Smiles in the aisles

While boycotts are forming, flotillas are floating and some world leaders are spouting anti-Israel venom, the Jews and Arabs of Gush Etzion are sampling mozzarella side by side.

west bank coexistence 311 (photo credit: Laura Ben-David)
west bank coexistence 311
(photo credit: Laura Ben-David)
We have arrived! Well, sort of. Last week the grocery chain Rami Levy opened a beautiful new supermarket in Gush Etzion. It’s huge! It’s clean! It has wide aisles! Tons of parking! Great prices!
Of course, nothing could be so simply “good.” Right away the naysayers started up. Complaining about the harm it will do to all the little grocery stores was first. Okay, they’re right. A wonderful grocery store with longer hours, better prices and a bigger selection will cause damage to the little stores. I feel bad about that and will try to shop at the little stores for the little things. However, were we supposed to stop progress because the iceman was going to be put out of business by the refrigerator? So, yes, we feel bad. But I doubt anyone will feel bad enough to pay more and get less…
But there’s more. The new Rami Levy is not in a neighborhood. Meaning it is not behind one of the guarded gates that protect the neighborhoods in Gush Etzion. Meaning that anyone can go there. Meaning that Jews and Arabs shop at Rami Levy together.
Before the store had even opened its doors, e-mails debating the value – even legitimacy – of a Rami Levy in Gush Etzion were flying back and forth. Heated discussions were held with people citing a wide range of reasons why there should or should not be a new supermarket. The reasons run the gamut from a sense of loyalty to the smaller stores to the fears that shopping with Arabs will arouse. My favorite was the objection to shopping alongside Arabs who are boycotting our products, to which a rational resident replied, “The Arabs who are shopping in Rami Levy are not boycotting Jewish products, they’re buying them.”
It is not really racism that drives people here but rather fear.Personally I have no problem with the fear. Security personnel checkevery car and every person that enters. It’s basically the same waythings are set up all over the country.
I actually found it rather amusing to see religious Jews shoppingalongside religious Arabs. In fact, there is a lot of irony there aswell. While boycotts are forming, flotillas are floating and worldleaders are spouting their anti-Israel venom, the Jews and Arabs ofGush Etzion are sampling mozzarella side by side and waiting in linetogether. While governments are arguing the benefits of theconstruction freeze in the West Bank – which hurts Jews andPalestinians alike – Jews and Arabs are browsing the frozen food aisle.
People were polite to one another, and I didn’t feel any underlyingtension. Tension? Smiling baggers were packing up my groceries.Meanwhile, one of the Arab employees and I chatted about where “in GushEtzion” we lived, and I thought it was interesting that he referred tohis village as being in Gush Etzion.
Of course, modern and beautiful as the supermarket is, there are someaspects of the Middle Eastern shuk that we just can’t get away from.Perhaps this can be best demonstrated by my stop at the deli counter.While one worker was helping me, a colleague of his pointed to my neck.Alarmed, I felt my neck, and it felt perfectly normal, with my favoritenecklace secure as always. I looked at him questioningly, to which heasked, “How much do you want for that necklace?”