It was over 10 years ago when I last drove into Eizariya (Bethany), a sprawling
Palestinian neighborhood on the outskirts of Jerusalem, bordering Abu Dis on one
side and Ma’aleh Adumim on the other.
There was a spacious plant nursery
a few hundred meters inside the town entrance, just past the turnoff to the
settlement of Kedar, where we, and it seemed at times like half of the residents
of Ma’aleh Adumim, used to buy ornate clay pots, young, healthy plants and seeds
for flowers from a friendly, laid-back staff.
That was before the second
intifada and its wave of suicide bombers and terror attacks that fractured
whatever tenuous coexistence had existed between Israelis and
As a result of the Palestinian campaign against Israel, the
IDF erected a roadblock at the entrance to Eizariya – which in addition to
checking the Jerusalem residency cards of the Palestinians traveling on the
Jericho-Jerusalem highway – was there to prevent any Israelis who still had the
notion to from entering the neighborhood, which is considered Area B under the
Oslo Accords – Palestinian municipal control with Israel in charge of
And that’s the way things stayed, until in recent months, as
part of goodwill gestures toward the PA to coax them back into negotiations, the
government ordered the army to remove a few dozen roadblocks throughout the
territories, including one leading into Eizariya.
That’s how, last week,
I once again I found myself driving on the town’s busy, disheveled roads, with
their undefined traffic lanes and shoulders dotted with donkeys, living room
furniture and discarded construction material.
The impetus for the
revisit was the decision to do some shiputzim
(remodeling) in our home for the
first time in... well, ever.
Our contractor, Meir, brought in a
work crew of Eizariya craftsmen and laborers led by their foreman, a burly
fellow named Jezi. The 30-year-old father of three came from a family of a
whopping 19 siblings (10 girls and 10 boys, including himself), the result of
his father marrying a second wife after his first wife produced 10
It was that kind of information that was gleaned during the
week Jezi and his staff spent every daylight hour at our home, tearing up and
laying new floor tiles and bathroom pipes. When he first suggested that we would
save a bundle of money buying the ceramic tiles and bathroom fixtures from a
store in Eizariya, we immediately objected.
“What? We haven’t been in
Eizariya in a decade. I wouldn’t feel safe going in there,” my wife
“No, no, things have changed, the roadblock is gone and Israelis
are shopping there all the time,” responded Jezi, an observation seconded by
Meir the contractor, who added that he himself was a frequent
Remaining unconvinced, we visited various stores and Jerusalem
and in Mishor Adumim – the industrial area of Ma’aleh Adumim – and found the
prices exorbitantly expensive.
So, that’s how we found ourselves at 8
a.m. one day earlier this month, with some trepidation, despite Jezi sitting in
the back seat, returning to the shopping area less than a kilometer from our
home that for 10 years had been a world away.
The main avenue was
bustling with activity – a dusty, Middle Eastern bazaar motif with a
diametrically opposite character to the “Pleasantville” manicured suburb we had
just left. After a three-minute drive, we arrived at the tile and fixture store,
and meekly followed Jezi inside.
Upon entering, the first person we saw
was the mother of my son’s 10-year-old classmate. Another customer
sported a knitted kippa prominently on his head. After being served thick botz
(Turkish coffee) from the dapper proprietor, who was also handing out candies to
all the customers to honor the birth of a granddaughter, we found the items we
needed. Jezi then negotiated on our behalf, arriving at a price well below what
we had been quoted elsewhere.
We drove back to Ma’aleh Adumim lighter by
a belly full of apprehension, albeit heavier with a trunk full of guilt at
making a purchase at a store that likely didn’t pay VAT to the government. But
until the Trajtenberg Committee report recommendations are implemented and the
prices of goods across the board are lowered significantly, we all have to make
choices based on our needs and resources.
The next day, I stayed home
from work to move furniture and boxes in and out of rooms to enable the floor
tiles to be ripped up and replaced. By now, the half-dozen workers knew where
the cups, sugar and Turkish coffee we bought for them was in the kitchen, and
comfortably maneuvered throughout the house.
At around noon, they
stopped, washed up, and brought out plastic bags loaded with food to our
backyard table and spread out the contents for a communal lunch. Large, fresh
pita, a tub of humous with extra harif
(spicy sauce), containers of chickpeas
and tins of sardines, along with a big bottle of cola adorned the
“Come, join us,” Jezi called out, probably feeling sorry for me
after undergoing a rare day of unaccustomed manual labor which left me looking a
little like a marathon runner who had hit the invisible wall.
out some additional condiments, and there we were – Jezi, Yusef, Ahmed and three
other workers sitting around the table breaking bread. We made some small talk –
about the weather, the travails of taking care of the yard and the humous, whose
extreme spiciness prompted a coughing fit by me and laughter by everyone
In the previous days, I had restrained myself from bringing up any
controversial or politically-tinged subjects, but with “September 20”
approaching and the Palestinian Authority’s bid for statehood at the UN hot on
the agenda, I couldn’t resist the rare opportunity afforded me by sitting face
to face with a group of Palestinians.
“So,” I said to Jezi, who spoke a
passable Hebrew, unlike most of the others who could understand but could only
speak a few words.
“What do you think about what’s going on with the
Palestinian Authority and the UN this month?”
A proverbial hush fell over the
proceedings. Hiring Palestinians and eating lunch with them is one thing, but
bringing up the issue that’s the crux of our century-long conflict is something
I wasn’t sure if I had crossed a line of Jewish-Arab, employer-
employee relationship, and if my question was being considered an invasive act
along the lines of asking “So, how’s your sex life, anyway?” After an uneasy
moment, Jezi spoke, saying “look, we don’t care about politics. We just want to
work, feed our families and go home at the end of the day.”
you prefer to be a citizen of a Palestinian state, than a Palestinian with a
Jerusalem-residency card,” I asked? “Sure,” he answered, without
We returned to eating in silence, and after a while, they
started talking in Arabic to each other, and I started to clean up the
Our next conversation, a few minutes later, was about
measurements for our new sink. The words flowed freely. It was a subject
that was much easier for a Israeli from Ma’aleh Adumim and a Palestinian from
Eizariya to talk about.
I suppose if all Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had to discuss was whether to
put the toilet paper holder here or there, then negotiations between Israel and
the PA would not have ground to a halt.
But, the stakes are clearly much
higher. And whatever transpires as a result of this week’s UN proceedings, let’s
hope that the end game is a return to direct talks – with or without the spicy
humous – on the future of the land we’re destined to share.