I took my car to be registered in a nearby Arab village for half the price and half the fuss. While I waited at Imad''s home garage, for his nephew to take the car to be tested, his mother made us strong black cardomon flavoured coffee which she carried out on a silver tray and served in little paper coffee cups. We sat outside in the sun listening to what sounded like water gushing from a tap beyond the corrugated iron fence but what turned out to be ''deep frying'' coming from the house next door, until finally the nephew turned up with my car full of his cousins who jumped out and scattered through the alleyways of the interconnected houses.
Imad proudly showed me his brother''s house, built just meters behind his home-garage, where he lives with his parents and three brothers. The unfinished concrete building has four levels, ''one for each wife'' he informed me, the first of which was to be carried over the threshold at the end of the year. Was she the lucky one or the unlucky one I wondered? I don’t actually have a problem with the concept of more than one wife or husband for that matter, but something about the injustice of the Muslim system of polygamy disturbs my feminist disposition deeply.
Sitting talking with friends during the week, I asked my friend Hamid how many wives he intends to marry. He has two current prospects and he can''t decide which one to marry first. Muslim Law states that if a man can support his first wife and four children he may marry again up to four times. From my calculations that leaves him with sixteen children and enough sexual variety to satisfy his needs for the most part of his sexually active life. Yet Hamid assures me, a man who doesn''t ''get it'' outside the marriage/s is NOT a man. Of course I am quick to point out that ''a real man'' is one who doesn''t ''get it'' outside the marriage, but we agree to disagree, after all we have so many other pressing issues to discuss.
Like, for instance, what if the first wife doesn''t agree to the second marriage. "Too bad" Hamid tells me with a frightening certainty. "If she doesn’t like it, she can leave, but the children stay with the house" which inevitably belongs to the man. "What if the woman owns the house?" I suggest, as in the case of an inheritance left to an only orphan unmarried female child. "I wouldn''t marry her," Hamid answers. "So the woman has no power in the marriage" I challenge. "She doesn’t have to marry" he replies. "Oh so she can get a job, move out with friends or live alone and eventually buy herself a car and an apartment and even have a child on her own if and when she decides?" I ask. "No, if she doesn’t marry she must stay in her father''s house" he replies. Yes, I suspected as much. This is ''the law'' he explains and he reminds me that we are all obligated to wear our seatbelts when driving, whether we like it or not.
Sitting in his living room with his mother one evening, his two sisters return home. When they see we were a mixed party, without making eye contact they shyly slip past us and head to the kitchen where they spend the night watching TV while we munch on salted sunflower seeds and discuss local crime, of which there is much in Kfar Kara. A photograph of a young man hangs on the wall. Hamid''s mother tells us he was a father of three small children, a close family friend, shot by a local Druse family because he had shot one of theirs. I am somewhat relieved that I don’t have to defend my political position and that the crime was local. The police are powerless in this village, some fifteen minutes from where we live but Hamid assures us that the illegal gun shots we hear at Arab weddings are indeed fired into the sky, "but if a police officer even dared to try to stop them the shooter would fire two up in the air and three at the police officer in front of him," he qualifies. So much for ''the law.''
A Koran sits nearby in a decorated wooden box. I ask his mother if I can have a look and she shows me the ornate pages and tells me how she prays every day. I ask about the sisters, and where they have been till this late hour. She tells me they study during the day and at night they go to the library. These are competent educated girls, and yet come their seventh or eighth year of marriage they will in all likelihood be cast aside for a younger, more patient or more tolerant model. How do they feel about this I want to know. Hamid tells me, "they don''t know any different." I tell Hamid to send his brides to me before they marry him, I have some things I want to talk to them about, but he tells me they would never come and sit and drink casually in a mixed crowd as we often do. So what about the girls who don’t accept the laws of the Koran, who choose instead to be independent and free? They are free to leave the village of their families but if they do, they can never return, they are outcasts.
I wonder about this generation of Arab Muslim women who may not ''know any different'' but are certainly exposed to ''different'' in the libraries, over the internet and through the media. I wonder if they will continue to respect the laws of their childhood which keep them safely tucked away and passed from father to husband while their brothers, husbands and fathers get to ''play'' in the world beyond. I think about the ''real men'' of the village and wonder where exactly it is that they are ''getting it.'' Certainly not from the modest young ladies who spend their days in school and their nights in the library, and certainly not from their future potential virgin wives. Between Jewish and Arab Israelis there is an unspoken socio-sexual boundary that is rarely crossed; I think I am starting to understand why.
My daughter wants to know with which of his four wives he will have dinner and how he decides every night? I guess he will start on the first floor with the entree and work his way up to dessert.