overjoyed…
by Yaron London, 27 December 2010
TEL AVIV – I was overjoyed because Khaled appeared overjoyed, and I love him. His face rarely shows such happiness. Yesterday, two weeks after the big celebration, I called him and told him that. He responded with the perfect Hebrew of a wise student—“What can we do, Yaron? One is born to suffer,”—and laughed.
Fifty-five years have passed since we became best of friends at boarding school. We shared a room with three more boys. He was the only Arab in our class. A strong village boy. In order to join our school, he needed a permit from the Western Galilee’s military administrator. Before that, he had never left his village, and he spoke no Hebrew. You can imagine how hard it was for him to adapt to our company. The effort required of him was no less difficult than that required of an immigrant to a distant land.
He quickly found his place among the other youths, as he was a serious student, a hard worker and a pleasant conversation partner. He was the first Arab who earned an Israeli high school diploma after the State’s establishment. He later studied medicine and became a reputable doctor. His wife is a history teacher, one of his sons is a doctor, and the other two are lawyers. They did their internships at the High Court of Justice and with the most well-known attorneys in the country.
Two parties were held in honour of his son Alaa and the happy bride. One was held in Nazareth and the other in a banquet hall near Tel Aviv. This constituted a major expenditure, but the parents and their children wanted to share their joy with their many friends residing nationwide and did not wish to make the travel difficult for anyone.
Life marred by insults
On the lawn outside the banquet hall, I chatted with Muslims, Jews and Christians. There were even a few Baha’is there. The men drank a little, while the women avoided alcohol altogether, but not because of their faith, but rather, so they could drive their husbands home safely. Almost all guests were university graduates—attorneys, doctors, engineers, and merchants—and most of them had three children, a bourgeoisie present and bourgeoisie dreams.
Of course, this marked the elite of Arab society in Israel, but there are tens of thousands of people like that. They are both secular and traditional in their religious views, energised and alert, involved in the country’s economic life, speak Hebrew and have Jewish friends. This image is hidden from most of us, because the Hebrew press is uninterested in our Arab citizens, who constitute one-fifth of the country’s citizens.
I often try to convince my colleagues, the Hebrew-speaking journalists, to change that. “Cover the Arab community,” I plead with them, “cover the Arab community”. Yet to no avail. They are more interested in Afghanistan than in the northern Israel town of Shfaram.
Khaled wanted to be Israeli. He relinquished his forefathers’ land, which was confiscated, and his wife relinquished her family’s wealth, much of which was taken by the State. They are successful and their bright children will be even more successful. Everything is all right, sort of, yet their lives here have been marred by small and large insults that made it clear to them they will never be wholly Israeli.
I’m insulted with them, yet there is a difference in the way we respond. A Jew like me, with crude manners, is allowed to get angry and curse. Yet Khaled is a second-class citizen. He taught himself to hold back his insults, and this restraint comes with a price in terms of health. So Mazal Tov, my friend, and stay healthy.
Yaron London is an Israeli media personality and journalist. He co-hosts the daily television current affairs programme “London & Kirschenbaum”.
cgn with permission from Ynetnews.