Shortly after turning into our destination village, Gadi pulled over to the side of the road where a number of other cars were parked. We were going to travel in a group to Jamal's house. My born-and-raised-in-the-United-States assumption was that the route was complicated and that this was to keep people from getting lost. It was only later in the evening that it hit me that this was for our protection: to put everyone on notice that we were under someone's protection and that attacking us would bring down the wrath of someone's clan upon the attacker. I am not sure if this makes me feel better or worse. Yes, it is nice to know that I was (relatively) safe but the concept that I was in a place where this is necessary is immensely disturbing.
While we were waiting, Gadi got out of the car, coaxed me to do the same and started to introduce me to the other participants—Christian and Muslim Palestinian. With a mixture of pride and amusement, he told some of them that this was my first visit to an Arab village. He told X that, despite my frequent "have a lot of Israelis been shot here" questions, I was doing rather well.
"Really?" I was surprised.
"Absolutely. Other people are shaking and holding on to the door handle."
Until last night, I was not sure whether he was being serious or not. Last night I met him and some others for drinks and it turns out that he was completely serious. (Between you and me, while Gadi may do humor, he does not when it comes to this topic).
We waited about ten minutes for the last members of our convoy to arrive. Gadi and the others chatted; for the most part I was quiet and observed. Once the last few made it, we all got back in our cars and resumed our journey. We passed through a town with narrow, winding streets and grey-white stone buildings and peppered with weed-covered stone ruins. The ruins—not unlike those one can see in Tzfat or Mea Shearim—immediately brought to mind the controversial terrorist house destruction policy. I decided to ask Gadi about what I was seeing.
"Are the ruins houses we destroyed?"
Gadi took a moment to look at one of the piles of rocks we were passing. " No, those just look old. When a house is destroyed by the IDF, the Palestinians rebuild it very quickly"
Duuuhh…the money from Iran and Iraq and Syria and whomever else is sponsoring the little exercise of trying to blow me up. Of course they rebuild. Well, never mind then.
We left the city behind and continued through the West Bank countryside—rolling gray-green hills. Finally, we pulled up at a small cluster of peaceful white houses, complete with flowers, birdies singing and the cheery, daredevil neighborhood kid on the bike zipping in front of our car and nearly getting killed.
G-d help me, I was in suburbia.
Well…apart from the minor details that instead of his house being built by a big conglomerate, Jamal built his house himself. And to be honest, there were only a few houses, and not 50 zillion. And everyone was speaking Arabic. And the road quality was not particularly high. But apart from that, yes.
At the same time I had asked Gadi about the dress code, I also asked if it were considered good manners to bring something to the dinner. He thought that would be nice. Wine was out; not only is the family Muslim but I have neither interest nor taste in wine and no idea how to choose a good one. Instead, I decided to go with what I know: sugar-loaded baked goods, in this case a big box of chocolate ruggellach from Jerusalem's Pe'er bakery. I got out of the car. I grabbed the sacrificial cookies. It was time to go in.
Well…not quite yet. First I had to say a few words for posterity.
Among the evening's participants were a couple photographers. I assumed that they were in charge of recording the evening's events. Before I went in, one of them approached me, video camera in hand and running. He wanted to know what I was thinking.
"I am a bit scared, to be honest".
"Ummm…well, it is not particularly PC to say this, but it is because they are Arab. And because this is an Arab village in the West Bank. And all I know about Arabs, Arab villages and the West Bank is what I read in the newspaper. The coverage is not particularly positive."
The photographer laughed.
"But I brought cookies. So hopefully they won't kill me." I opened up the box. "Would you like one?"
As I was speaking it occurred to me that, his excellent Hebrew notwithstanding …the man was not Jewish. (I do not remember what sparked the realization). As it turned out, the photographer is not only Palestinian, but some years ago he was caught in the crossfire between Palestinians and IDF while photographing an irua (incident) and took a bullet.
Open mouth insert foot. Yes indeedy—I was getting this night off to a great start!
Well hell, if I was here anyway, and on such a roll, why not go in the house and see who else I could offend? Accordingly, I turned and walked into the house.
Coming soon— Part IV-thank G-d they have enough chicken. (Really, will try to get to the chicken. But honestly, it could also hit in Part V).