Upper Galilee Arab restaurateur busy serving IDF troops

Four weeks into the war, the Abu Saleh Restaurant at the Amiad junction in the Galilee is full of hungry soldiers quickly devouring spiced veal and humous before rushing off to their duties. "I built this place," said Abu Saleh, the cheerful 50-year-old owner who makes a habit of greeting customers at the door. "So I decided not to close the place at all during the fighting." A 10-minute drive from the Kinneret's northern coastline, the restaurant lies well within range of Hizbullah rockets. While he admitted that "we're worried" about the safety of his seven children, almost none of the 12,000 residents of the Arab village of Turan, where he lives, have left. "Anyone who wants to keep his home has to stick it out in the bad times," he said. Asked how the business was doing with foreign tourists long gone and Israelis staying away from their usual Galilee vacation spots, he smiled. "In the first week, it was scary watching the rockets fall. And nobody came to eat." But, he said, "I wasn't open to make money. I lose money if I don't feed 200 people a day, but I just wanted people to have a safe place to go." His restaurant is the only one open between the Sea of Galilee and Metulla, he said. "The gas station across the street closed, but we're open. My convenience store stays open all night for the soldiers." Abu Saleh's business is thriving. Fifteen full-time employees rush around the restaurant filling orders. In one afternoon hour, he fed at least 100 soldiers, journalists and steadfast locals. Staying open during wartime is more sensible than he lets on. Abu Saleh prides himself on his political opinions, and he related them with confidence. "I want the state to draft all our boys to national service," he declared when the issue of the Israeli Arab reaction to the fighting in Lebanon came up. "You can't ask to be first-class citizens if you don't sacrifice like everyone else. Anyone who doesn't want to serve their country doesn't believe that this is his home." Even more surprisingly, he insisted that "this operation [in Lebanon] is necessary. Once, even two measly Katyushas would ruin business for two weeks. [Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan] Nasrallah has to be kicked out of there." Even so, he said, the Arabs don't have it easy in Israel. "The Jews need to get it into their heads that we belong here. My grandfather was born in Turan. It's our home, the only place we have in all the world. So I want the Jews to know this is my state also." "In a war everybody gets hurt, even Arabs," he wanted the Jews to remember in a week that saw Arab Israelis killed by Katyusha attacks. But then the casual grin returned to his face. He looked around him and confided quietly, "I like the fact that Jewish soldiers are eating in the Abu Saleh Restaurant. That says something."