The REAL Israel... More about the Arabs...

Hello Everyone,

Tonight I enjoyed a wonderful conversation with my Arab taxi driver. Before I write what I remember of it, I want to say that one of the things I have noticed in Israel today is how integrated into Israeli life the Arabs seem to be. I sharing this observation with a friend, however, one has to ask, would Jews enjoy the same integrated and free life in the Arab states?

Here is what I remember of my cab ride talk:

One of the things I like most about being in Israel is straight talk. We speak "yashar" - in other words - we say directly what's on our minds. Here's my story:

It's about 10:30pm and, because I am carrying a few bags, I decided to take a cab home. Without a second thought I hopped into a taxi that was waiting by the bus stop at Jerusalem's central bus station. Off we went. I assumed the driver was an Israeli - after all, it was an Israeli taxi. We started to talk and then I asked him if I could ask him a few questions. I explained that I host a radio show in the USA about Israel and that I am curious about life in Israel - the REAL life, not the propaganda. He agreed to answer my questions. My first question was to ask him if he was from around here (Jerusalem area). He answered, "yes and no" explaining that he's an Israeli born in Jerusalem, but not quite yet a citizen. Noting how intermingled the Arabs are in the Jewish state these days, I asked him directly - are you an Arab? He replied, "Yes."

The taxi driver explained that he's a third generation Arab here in Israel. His mother is from Yaffa and his father from Jerusalem. He was born in Jerusalem. He considers himself an Israeli. He enjoys all the same benefits as the Jewish residents: health insurance and care, social security benefits, pension options, employment... and so on. He can vote in municipal (town) elections but not in the national elections. He is not a citizen because he missed the small window of opportunity when "Israeli" Arabs were granted citizenship. He then told me that he holds a Jordanian passport because there was a time that Jordan's King Hussein granted them citizenship and promised to take care of them - a promise they're still hoping to see fulfilled! He said that the Arabs in Gaza were granted Egyptian passports, and the Arabs in the autonomous areas in Israel have some sort of special ID card. I asked him what he thought about all this? He said he's not worried at all about it - except if he might want to travel out of Israel. Even then, providing he had never engaged in anti-Israel activities or terrorism, he should have no issues leaving the country for travel.

My cab driver spoke about the Intifadas, violence and terrorism by recalling simply that his wise father always taught him that these things never lead anywhere so why engage in them. Blood only leads to more blood. Also, these are simply political games. Since politics change all the time why risk ruining your life by ending up in jail or worse?

What about fear? He notes that Jews are afraid of Arabs. They see an Arab and they look for an alternative route. Why live your life in fear? I ask if he is afraid of Jews? He answers, "Yes, sometimes," but it is because of his job as a cab driver. Occasionally he confronts drunks or finds himself in an unfriendly neighborhood. I agreed. I once had a job as a cab driver and faced similar fears. Some clients were hostile as were some neighborhoods. He is simply concerned and asks again, "But why do we have to live in fear?"

During the Intifada years he was just coming into his college years. He had wanted to attend college to get a degree but because of the Intifada, the (Arab) colleges were all closed down. So he missed his opportunity to get a higher education. His younger siblings, however, did not and most have gotten degrees by now and have made good livings and lives for themselves.

I asked him how he identifies himself? For example, I am an American-Israeli-Jew. I often feel comfortable in America but also, because I am Jewish I feel more like a stranger in a strange land. My cab driver identifies himself as a "Yerushalmi" - Jerusalemite. Born and bred in Jerusalem, that's who he feels he is. He explains that for Israeli's Jerusalem seems to have that special something. You can be from anywhere in Israel and be an Israeli. But Jerusalemites are simply that - a catergory all their own - something extremely special. He feels that's who he is - and it's not particular to being Jewish or Arab. It's all the same if you're a "Yerushalmi".

I asked if he might be interested in living in another Arab state such as Jordan? No, he has a very good life here, better than he might have in an Arab state and he's happy here. No complaints. He respects his fathers' teachings to aspire to live peacefully and let the political winds blow over and away.

Noting America's recent political demands that building in Jerusalem and other parts of Israel be stopped or frozen, my cab driver agrees with my Jewish/Israeli friend who stated that these policies not only affect Jews but also affect the Arabs who now have lost work and income. My cab driver added that, by the way, these orders from America have also frozen building in Arab towns and areas! It's essentially a lose-lose situation all around. In regards to outposts - he simply wonders why anyone would want to live in an outpost where your home and family are always under guard and live in fear? Who would want to live like that? He realizes that we all have our share of fanatics and extremists on both sides. However, that would not the life he would choose for himself.

I ask my driver if thinks there are any solutions to our struggle for peace? He answers that perhaps a few years ago there might have been a window of opportunity. Today, the divide seems to be growing wider and wider and he's not so sure if those small opportunities still exist. Then he quoted Yitzchak Rabin, Israel's former Prime Minister, who wondered how long our children will need to walk our streets carrying guns? How many more generations will have to live like this?

We arrived at our destination. The fare was 70 shekels - which is the standard fare. I offered my driver 100 shekels for the extra time he took in answering my questions but he insisted on taking no extra tip! I thanked him and then we both agreed that the best we can wish for is QUIET. If we get peace too we'll take it!