"I can’t explain what I’m feeling inside, but... everything is unclear"
Location: Agdu Women's Fashion, Allenby Street, Tel Aviv
The encounter: I was waiting at the busstop in front of Dalia’s store when I heard her call out: “Don’t miss it! Everything must go! Five shirts for fifty shekel!” ($13). I can’t resist the promise of cheap clothes, so I came in and tried on a few colorful shirts. I found nothing to my liking, but I did get to talk to Dalia.
What are you doing here right now?
I work here. I’ve worked in this store for the past twenty years.
How do you describe your religious or national identity?
I really, really believe in God! I’m traditional. And I’m very, very Zionist. I kiss the ground here! I really love the Nation of Israel! I have traveled abroad. But I didn’t find anything like what I have here: the abundance of people’s love. Abroad, they don’t even see you. It’s as if you’re alone.
Can you tell me a bit about your family?
I have five kids and eight grand kids. Three of my children are married and two are bachelors: a 25-year-old daughter and a 35-year-old son. They still live with me. I have room, and the economy is tough. But they do have jobs, so it’s not just for financial reasons. For us, in the eastern traditions, we usually don't leave home until we’re married.
Where is your family from?
My parents came from Iraq. They arrived here in 1948. I was born in Jerusalem, in 1952. My parents already had two kids when they arrived.
As soon as they heard there was a State of Israel, they left everything and moved here. Back in Iraq, my parents were comfortable, but when they arrived here, they had to live in shacks in a transition camp. And instead of being welcomed with honor, they were sprayed with DDT because the Ashkenazi [European] Jews thought that people from the East were dirty and carried diseases.
And then, right after they came, the war started and my brother was born. Dad hadn’t even had time to find work yet, so they had nothing to eat. The English were still here, so they helped and gave them food. That’s why my brother is called Freddy, after an English officer who helped my mom. Life was tough when I was little – I could tell you a whole book about it... But I’m now in the middle of work and my boss will come back soon.
I grew up speaking Arabic at home. My kids speak Arabic as well. Of course! You must know Arabic when you live here. We have Arab neighbors in Jaffa. Their kids speak Arabic so beautifully. We don’t speak like that anymore. When you ask: “How are you,”, this little boy responds: “Al-hamdu lillah” [praise to God]. He’s just six, but he speaks so politely and gracefully! His mom is from Jordan. The husband is from East Jerusalem, but they moved to Jaffa. We get along well! Last summer, we all sat together in the bomb shelter! When the sirens sounded, I'd knock on her door so we could go down together. You know, the problem is not them, the Arabs; and it’s not us, the Jews. The problem is up there with the leaders!
What are your hopes and expectations for the future of this land?
It very much upsets me what’s happening in Israel. I’m very Zionist, but lately, it hasn’t been like it used to be. I’m worried about the country. There’s nobody strong enough to lead us. And – I love the army – but I have three grandchildren in the army and I’m worried about them. I mean... The situation is unclear. I can’t explain what I’m feeling inside, but... everything is unclear. I’ll to tell you something dreadful: If today I was considering bringing children into the world, I would think twice. The situation just isn’t safe.
If I was in another country and I had to consider immigrating to Israel, I don’t know if I would do it. I’m very confused. We have so many enemies around us and there is anti-Semitism everywhere! We can’t fight the whole world!
The elections won’t solve anything, because the politicians only take care of themselves. It’s not like it used to be. I remember [Menahem] Begin. He cared about the country! He used to drive a little beat-up car and he lived just like the rest of us.
I trust Bibi [Netayahu], or I convince myself to trust him, because I don’t have anybody else. But Bibi travels in a private airplane and he doesn’t even drink the same water as I.