Our Talk With Ibrahim, an Israeli Arab in Abu Ghosh
Within five minutes of our arrival at Abu Ghosh, Claire and I were seated outside an Arab cafe sipping thick dark coffee and being plied with fried cauliflower, small delectable green olives, toasted pitot, and thick creamy hummus. Our host was Ibrahim, with whom we struck up a conversation and who quickly pulled up a chair for a schmooze and a nargila. (We didn't partake in the latter, although it smelled delicious.)
Our conversation turned out to be pretty wide-ranging. Ibrahim is a Circassian Muslim with four children whose family has been in Abu Ghosh for generations -- his grandfather, by the way, lived to be 120. He considers himself Israeli, not Palestinian, but sympathizes with their frustration at their loss of property -- it's something he can relate to personally, since he can't get access to his grandfather's thousand dunams in Nataf (just up the road) even though he holds the deed to the land. With that said, when I asked how he would like to see the Palestinian situation resolved, Ibrahim said he believes they should have a state of their own on the land they now occupy -- but that they should forget about returning to the lands their forefathers left inside present-day Israel.
I wanted to get some sense of his personal feelings toward the Palestinians beyond the question of national allegiance, so I asked what he expects his relations with them to be after they get their state. He said he hopes he'll be able to deal with them exactly the way he deals with the settlers in Hebron: he goes there to buy foodstuffs for his cafe. He currently gets supplies from Hebron, but also from Shechem and from Ramallah -- he's an equal opportunity purchaser. To Ibrahim, good relations with the Palestinians would amount to mutually beneficial business relations. I didn't get the impression that he anticipates or particularly desires anything much closer than that. "In Abu Ghosh, we love life," he said at one point -- possibly (although I can't be sure) an allusion to the death cult of Gaza.
I asked him straight out if he will want to be a part of the Palestinian state or to continue to be a part of Israel. He dodged the question slightly by saying that Abu Ghosh won't ultimately be part of the Palestinian state -- but did say pretty unequivocally that he has no interest in becoming a Palestinian. He's an Israeli Muslim, not a Palestinian one. "I am not from Gaza, I am not from Ramallah," he said. "I am from Abu Ghosh."
Many times during the conversation, Ibrahim -- who mentioned in passing that he had been injured in a terrorist attack -- said variations of "I just want to get along, to have a good life. You're a Jew, right? Jews, Muslims, Christians -- we're all the same." At one point he took my hand and held it next to his. "See?" he said. "I'm no different from you or from anybody else. You don't hurt me; I won't hurt you."
On the question of hurting people, Claire asked Ibrahim whether or not Islam instructs its adherents to commit acts of violence. He appeared shocked by the question, and said it's totally unacceptable for a Muslim to force Islam upon anyone through violence. He added, though, that if someone takes the property of a Muslim or commits another deeply offensive act (raping a daughter, for example), the Muslim has the right to kill the offender. He said he was not aware of any passages in the Koran instructing him to go out and kill non-Muslims. Whether such passages actually exist in the Koran or not seemed beside the point: the Islam Ibrahim professes to believe in is not the Islam of, say, Yusuf al-Qaradawi. (Not even close, it seems.)
It was a delightful and very interesting visit. Claire and I were made to feel as welcome as old friends and were encouraged to return soon and often. There were several things Ibrahim said, some of them unfortunately off-camera, that really resonated with me. One was "If you hurt me, I will not hurt you" -- a sentiment that sounded, to my ears anyway, more classically Christian than anything else. Ibrahim gave the impression of being a decent, good-hearted family man who just wants to get along, stay safe, and get through a sometimes difficult, unfair life with as little unpleasantness as possible. He is by no means without grievances against Jews; he simply prefers to look forward rather than backward -- to cultivate his apparently substantial Israeli clientele rather than nurse hostility towards us.