Reaching a settlement

As a Jewish settler building his home in Efrat, my daily contact with Palestinian workers has led to some close rapport, despite the tension.

Palestinian builder 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Palestinian builder 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
My family and I are among the lucky few who began construction on ahouse in a Jewish settlement before Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’sfreeze began. We are building a house in Efrat, one of the places thatwill remain under Israeli jurisdiction in any future settlement. Butour house too is under threat – the threat of boycott. First the EUannounced that it will punish Israeli firms that produce their goods(almost always with Palestinian labor) in Jewish settlements. Then thePA chimed in with its plan to prevent Palestinian laborers from workingin these settlements, one of their main sources of employment. Thatmeans our workers won’t be coming any more.
I am not, in principle, opposed to boycotts, even though they are ofcourse a form of collective punishment. When faced with evil, boycotts,sanctions and embargoes can be an effective means of accomplishing thegood without resorting to arms. World leaders are
pressing for sanctions against Iran – surely a justified form ofcollective punishment. And although not everyone supports the Israeliclosure of Gaza, it should also be recognized as the least harmfulmeans that can be used in confronting an evil regime. But for those whooppose the use of collective punishment in principle, such as theleaders of the EU, it is harder to understand how they justify imposingsuch punishments on Jewish settlements.
TODAY THE settlements are almost the only place where Israelis andPalestinians meet on a regular basis. On my building site, 10 to 15workers are employed every day. Despite the tensions, I am forced tointeract with these workers on a daily basis, and after some weeks wehave gotten to know each other. The Palestinians have a custom ofslaughtering a sheep after pouring a floor of concrete, and they keptjoking with me, asking when I would buy them a sheep? I asked theforeman, who told me that a sheep costs NIS 2,000. That seemed like alot to me, so my son and I drove around the West Bank asking Arabshepherds to sell us a sheep. Sure enough, NIS 2,000 is the going rate.I gave the money to our foreman, and he showed up with a couple of hugepots and a dead sheep. Instead of 15 workers, he  brought all 50 of his regular workers to the feast.
I can’t say that I joined in the meal, but I did realize that it was anopportunity to extend a hand in friendship. I am not a greatafter-dinner speaker, but I thought that this time I would have tothink of something. But what to say? I was worried that a Zionisttirade might give them indigestion. But I also couldn’t ignore the factthat I am a Jewish settler and they are Palestinian workers. So Idecided to speak about my family. I told them our names: My name isGabriel, Jibril in Arabic. My wife is Rachele. My father was namedJoshua, as is my youngest son. His father was Abraham, Ibrahim inArabic. And his father again Joshua. Why all these Hebrew names, when Iam the first in my family to speak Hebrew? Why did my ancestors insiston naming their children in Hebrew, a language they did not know?
I explained to them that Hebrew has always been the language of theJewish people, even when we didn’t speak it. I told them that Hebrew isclosely related to Arabic, and that Jews are closely related to Arabs. Yes, some of the workers knew the old cliché that Isaac and
Ishmael were brothers, and that therefore we are first cousins – several hundred times removed.
I told them a true story about my childhood: that when I was young, myfather told me that Arabs are our cousins, and that whenever Iencountered an Arab, I should think of him as a friend. I also added that as I grew up I found out that this was not always the case. Many
people don’t see it that way; but I still believe in what my father told me.
I told them that this why I love Zachary, our foreman, because hedoesn’t walk around saying ‘that is a Jew, that is an Arab.’ He says‘that is a good man, that is a bad man.’ He roundly denied the charge.
I didn’t give a lengthy speech, but I spoke from the heart. I am notsaying that events like this happen every day.. But I do wonder whatwill happen when the EU executives and the PA leaders have their way.
Rather than placing a boycott on the cooperative ventures of Jews andPalestinians, the EU and the PA should consider funding them. Wherewill my children have an opportunity to meet their Palestinian neighbors if not in a settlement? Where will Palestinians have an
opportunity to meet a Jew if not in a settlement? Let us hope that they will not have to meet only on the field of battle.
The writer is chairman of theClassics department at Bar Ilan. University. He lives with his wifeRachele and their seven children in Efrat.