Recently, I had my first heart-to-heart talk with a Palestinian Arab after eight years of living here in Israel. I’ve interacted with our Arab neighbors many times. We shop together, do business together, and share our roads. There were many times that I had questions burning inside me that I wanted to ask but was afraid to. Afraid of what the answers might be and scared to broach subjects that everyone would prefer didn’t exist at all. Officially, we are unofficially at war with each other.
But with Ahmad, a nice man who I hired to install kitchen counters in my house, I immediately felt comfortable. We are always on guard here, so this conversation didn’t happen the first time we met. However there was something I liked about Ahmad immediately, something about the way he always smiles, laughs easily, takes pride in his work, and just seems like a genuinely nice guy trying to make a living.
One day Ahmad was waiting for something to dry and we started talking. He told me about how his father had died five years earlier while he was finishing college. He told me about how his father’s business partner had stolen the entire business after the death and how Ahmad had to quit school to start the business from scratch to support his mother and younger siblings. He told me with pride how his business has grown to be the third largest of its kind in Bethlehem.
Somehow, we got on the subject of this interesting life we live – Israelis and Arabs – peace and war, the conflicts and difficulties. I told Ahmad how the first week I moved here and didn’t quite understand my neighborhood, I was stopped at a traffic light with Arab cars behind me and next to me. I was completely sure that one of them would take out a gun and kill me. I realize now how absurd that thought was and I laugh at it. Ahmad chuckled too and said, “We’re not all monsters, and I’m sorry people see us that way.”
He told me about the time he was behind a car that crashed. There was an Israeli Jew in the car who was injured. Ahmad and his brother stopped their car and saved the man while calling an ambulance for help. I acknowledged Ahmad’s good deed and willingness to help a fellow human being in spite of our differences. I also told Ahmad about how last year a girl living nearby was killed in her sleep when a 17-year-old terrorist climbed through her window and stabbed her to death for no reason other than that she was a Jew. “What are we supposed to think?” I had the audacity to ask Ahmad.
As we sat in silence, I thought about the complexities of our life here in Israel. I have long ago embraced the notion that there is no human solution to our problems, only a Divine one.
Ahmad and I talked about how we both agreed that the most important thing was to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” I shared with him how the Hebrew Bible says this and that Jesus emphasized the same idea. He expressed that this idea was most important to him and his family and specified that he believes in being kind to all people. This gave me hope.
However, when I asked Ahmad his honest opinion about the Arab youth in our area and whether he thinks the situation is likely to improve, he confided that he thinks things will only get worse. The kids are being fed a steady diet of lies and hate.
In high school I had to write an essay about a famous quote from Anne Frank. Before being transported to a death camp where Anne ultimately perished, she wrote, “In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.” Our assignment was to write an essay on whether we agreed with Anne and if we thought she would have said those words while in the death camps. I cannot remember what I wrote. But I remember the question as it is one I still struggle with today.
I can say this for sure: We are all created in the image of God. We are all created good. I do believe that the overwhelming majority of human beings in the world today are good at heart.
With all of the evil in world right now, it’s hard to believe that everyone is good. Can a person taint their soul? We might never know. As Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the Lord.” However, talking to Ahmad has brought me closer to the hope that one day soon, good will overcome evil. As long as there are good people in the world who talk to each other and build bridges of understanding between one another, we will expedite our journey to our destiny: peace. Many nations under one God.