Saturday, May 13, 2006

Friday night at an Arab village in the Galilee

The village is called M'ghar (pronounced M'rar - rolling the "r"s like the French do). It's a village of 20,000 people - 50% Druze and the rest Christians and Moslems. We were a group of about 80 people that were hosted from all over the country - Orthodox Jews, Christians, Moslems, Druze - from as far South as Eilat. The interfaith conference began and most of it was in Arabic so we tried to pick out the familiar words - and were only able to make out words like "but, possible, people, new, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, God, garden, love" - and not much more. It was as if they were telling us - you guys better learn this language, or you'll be left out of the loop.

We wanted to have an interfaith weekend here because about a year ago or so this city was hit with strife between Druze and Christians. It began when some Christian teens, for a joke - but a bad joke - put a photo of a Druze girl superimposed on some nude woman so it looked like she was in the raw and they circulated it among the school, among their friends, etc. This caused chaos among the two factions and homes and cars were vandalized and the once peaceful pastoral village was not a pleasant place to live in any longer. Christians pulled their children out of local schools because their children were harassed and police weren't intervening and arresting the perpetrators. Somehow the vandalism stopped but the tension is still there.

Getting back to the lectures, I started to get restless and went to the bathroom and saw that dreaded sign "do not throw paper into the toilet" which meant their plumbing was shit, as is the case in most Arab villages. I thanked the Good Lord for making me temporarily constipated for the entire weekend.

We were hosted by local families and went to put our stuff in their homes. Our host (for me and another older Jewish woman) was a Moslem man, with 6 children and a wife who only spoke Arabic but understood some Hebrew. Their university-going teen daughter translated our conversations for her.

Among our first conversations with them - they told us that their daughter could only major in certain areas at Haifa University because others subjects like Physics were only taught to those over age 21 - meaning that if you are Arab and because you do not go into the army for 3 years and you begin university at 18, you cannot major in certain areas like Physics. We had no idea such was the case. She is now taking statistics.
**(See comments relating to this post - there were a few stating that such is not the case - but I will tell you that in our experience for the past 10 years, you can go to certain bureaucratic agencies and be given 10 different answers to your queries - and it can be sometimes quite difficult and frustrating to get the correct answer - this may have been the case here - but thanks to those who commented and I will try to go to the trouble of having her speak to someone at the University).

Before leaving for dinner, I asked our hosts if they mind me lighting Sabbath candles which they promptly wanted to light for me. I told them I had to do it. I recited the blessing over the Shabbat candles and I think it was a first for them to experience this in their home.

We took a tour of the village where our Druze tour guide drove us through ancient olive groves. Their trunks were odd and it looked like they were hugging each other - some trunks were visibly hollow in the middle. He told us a Druze legend about King Solomon. That when he died all the trees became sad and lost their leaves. Except for the olive tree - and the others reprimanded that tree for being so heartless. But the olive tree was in fact so upset that its trunk finally burst resulting from holding in its agony.

Dinner began with the Jewish blessing over grape juice (instead of wine because of the Moslem prohibition of alcohol). There's a point in the blessing where we all sing "Because you have chosen us, and made us holy over all the nations..." I suddenly became aware that the Others standing around listening to this traditional blessing, understand Hebrew and, oy vey, I was totally embarrassed. I pointed it out over dinner and the other Jewish women at the table were thinking the exact same thing.

After dinner it was back to our host's home where we chatted until 1:00 am in the morning. And Saturday is not a day off for Moslems. Even so, we spoke about everything - my "roomie" and I both shared our vision of one peaceful land with two Prime Ministers - one Jewish and one Arab. If you guys want to call it Palestine, call it Palestine. For us it will always be Israel. All we want is to live peacefully with one another. Our host was curious about what is inside our "mezuzah" and I told him which prayer it was - which is basically also a Moslem prayer - that God is One. We wanted to know whether he was taught that Jesus was Jewish. Of course the answer was - no. Jesus was Christian, they insisted. I told them for about 100 years or so afterwards (correct me if I am wrong, folks) those following Jesus weren't yet called Christians. They were stunned to hear of Jesus' Jewish origins and the Last Supper being a Pesach Seder.

Wrapping up the evening in the early morning hours, we told our hosts how petrified our families were at us spending a night over at an Arab home. I get angry at my family at this point, when they talk shit like this. So I'm going to tell you of all the dangerous things that happened to me that night.

* I drank a zillion cups of fantastic coffee, "spiked" with crushed cardamom seeds
* We were invited to their daughter's upcoming wedding in August
* Our host invited himself to my home for one night when he has to be in Jerusalem one day next month
* We were being plied endlessly with munchies and soft drinks - non stop.

And I can only finish Part I of my trip with one thought.

To those of you who visit Israel or who live in Israel and are too scared to spend some time in an Arab village experiencing what I experienced for the first time, you are missing out on something very special. So despite what you fear because of what you hear in the media, etc. - just try it. Just once. You won't be sorry.


Fabián said...

Jerusalem Gypsy:


A question. Why can't Arabs start university at 21?

Katherine said...

I have to say I don't think I believe the story about not starting certain subjects until age 21. I think its nonsense. I asked a friend knowledgeable about the israeli university system who works in one - she said it was definitely not the case.

Yael K said...

This is utter nonsense. I'm a professor in the university system here and I can tell you that there are no age restrictions on what subjects you can study for Jews, for Druze, for Bedouins, or for Arabs. Not for anyone.

Haifa offers a 4-year (rather than the standard 3-years of many other areas of study) dual Bachelors degree in Physics and students can choose one of the four following program options:

1. B.Sc. A joint program in Mathematics and Physics.
2. B.Sc. A joint program in Mathematics and Computer science.
3. B.Sc. A joint program in Physics and Computer science.
4. B.A. A dual program: Mathematics and General Studies, including units from Computer Science and Humanities.

Entrance to that program, or any other, is not restricted to those who have served in the military either.

Age limits: utter nonsense.

I'd suggest you check with the university itself or someone knowledgeable who works within the system before passing on wholly inaccurate claims such as this in the future. Please correct your blog entry to reflect the actual policy on non-age discrimination as well for those who don't take the time to read your comment section.

Yael K said...

I sent this in response to your email but thought it might be useful to post it here as well:

I can tell you it certainly was not anyone involved in the university system --neither lecturer nor in the administration. First because we are quite proud of the inclusiveness we have and the equality we promote on our campuses. Haifa university in particular is extremely sensitive to this because of the wholly inaccurate claims made my Illan Pappe which resulted in an attempted boycott of that university by the British Teachers' Association last year --those claims were easily proven patently false.

It may be that the student received inaccurate information from another student. It may be a case of misunderstanding on the student's part his or herself (for instance, not knowing what the course layout is for Physics at Haifa --I can certainly find out for you if you like --it may be that in the first year of study students do not actually take any physics classes but rather take the background mathematical, statistics, and so forth necessary to grasp the coursework of the physics courses themselves and only in the upper levels of the program do they get the meaty courses they so want to study. In my area we have a steady stream of students coming in to complain that they are not allowed to take any of the interesting 'real' courses they entered the program to take in their first year and instead have to take these horrid boring courses in research methodology, statistics, and so forth --well yes, they do, in order to understand and benefit from those interesting courses offered for the 2nd and 3rd year students and the third year students get the best offering of courses because by then they really do --maybe I should say really should because in reality oy va voy --have the learned skills for them). It may be that the parents misunderstood what the student relayed. It may also be the case that the parents thought the child would go into physics, wants the child to go into physics, and the child has changed his or her mind about the preferred area of study and decided to provide the parents with a 'reason' he or she was unable to follow that course in order to avoid pressure at home or to save face etc. I can tell you that if I had a shekel for everytime irate parents have descended on programs I've worked in at universities in the States and here based on beyond inaccurate information fed to them by their darling little offspring to explain why they were or weren't doing X, Y, or Z, I would retire tomorrow with a weekend home in Eilat.