Hebron, South Hebron Hills, Tue 20.8.13, Morning
09:30 – 13:00
The road to Hebron is quiet and “boring.” The observation balloon floats over Beit Haggai. Work is proceeding apace in preparation for opening the checkpoint there; trucks are on site. The pillbox next to the locality has been renovated; it’s now more visible.
We see a military vehicle only at the roadblock opposite Bani Na’im. That used to be the southern entrance to Hebron.
We decide to visit Az’am. He wonders what happened to Muhammad. There’s a customer at the metal shop, a tall man dressed in black, looking as if he belongs to some extreme ultra-Orthodox group. He walks around the workshop, conversing fluently in Arabic. A real friend. They’re making something for him. He followed us into Az’am’s office.
He happily introduced himself, asked who we were. I have no choice: I have to set aside my initial impression and my automatic reaction when I see someone like this buying from Palestinians.
“Hello,” he says. “Welcome! I’m David, I live in Kiryat Arba, I’m friends with everyone, believe in dialogue and coexistence.” He keeps talking, answers questions we hadn’t yet asked. “I have ‘diplomatic immunity’ in Hebron and in Arab countries. People contact me to solve disputes; the situation here is improving. The majority of Jews and Arabs live peacefully with one another; I believe it won’t be long before there’ll be coexistence.”
“Do you know Anat Cohen?”
“Of course; she curses me, calls me a traitor,” he says with a grin.
“Do you know Ofer Ohana?”
“Of course; he’s beginning to change his mind,” he says.
“Do you know Malachi Levinger?”
“He’s one of the moderates who’s adopting my approach,” he replies.
“So what have you to say about his behavior in Ata Jabar’s field, when he brought his children with hoes to uproot Jabar’s seedlings?”
He looks embarrassed. “You should know there’s a difference between what you see and what that person really thinks.” The benevolent expression returns, a speech about respecting every person, no matter who he is, about being opposed to violence toward anyone. “I’m friends with everyone, and I’m not the only one like that here. There are many of us; I visit Az’am and his family at home; they visit us in Kiryat Arba.”
“Do many Jews here think like you?”
“Yes,” he says, “the majority. Extremists like Anat are in the minority here, they’re just louder.”
We asked Az’am what he thinks. His answer was vague, polite, like someone who’s learned what it takes to survive. He’s smiling, gentle, good-hearted. He radiates an alluring humanity. “People here call me ‘Sheikh Daoud,” David adds. “I do only mitzvahs and good deeds. I also have a small winery in Kiryat Arba – ‘David’s Harp.’” “Where do you get the grapes,” I ask. “From the Galilee and the Golan Heights; I don’t want grapes from disputed land. I sell to stores throughout the country. Much goes to charity, organizations that provide food to the needy for the holidays, aid to families…there’s no shortage of work.”
He doesn’t stop smiling, his eyes are beaming. His sparse black beard conceals the face of a young man. He didn’t want to be photographed. We said goodbye to one another.
Netanya sums it up: “We’ve never met someone like that.”