On a sunny Saturday morning, Israel’s official day of rest (the country has not yet officially adopted the two-day weekend) I got into my car and drove to the nearby Arab village of Abu Ghosh.
For the village, which is situated some fifteen kilometers outside Jerusalem, well within the Green Line, Saturday is possibly the busiest day of the week. The village is known for its hospitality, and its restaurants and cafés are frequented by Israelis of all kinds – both Jews and Arabs. In addition, its various stores and businesses seem to be flourishing.
Trying to find a place to park on a Saturday morning is far from easy, as the village is also a focus of attraction for Israelis who want to enjoy some of the traditional oriental fare that is on offer at the various restaurants – whether to eat on the spot or to take away.
And so it was that I found myself standing in line in the Lebanese restaurant there, together with several other Israelis. We were all waiting to get to the counter which fronts the kitchen where the food is being constantly prepared, to be served by the hard-working attendants. It was truly a remarkable sight. The staff consisted solely of men, all clad in black shirts and trousers, each and every one of them working as hard as he possibly could to satisfy the almost insatiable demand for their wares.
I counted at least six men preparing the food, and another six who were serving customers. The counter was too small for all six servers, so every now and again one of them would appear from the side and ask ‘Who’s next?’ careful not to bump into one or another of his colleagues. There was no sign of tiredness, impatience or slacking, everyone was focused to the fullest extent on taking the next order, getting the food packed and ready, and handed over to the customer who had requested it, all the time adding up the price of each item in their head. And all this was done at an amazing pace – an impressive feat of technical organization, mental arithmetic and physical agility. Not an instant was wasted on idle chit-chat or pleasantries, and so even the fairly long queue that I encountered when I entered did not mean that I had to wait very long to be served, though by the time I had paid there were quite a few people waiting behind me.
I was buying some of the traditional oriental delicacies to serve to my guests in the afternoon, other people appeared be to buying food to take on a picnic (they asked for sets of plastic cutlery), while yet others seemed intent on providing a meal for the family at home. Humus and Tehina were the obvious favourites, followed by all manner of salads, pickles, vegetables in various shapes and forms, and even the traditional fried vegetable balls known as falafel. Everything was fresh and ready to eat, and the end result in my case was delicious food, happy guests and an even happier hostess.