WESTERN GALILEE, ISRAEL -- I had never been inside Kafr Yassir before. Even though the Arab village is just across the road from the collective settlement where I have lived for the last six weeks, my only view of the village had been a cluster of flat, white rooftops and television antennas that I can see from our dining room window. Last week, as I walked into the village to meet the daughter of Kafr Yassif's mayor, I could see that each roof and antenna belonged to one of the two or three-story stone houses that lined the steep, narrow streets. A friend of mine, another American studying on Beit Haemek kibbutz, which is located an hour outside of Haifa, had met the mayor's daughter at a rally protesting Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. After the outbreak of the Persian Gulf war, Rawda Makhul invited us to come talk to her and her family about the conflict. Once in the village, it became clear that attitudes about the war were split. Makhul, who met us in the center of the village with a brand new baby carriage that held her 14-month-old son, said she sees herself as a loyal Israeli citizen and ardently backs the country in its struggle with Iraq. "There is no problem for me being an Arab in Israel," she said. "People now are more educated than they used to be. They see that Israel is for the Jewish people and the Arab people." But others in the village seemed less certain about their loyalties. They said that the war has exacerbated the inner struggle that comes with living in a Jewish state that is often fighting its Arab neighbors. High school teacher Peter Dawwy said that while he and his students give their primary loyalty to Israel, many of the young people in his class also wanted to express their solidarity with Saddam Hussein as an Arab leader. "Sometimes you feel like a foreigner in your own land," he said. "That feeling becomes more during a war." And while Bush administration officials have flatly denied there is any "linkage" between Iraq's occupation of Kuwait and Israel's occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, in Kafr Yassif, the logic of the linkage is indisputable. Makhul's husband, Ghassan, said that Palestinians both in and outside Israel felt the U.S. was being hypocritical by becoming enraged at Iraq's actions while ignoring 20 years of Israeli occupation. "Justice is a word that must be used the way it is and not the way the United States wants it," he said. "We don't need to read this in the newspapers. We don't need our parents to tell us. This is what we feel." But Rawada Makhul said she felt differently. She said that while she hopes there will be a Palestinian homeland for her people in the West Bank, she feels connected to Israel even though it is under Jewish administration. "I believe this territory was Palestine before it was Israel, but when the Arabs came, no one told them to leave," she said. "When Jews came, after being persecuted in other countries, I say they should have the same welcome." Makhul, her husband and her mother all said that if a Palestinian state was created, they would remain in Israel. · Kafr Yassif is a village of 6000 people, 400 of whom are teachers. There are 72 people in the village who have completed their doctorate degrees, the highest percentage of any settlement in the Middle East. At the mayor's house, we sat in the living room with Makhul, her husband and her mother. I noticed that the windows were lined with tape and plastic, making the "sealed room" that every family in Israel is supposed to have in case of an Iraqi chemical attack. The war had not affected the village much, Makhul said, who acted as a translator for her relatives. The citizens had received gas masks the day before the war started, but none of the men ever wore them, preferring instead to stand outside and watch Patriot missiles collide with Iraqi Scuds. Like the Jewish children at our kibbutz, the Arab children in the village were kept away from school for two-and-a-half weeks, but other than the occasional air-raid siren at night, life in the country, and in the village, is returning to normal. After answering our questions, the family invited us to eat their 4 p.m. meal with them. As we ate the chicken with onions, salads, and rice with yogurt, Makhul's mother, Nabiha Mokros, turned the tables and began asking us questions. She said she was skeptical about the support President Bush is getting from the American people. "So they realy believe everything he says about saving Kuwait?" she asked. "How do the American soldiers feel when they know they are bombing schools and hospitals in Baghdad?" After we ate, the daughter walked us back through the village. We saw children playing cops and robbers with guns that looked almost real. We saw a grocery store whose business had dropped off because of the war. We spoke with a 12-year-old who said he wanted to live in peace with the Jews. We saw a lot more than roofs and antennas.Comments powered by Disqus
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