Months after the murder of the Fogel family by Arab teenage products of PA “education,” I have finally reached the point where I don’t think about the slain, or the remaining children, every day. But sometimes, their name comes up in conversation, in a newspaper article (the most recent being that the vermin who committed the atrocity are proud of what they did “for Palestine”; this is news?), or my kids’ questions. “Did they shoot the boys? How did they kill the baby? Did you see the pictures?” None of us can begin to fathom the horror, but they’re still trying to get their heads around it. They asked me about it again the other night, and it occurred to me again when I was shopping in Rami Levy this morning for Shabbat.
My local Rami Levi supermarket is located at Gush Junction. It is staffed by Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs, and patronized by the same. The butchers are all Arab, the loading dock workers are Arab, most of the stockers are Arab. The two men we usually see behind the cheese counter are also Arab. One is in his 40s with a round face that manages to be both pleasant and unsmiling. He doesn’t appear to love his job, or the customer contact. The second is in his 50s, graying, with eyes that wrinkle around the edges when he smiles, and he always gives whatever children I have tagging along with me a free slice of cheese, teaches my eldest a new Arabic word (she’s interested in learning the language), and clearly enjoys talking to the customers he interacts with. Since the massacre in Itamar, I have sometimes looked at these two men (the closest thing I have to Arab acquaintances) and studied their faces to try to discern what they REALLY think about Jews and Israel. I learn nothing from this. It may be that the dourer of the two men has some secret sorrow in his life that keeps his mood low, but wouldn’t dream of committing or approving of violence to achieve any ends. And it may be that the warm, smiling face of the older Arab disguises a compartmentalized view of his situation, where in day-to-day interactions he can exercise civility towards his Jewish “occupier” employer and customers, but given a choice, would prefer to have them gone from this land by any means necessary, including bloodshed.
The cheese man today was a new one. In his late 30s or 40s, he was nice-looking, friendly, and very taken with Bill, who he said is the cutest kid in the world. After packaging my cheese slices, he went back and sliced one more which he gave to Bill. While he cut a hunk of parmesan for me, I asked if he has children. He looked up and smiled. “Ten,” he answered. “And I want more. I love kids. Whenever I feel down, all I have to do is look at an adorable kid’s face,” he said, glancing over at Bill munching his slice of Emek, “and I feel better right away.” I felt tears well up in my eyes for a moment, and was terribly tempted to ask him, “Then how can someone enter someone else’s house and stab their children, and slit their throats?” But I didn’t. Perhaps as a father, he can’t imagine either. Perhaps he found the incident as revolting as I did. Or perhaps not.
At the same time that I occasionally crave answers to these questions, part of the complication of living here is that I don’t dare make any assumptions about the Arabs I see, good or bad. I don’t want to embarrass them when they’re at work and doing their jobs. I don’t want them to say what they think I want to hear, that it was terrible, if in their hearts they secretly rejoiced at the horrific news. I also don’t know if I really want to know the answer, on the off-chance that they would throw their employee’s caution to the wind and answer me straight, that they hate and resent the “occupation,” and that while for the moment, they and I can be face to face in a civil, vendor-customer situation, in the bigger picture, I am a foreign occupier of Arab lands, and whatever it takes to dislodge me and the rest of the Jews is fair. There is a barrier of civility which prevents me from asking what I might want to ask, and from their answering as they might wish—or not wish.
Some might read this and think, “Who cares? What’s done is done. Their society is what it is, controlled by hate and oppression, brooking no opposition or dissent. Yours is holding the wolf by the ears, and it doesn’t matter what they think or feel, only what they do.” There might be truth to this, but it doesn’t stop me wondering.