Archive | November, 2013

Romeo & Juliet in Israel

6 Nov

Romeo & Juliet, or Anna & the Arab

I came to Israel to join the army and partake in the epic saga of Zion. Or so I thought. Instead, I learned an important lesson about ethnic divides, skin-deep hostility, racism, and where love comes in.

I made Aliyah at the end of December, 2010 as a returning minor. Being born in Israel, I never felt quite at home anywhere else. Not in Poland, not in Ireland, not in Germany, and not in Belgium. I thought that Israel would be where I’d find myself, my home, my belonging, and my soul. And I did. But I didn’t find it in the form, or the place, I had thought. And I certainly didn’t find a defined group to belong to. Not even Jews. Here’s what I thought would happen: the army would die to recruit me, put me in an epic combat position, and there I would meet my soulmate. A raggedy, typical Sephardic or Mizrachi Israeli, with black curls flowing in the desert breeze, his Reserves uniform revealing the manliest of chest hair.

Wrong. And that’s okay.

The army may take amputees, blind people, deaf people, people with severe cerebral palsy, people too fat to run, people with multiple organ transplants and a poor outlook – but not an eager, healthy, though overweight, female at the age of 27. Needless to say, I was offended. I had actually paid a personal trainer good money back in Belgium to prepare me for the army. Instead, I spent my days after ulpan at home, looking for a job, and taking care of orphaned kittens. And a puppy who would change my view on Israeli society.

The guard at my local post office had always been a latent crush of mine. He was sassy, confident, and always sported a cheeky smirk. His light tan skin was perfectly smooth, his black hair dense and thick. He was a bit on the short side, but his charisma grew him by a foot. He embodied what I thought, back then, was the typical Israeli man. And one day, he left his post to say: “I like your puppy. Can I have him?”

Since then, I had to find new ways of blowing him off whenever I walked my puppy past the post office. Until one day, my landlord decided he would tolerate my dog no more and we clashed, Israeli style. Yelling, threats, strong language. Desperate to keep the apartment – I had just moved there and was all out of money – I could only do one thing to save my puppy: rehome him. I grabbed a bag for his stuff, wedged the dog under my other arm, and ran down to the post office.

“Hey, you!” I panted at the guard. “You still want my dog?”

His enthusiasm was dulled by perplexity. “Uh… yeah?”

“Here you go.”

We added each-other on Facebook so I could stay updated on my ex-dog’s antics, and I learned the young man’s name was about as Israeli as Alon or Liran. I’m not revealing his “real” name as I have given this man enough grief. I also learned that he was in a relationship with a woman one quarter of my size.

Yet, a month later “Liran” broke up with his girlfriend and invited me over for a one-night-stand, no strings attached: the man was sick of love and feelings. Foolish as I was, I agreed hoping to sway him and persuade him to develop feelings for me after all. After the first night, I was smitten. I’d learned that he had served in combat, was rather Zionist, and agreed with me that Arabs made crappy dates. He fully supported my decision to only date Jews now that I had returned to Israel.

After the second night, I was in love and when he returned to his ex a month later and hardly talked to me anymore, I was heartbroken. I spent six months thinking about him until I came up with the perfect scheme: if I wanted to get to know him and how to get back on his radar – he’d been single again in the meantime – I would have to befriend his ex and extract as much intel from her as possible. Two nights after first contacting her, I was back at his place. And curious as I am, I asked him about his ethnicity. He stiffened for a heartbeat, as if caught off guard, then mumbled, “Yemeni”. I thought his reaction was strange, but thought no more of it either since love makes you a fool, blind to any vices or secrets that may disturb your revery.

One fine evening, I was out with his ex – we’d become actual friends – and suddenly, while gossiping about “Liran”, she said, “But you do know he’s not Jewish, right?”. I stopped dead in my tracks a few steps behind her. “What?” I gasped. “Then what is he?”

Bedouin.

Also, Muslim.

Well, still Zionist.

And a sweetheart.

And a true lover of everything cute and fluffy.

And addicted to sushi.

With a great taste in music.

But Arab.

And a liar.

Also, his real name was a far cry from what everybody called him. He was more of a Mustafa than a Liran.

Basically, he had committed the crime of “rape by deception”, which consists of a person lying in order to obtain the other person’s consent. Had I been raped? Three times? And enjoyed it? And cried for the man? No, this did not feel like rape. But legally, it seemed to be.

At first, I decided not to reveal this knowledge to him. After all, he was still the same charming man – except, as far as he was concerned, he was still deliberately deceiving me. Did I still want to try and build a relationship based on my knowing that he knows he’s deceiving me into violating my own principles? At some point, we fought and I told him I knew – I did so in the ugliest ways, wishing the worst upon him and insulting him for all he was, treading well into racist territory.

And then I calmed down. Had a good think. And then I realized something that made my chest tighten and my eyes sting. A realization that filled me with deep shame and remorse.

It was absolutely not okay that this man lied to his dates about his identity. He had no way of knowing that their parents wouldn’t disown them, or worse, if they ever found out that their good Jewish daughters were dating an Arab. Lying to someone who cares about you, is rarely ever okay.

On the other hand, should I, as an Israeli Zionist, not be ashamed, and deeply so, that my people, including myself, led this charming, hardworking, Zionist, gentle man to believe that he had to lie about his very self? Is being Arab a crime? Is it something one should be ashamed of in a “democracy”, in the “Holy Land”? What kind of society do we live in, am I a part of, where a good person has to lie about their identity in order to be loved? He has no love for Islam, and even if he had – I have, in the meantime, met Jews who are a far bigger scourge on Israeli society than this Arab who raises puppies and takes care of his parents. Who forgives whatever hateful insults you throw his way, and who smiles through all hardship. This Arab, who works two jobs to support his girlfriend, her daughter, his parents, and his sheep, and who serves proudly in the reserve, makes a far better citizen than specific groups of Jews I shall not name.

And are he and I different? My mother is not Jewish, I never cared to convert. I’m a 30-year-old single who gets defensive and uncomfortable during dates when the question comes up: So your mom worked in Ramallah, as a Jew? No, she didn’t work there as a Jew. I’m a patrilineal mamzer, born out of wedlock to a Protestant Atheist mother. I am nothing, or at least nothing to this state where being a full Muslim or Bahai is still preferable to being half a Jew. I have found myself lying about this fact, so scared of losing a man I had begun to developed feelings for. Am I a rapist now? For being scared of admitting something I had never thought relevant, because I am looking for the same love, relationship, and happiness as all the “real” Jewish girls? And while all of the men I’ve met are too kind to say it, I’m sure that is why, in many cases, one date was all I got.

I’m a half-Jew, and I enjoyed my fling with that Arab. I’m not the only one in such a situation, neither is he.

Romeo & Juliet is happening all over this country minus the reconciliation part, because a Rabbinate thinks it gets to dictate to people not adhering to it, who they are and who they may love. And way too many people agree that what happens between two individuals of “hostile” sides, should concern the entire country. Meital, how can you date an Arab, Mahmoud, how can you date a Jew, Moshe, how can you date a half-Jew, Ruthie, how can you date a Gentile – you can’t, not without facing consequences love should never have to face. Does this truly feel right to anybody?

At least in Shakespeare’s tragedy, the pain endured by the love-driven Montague and the defiant Capulet led to reconciling the two feuding clans. Sadly in Israel such relationships only seem to inspire more hostility from their spectators, rather than point out the obvious: we are capable of unity. But we are even more capable of taking baseless offense in seeing it blossom. God forbid we’d all just allow ourselves to love and be loved.

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