When we ride public transportation, we are simultaneously moving and stuck. As an American traveling in Israel, I have started to use this time to become unstuck—to understand more about the people living there instead of relying on stereotypes.
So begins a wonderfully written article by Ariel Katz, an American now living in England, who previously worked in Israel for three years in Israel-Arab relations. She tells about her conversation with a young Israeli military captain sitting next to her on the bus to Tel Aviv, and then with an older man who next claimed the seat. Words between the two men told Katz that the second man had “a story to tell about his relationship to the army, one of gratitude and guilt.” “Now I am determined to unearth the story of the man sitting next to me,” she writes. His answers to her questions revealed that his name was Roni, he was an ex-soldier, his father was a Syrian-born Jew, and his mother’s parents were from Iran. As a university student, his major had been Middle Eastern studies (the same as Katz), and he had later served as a Hebrew/Arabic translator in Taba, Egypt. Katz calls Roni “a living bridge between the two cultures.” “In him, Arabness and Jewishness resided respectfully.” She closes the article with the following thought, one that each of us could personalize by substituting Arab-Jewish with the names of people from other cultures, people with whom we often walk past but rarely rub shoulders.
I wonder if we relied less on conventional narratives of Arab-Jewish relations, and instead became interested in the person sitting next to us on the bus or train, that we might also move forward together metaphorically to arrive at our desired destinations.
I also learned a phrase from Roni, a phrase that I’d like to use someday in conversation. When Katz asked him his thoughts on the topic of Arabs in Israel, he replied with what she calls “the classic diplomatic Israeli answer”: “We are all sons of Adam,” he said. “We are all human.”
(Ariel Katz, “A Conversation Creates a Bridge between Arabs and Jews,” Common Ground News Service, March 20, 2012)