Netanyahu’s Arab Neighbors

Jisr az-Zarka, Israel

It’s often said that Israelis have insulated themselves from the Palestinians. Two miles from Tulkarm, but a thousand miles psychologically. Without a doubt, this distance is there. Whether for ideological reasons, or Jewish majorities in specific areas, it becomes all too easy to imagine Israel as a monocultural entity, isolated as much from its neighbors as its own diversity.

There are certain instances, however, when it becomes impossible to labor under any such pretenses. One such instance is in northern Israel, where Arabs still constitute the majority of the population.

Go to the supermarket in an immigrant town like Or Akiva, and you’ll stand in checkout lines behind local women in hijab. Go to McDonalds at the kibbutz nearby, and there will be families from Wadi Ara. Turn on the car radio, and you’ll hear Arabic sports broadcasts. The overlapping of communities is unavoidable.

Nowhere is the irony of this situation more noteworthy than the border between Caesarea and Jisr az-Zarqa, the former, a wealthy beach town, the latter, an impoverished Arab fishing village. Home to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Caesarea is best known for its mix of wealthy Israeli and foreign Jews who own vacation homes there. Jisr az-Zarqa, for being the last coastal town to still be populated by indigenous Arabs.

Considering Netanyahu’s conservative politics, it would be difficult to imagine him feeling comfortable about having to live in such a milieu. And yet Bibi has for a number of years, long before he resumed his present job as Prime Minister. Though it is doubtful he’s stood in line at the nearby supermarket in Or Akiva, there is no disputing his inability to avoid listening to the sounds made by his Arab neighbors less than half a mile north.

To wit, the following recording of Jisr’s evening call to prayer (if I remember the time correctly) was made on May 15, 2010, two blocks from Bibi’s home. Audible throughout the neighborhood, including the kitchen of a family whom I was visiting, I imagined that the Prime Minister was hearing the exact same thing.

Jisr photograph courtesy of Eilam Gil. Published under a Creative Commons license. Recording by Joel Schalit.

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