“What’s your thing?” Peace.

Jaffa port, IsraelOn my friend’s recommendation, on my first evening in Tel Aviv, I walked through Jaffa port. Alighting at the clock tower, the street bustled with open air restaurants, kiosks, groups of teenagers, wandering couples. The sight and sound of the sea attracted my eye. I went to investigate, and capture the light with my camera.

Meandering around the coastline, I came to a harbour where boats were moored and men were fishing. When tiny lights on their lines submerged, they knew they'd caught a fish.

“Do you like what you see?,” a stranger asked, following the eye of my lens to a pile of nets.

“Yes,” I said, appreciating the colours and contours of net and boat.

“What’s your thing?,” he continued.

“Peace,” I replied.

“I grew up in Jaffa,” he said. “I spoke Arabic and Hebrew from childhood, which is unusual for most of Israel.” As a teenager, he’d go out on the fishing boats for fun, learning to negotiate turns as tight as a needle to encircle schools of fish without hitting rocks or other boats.

“If anyone could be at peace with Arabs, it’s me. They aren’t willing. We give them everything, just like we do Israelis. But if their social assistance cheque doesn’t come one month, they storm into the office and make a scene. And we capitulate, not for peace, but so they won’t bring war.” [Later, he clarified that this just applies to Palestinian citizens living in Israel, not Palestinians living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, who do not enjoy citizenship.]

Such a detailed story demanded introductions. Leron and I exchanged names, and looked for a café in which to continue our conversation.

 

“Israel is a small country. We want peace with everyone. And the Palestinians won’t offer it.”

 

“We’re a small country, maybe .0001% of the world. We want, no, we need, peace with everyone. And the Palestinians won’t offer it. They even raise Palestinian flags at Hebrew University and demonstrate where they know there won’t be a reprisal. They couldn’t do that in the neighbouring Arab countries; they’re run by dictators.”

“There’s an Arab mindset you cannot see as an outsider. Also, as a foreign woman, they will show you another side. But Arab culture is very communal. They have a very hard time going against the tribe. It’s also very..." Leron struggles for the English word, and chooses egotistical. "One must appear strong. On the other hand, Jewish Israelis are softer.”

As Leron took his leave to attend to prior engagements, I thanked him for sharing his thoughts.

“I’m here to learn and see for myself,” I said.

I walked back to the centre of Jaffa with my camera, physical, and mental eyes wide open.

 

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