March 24, 2005
I hadn't been to a Tel Aviv bar for a while, and I was craving one. I had recently returned from a vacation to Los Angeles, where there were no worthwhile singles bars. Last call for alcohol in Los Angeles is 2 a.m., and a good Jewish girl like me prefers to pick up and be picked up by Jewish men.
That's why Eliezer, a new bar on Ben Yehuda Street, was a relief for me and also for my friend, Tali, who had just returned from her native Melbourne. Inhaling the smoky air and swaying to the rock music, we reveled in the dozens of masculine men around us.
"Welcome to Israel," we proudly toasted. "Where you know the men in the bars are Jewish."
A beer and two vodka shots later, I let my guard down and scoped the scene, looking for hot prospects. Gradually a group of short, stubby men surrounded us. I sighed. None of them had been on my radar, but, nevertheless, we all danced and laughed and flirted.
Suddenly, a man in a gray shirt and gray tie walked in. I was not particularly attracted to him, but I noticed that his tie was practically strangling him. I gestured to him to take it off. We were in a bar, not a conference room.
Tali and I continued to dance and flirt, and the man in the tie passed us by, stiff-necked. I motioned to him again to take the thing off.
Finally, we headed out to go salsa dancing, and I noticed the man in the tie had taken it off and began waving it like a flag, signaling me over.
"Congratulations," I said. "That's much better."
"Where are you from?" he said in an unidentifiable accent.
"I'm from Israel, but originally from L.A.," I said. "Where are you from?"
"Oh," I said. "Palestinian."
No wonder he wore a tie to a bar. Israelis just don't do that.
"Are you Jewish?" he asked.
"I'm very Jewish," I said proudly.
There I was. Face to face with the enemy, in a Tel Aviv bar. I immediately recalled the Stage nightclub bombing in Tel Aviv a week earlier, and I looked for a backpack strapped to his waist, but he was strapless. I was safe, but I couldn't help but provoke confrontation. I wasn't about to be fake or polite or cordial just because he was Palestinian. A Tel Aviv bar, to me, did not provide sanctuary.
"You know, I'm very right wing," I said.
I didn't think he understood what I said or what I meant, or maybe he didn't want a bar brawl, because he ignored my comment and instead asked me where I lived.
I almost made myself more explicit by adding: "If I were a soldier with a gun, and this were a battle line, I would shoot you. By the way, I entertain the idea of transfer."
But I stopped myself. This was a bar, I reasoned. He wasn't the enemy, he was a descendant of Abraham who wanted to break Islamic law and have a drink. I had to respect him for that. So I dropped the politics and told him I lived in Tel Aviv.
"Israeli women are hotter than Palestinian women, aren't they?" I said, trying to find some common ground.
"Why, do you like it when they are covered from head to toe, with those veils?"
"Well, women in Ramallah are not so hot. Yes, Israelians are hot," he said awkwardly.
It seemed like that was the first time he used "hot" in that context.
I told him I had to go, and he presented his tie and said: "For you."
"What?" I said. "I can't take this."
At first, I felt bad. It looked expensive, and don't most Palestinians live in dire poverty?
Then I thought about the implications: I take this tie, and my hands are tied. I'd forever have to remember that one night a Palestinian gave me an expensive tie, and that he was nice to me. I'd have to question all my stereotypes and generalizations, and recognize that there are good, normal, generous Palestinians who just want peace, who just want to be my friend, who just want some fun.
I couldn't take the tie.
But then I looked down at its elegant striped pattern. It would look smashing with a white tank and hip hugging jeans, I thought. He insisted, so I gracefully accepted.
"Thank you," I said, smiling, and blew him a kiss.
As we sauntered out, Tali, a pro-peace activist, said, "You see, they're not all bad. You'll switch sides."
"Hmm," I said. "Maybe."
As long as I felt good and stylish with the tie on, I couldn't resent the fashion benefactor or his people.
I woke up the next morning, both me and the tie hungover in bed, alone.
I glared at it, frightened. Is this the first step toward my own private reconciliation with the Palestinians? If I keep it, is it a personal symbol of possible peace? Or should I just burn the thing?
Eventually, I hung it in my closet as the accessory that will forever go down in my wardrobe as "the tie the Palestinian gave me." It's not an enemy tie I'm ready to make, but it's an enemy tie I'm ready to wear.
A friend told me that wearing a tie is a proven pick-up technique. It worked well for Abbas. Maybe it'll work for me.
I'll wear it next time I go to a bar. And when I do, I'll use it to pick up and tie up a hot Jewish Israeli man, and I'll have a Palestinian to thank for it.
Maybe then we could start talking about reconciliation.
Orit Arfa is a writer living in Israel.