By Meir Abelson
In 1971 my family and I arrived in Jerusalem from England and moved into a newly-built apartment. The first thing we needed was an electrician. I spoke to one of my neighbours, and he warmly recommended an East Jerusalem Arab. When the latter arrived, we found that he spoke excellent English; apparently he worked during the British Mandate in an army store. We were very pleased with his work; and after he finished and left us, he often took the opportunity to drop in and visit us when he was in the neighbourhood.
One morning in 1972, he appeared with a sheepish grin on his face. He said: “You know….I’m a Palestinian.” It was quite clear that he had only just heard of this – and it wasn’t surprising; for it was only after the Six Day War in 1967 that Arafat created the “Palestinian people” as an additional weapon against Israel.
Next on the list was a carpenter. At the Ulpan I encountered into an acquaintance from our district in London; he gave me the telephone number of an Arab from Bethlehem who had his own furniture factory there. One day, he telephoned to say that his car broke down. I offered to drive over and bring him and two of his workers. After they had finished working I drove them home. On the way we passed the Museum of Islamic Art in HaPalmach Street; “What’s that impressive building?” he asked? I told him. “Ah!” he said; “I suppose that was built during the Mandate.” Not at all,” I replied; “The museum was founded by Vera Bryce Salomons, daughter of Sir David Lionel Salomons, in memory of her professor, Leo Aryeh Mayer, rector of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a scholar of Islamic art who died in 1959.” He couldn’t and would not believe it…
Soon after I arrived I bought a car through a garage in south-west Jerusalem. Most of the mechanics were Arabs from east Jerusalem. One of them – from Bethlehem – was especially helpful; and when from time to time the work was carried out by someone else, we sat together and chatted over a cup of coffee. One day I asked him: “How are things now in Bethlehem?” He froze; with a look of terror on his face, he looked around furtively to see if any of the others were within earshot; there was no one …..But he didn’t say a word. Later, I realized what had happened: he was a Christian, and all the others were Muslims. A few years before our conversation, in 1995, Yasir Arafat and his PLO had taken over Bethlehem. When he made his debut Christmas appearance in Manger Square, he addressed an overwhelmingly Muslim crowd under huge banners with his own picture and that of the late ‘Engineer,’ revered bomb-maker Yihye Ayyash. “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill towards men,” Arafat declared. “In spirit and in blood we will redeem thee, O Palestine!” answered the crowd. Arafat had already declared Jesus to be a Palestinian Muslim.
From that time on, there were no festivities in Bethlehem – no illuminated giant tree in Manger Square, no carols by visiting choirs – practically no tourists at all…..and practically no Christians! The Palestinian Authority has been Islamizing Bethlehem since Arafat’s takeover in 1995; 60 percent of its Christian families have fled, and Muslims are now 75% of the population. They have intimidated and maltreated the Christian population, extorted money, confiscated land and property, and left them to the mercy of street gangs, with no protection. The Press squarely blamed Israel.
Over the years I have had occasion to visit various hospitals. Once in Jerusalem I was in a waiting room with 11 other people – all Arabs. To pass the time I took out my Arabic homework and starting working. The others, fascinated to see me scribbling in Arabic, crowded around to help me.
A few years later I was in an emergency room. The first doctor to examine me was a lady doctor: an Arab. When I was discharged a few days later, her superior – also an Arab – examined me and signed the necessary documents. More recently I had to see an orthopaedist at the Sick Fund in a strictly Orthodox neighbourhood in Jerusalem; he too was an Arab.
Three years ago, I had a nasty fall, and had to go to a clinic to have a wound stitched up; it was done by an Arab doctor; and when I returned a few days later for the wound to be cleaned, I was attended to by the same Arab doctor.
Over the years, I have visited a good number of Israel’s shopping centres and places of entertainment; in all of them, Arabs mingle with the crowds without any problem or comment.
Today I live in a retirement home in the Judean Mountains; it houses about 100 souls. Helpers for those who cannot help themselves come from all over the world: Vietnam, Japan, Nepal, Eritrea, Switzerland, Ceylon and South America. Most of the cleaning staff are Ethiopians, and the kitchen staff, Arabs and Jews; all get on extremely well together.
But what happened recently, when I spent 12 days in hospital after a heart attack, is well-nigh incredible. Shortly after I arrived in the ward, a new patient arrived – an Arab from Ramallah. As he made himself comfortable in the bed, I silently gave him a "thumbs-up" sign. The same afternoon, one of his sons arrived – a young man aged about 22 – and sat by his father. I reached for my book, which was at the foot of the bed, but just couldn't reach it. The boy sprang up and brought the book to me. That was just a beginning; during the afternoon, be brought me a cold drink; darted forward when my book fell to the floor; and when evening came, he came over and arranged the bed covers for me. His father was no less attentive – asking me continuously if I felt better. He received a never-ending stream of visitors – including young women – possibly members of the family, because they all wore suitable dresses with head and shoulders covering; from every one I received a cordial smile. When I left the hospital, they parted from us with bear hugs and kisses. It is superfluous to add that all in the hospital were treated alike.
Finally, I remember that in the 1970’s Israel gave political asylum to about 300 Vietnamese refugees; they were given immediate citizenship, and were settled in the centre of the country.
To sum up: I doubt whether many of those who call Israel an “apartheid state” know the meaning of the term: it is: “A policy or practice of segregating groups.” It is clear from the reality that this label applied to Israel is without foundation; it is just another of the innumerable libels invented to defame and delegitimize the Jewish state.