Monday, January 02, 2006

A childhood beach on a summer day

The typical summer afternoon on Haifa's beach in Northern Israel seemed to be going just fine. Over the years, the beach had hardly changed. Haifa, the mountain city, is also a beach town and the southern portion of its Mediterranean coast is traditionally open all the way down south, for at least 10 kilometres. Although some development has been permitted, it is still basically an open beach for all to enjoy.
On that particular day, kids were flying kites, young men were engaged in the traditional game of “matkot”, a very Israeli pass-time were two players hit a rubber ball back and forth between them with wooden rackets and no purpose but to keep the ball in motion, in the air. People were bathing in the sea, enjoying the waves, and the lifeguard had little to do but to watch the horizon. Some municipal inspectors were doing their rounds, looking around, ready to admonish anyone throwing a wrapper on the ground and as general security.
Being a mixed city, with a large Israeli-Arab population, it is quite natural to hear Arabic spoken among the crowd on the beach. That was the case on this particular afternoon. A family had found a place under one of the thatched structures designed to protect you from the sun. I was sitting nearby. The family looked interesting. A mother and a father, not young. Some teenagers, some children. Another woman, probably an aunt. Bit by bit, as their conversation trickled, I pieced the picture. And I also saw the book one of the younger women had brought: a novel in Italian. I smiled to myself when I saw the title of the novel: “The Lost Land”.
Everything became clear: Palestinians living in Italy had come to visit their family in Haifa. An Israeli could probably notice their ethnicity, but their attire was generally western. The young men had thigh-long bathing trunks and some of the young women wore one-piece suits with something thrown over their shoulders. It also could have been a traditional Jewish family of Mediterranean origins.
And then I saw her. Not the sort of figure you'd expect on the beach, not even in Haifa. A young woman, no more than 30 years old, holding a digital camera and taking pictures of the beach, walking slowly, pointing her camera at the general view... In traditional Islamic clothes. A long gown, long sleeves, her head completely covered with the appropriate head-dress, the hijab, her socked feet shuffling in pair of closed pumps and she was carrying a leather hand-bag, quite ordinary. You could see only her face and the palms of her hands. She was walking peacefully and kept taking pictures.
I followed her with my eyes, bemused at the sight. Then, another part of my mind became mildly alert, and I played the “security officer” game. She could be a scout for Hamas or the Islamic Jihad. She could be collecting information for a suicide bombing. She could be a suicide bomber herself. And still, who would send a woman dressed like that to scout? So she can only be a suicide bomber herself. But why dress like that and cut her chances of succeeding, calling attention to herself in her Islamic attire? I looked at the Arab family just besides me. Clearly, this very observant woman had nothing to do with them. So are we all to be victims together? I reminded myself that this has happened in Haifa. An Arab restaurant was destroyed by a suicide bomber. No, in fact two restaurants, the second being on the same beach, 2 kilometres to the north, a place I have known all my life. And in both cases, Israeli Arabs were killed along with Jews. And still, I felt strangely relaxed. A forced myself back to the game: “Most people surviving a bombing tell of a strange silence...” I was trying myself, checking to see whether I would stir somehow.
And then it happened. As the woman was walking in the sand, hindered by the hem of her dress, she was approached by the two municipal inspectors, each with his sophisticated walkie-talkie and cellphone. I saw them speaking to her. She reached for her bag, sticking her hand into it, shuffling as women do in overloaded handbags. Out came an ID card. Blue. Israeli. Like mine. “All is well”, said the security officer in my mind.
She continued taking photos and I took a walk, to learn more. The inspectors were sitting on a low wall, looking at the paved walk. They were speaking, in Arabic. Working for the Haifa Municipality as unarmed security men. “She's from here”, said on of them. “Yeah, married and moved”, said the other. “She used to come here as a kid, go figure”.

6 comments:

Ronen David said...

a very nice story yoram.
but i didn't understand the catch. did you mean that the woman was from the oqoupied teretories ?.
nice story that often happends.

Ronen David

Suzito said...

"As the woman was walking in the sand, hindered by the hem of her dress, she was approached by the two municipal inspectors, each with his sophisticated walkie-talkie and cellphone. I saw them speaking to her."
Good, they did their job as well they should. If more people were observant and did their jobs, lives could be saved.

Ingerid said...

The picture described here is that of the very moment where one is trying to understand whether this is truly a peaceful moment in life where everybody just is his own self and part of a larger scale harmony or rather the last few seconds (and silence) before the terrible drama - that's the point, this is the situation that is so hard to grasp for people who do not know that kind of experience.
We want lo live and let live, but we know that there are others out there who do not wish to let others live peacefully and we also know that they are tricking us by acting as if they are just minding their own peaceful business. This story is about the struggle with how to keep being able to allow others to be different without being constantly suspicious, but also without being naive or fatalistic.

Orit Haddar said...

Ioram, your story clearly states the very reality of Israel today.

An Israeli-born Jew would feel the stirrings of concern as he/she is conditioned to, while an Israeli-born Arab can return to his/her city of birth and be suspected and questioned. Both you and the woman come from the same place and the very same inspectors can restore calm to a Jew while at the same time, cause anxiety in an Arab. Would that we could live in a more sane reality.

I will stick my neck out and wonder how Jews felt throughout history when the cities of their birth became foreign or hostile to and for them?

I would add, though, that I was born in Tel Aviv and lived with my family in Bat Yam. I can't say I really saw too many Arabs, since we left Israel in 1967 after the Six-Day War. After returning here in 1991, I have seen many changes and the sad scene you so sensitively and fairly tell about is ubiquitous.

Orit Haddar said...

Ioram, your story clearly states the very reality of Israel today.

An Israeli-born Jew would feel the stirrings of concern as he is conditioned to, while an Israeli-born Arab can return to his/her city of birth and be suspected and questioned. Both you and the woman come from the same place and the very same inspectors can restore calm to a Jew while at the same time, cause anxiety in an Arab. Would that we could live in a more sane reality.

I will stick my neck out and wonder how Jews have felt throughout history when the cities of their birth became foreign or hostile to and for them?

I would add, though, that I was born in Tel Aviv and lived with my family in Bat Yam. I can't say I really saw too many Arabs, since we left Israel in 1967 after the Six-Day War. After returning here in 1991, I have seen many changes and the sad scene you so sensitively and fairly tell about is ubiquitous.

Moon said...

Yoram,
I'm still caring with in me, your story with the taxi and the driver with his hashed music, and your thought "playing" their tune during your drive with him...
and here, once again, you open a "window" to an every day experience, that each of us, comes across, ever so often, i like the tangible way, you offer us the scene, i hope none Israelis would be able to feel the nuances in our commune life here