July 26, 2013 | 12:18 am
Posted by Orit Arfa
Date-less on Tu B’Av, the Jewish "Valentine’s Day,” I needed something to do. So when a Palestinian man that I met through an Israeli tour guide offered me to take me to Jericho that night, I took him up on it. After all, Jericho is the oldest city in the world, famous for date production, the first city Joshua conquered as he entered the Holy Land to possess it.
Canaan, as I’ll call him, must have been in his 40s. Pleasant face. Strong body. Sweet smile. Runs a family-operated business. Likes long walks in the Judean Hills.
I’ve been longing to check out Area “A” (Palestinian Authority controlled territories) because I always like to do what I’m not supposed to. Israelis are forbidden from entering those areas, which include Ramallah, Shechem (Nablus), and Bethlehem. But I came to live in Ariel as a peace activist, and true peace can only occur when Arabs and Jews feel safe to travel through each other’s towns in the West Bank, as they did in the 1990s.
Of course, it wasn’t really a date. The man is married with children. Maybe he was looking for some thrills, too. Eager to assure me of my safety, he even offered a reference—an Orthodox Jewish friend of his. He offered me to meet his wife and children.
"But I'm a Zionist settler!" I pleaded, getting it all on the table.
"So? Just say you're an olah hadasah (new immigrant)," he said in perfect Hebrew.
He promised to protect me. How manly.
But it sure felt like a “date.” He treated me exactly as a courtier should. He showed me the hot spots, periodically checking my comfort level: the town square, the brand new hotels, the Palestinian “army” training areas, the fancy villas locals are building, the checkpoint into Jordan. No crying about Palestinian poverty here. He put his best foot forward.
He said no one really cares who enters Jericho. The Palestinian police don't ask for passports, checking to see who is Jewish, who is Arab. It's a tourist town. He pointed out many yellow “Israeli” license plates. (Palestinians have white/green plates.) Arab Israelis come here all the time. European tourists, too. Jews, that’s another story.
It was after the Ramadan break-the-fast, and the place was happening. Shops were all open, including the barber shop where Canaan gets haircuts. Tourists were enjoying a late dinner. Canaan took me to a mini-amusement park where kids were riding bumper cars even at 9:30 pm. There’s a camel for tourists to ride. An outdoor café serves up nargilas to Arabic music.
“But I don’t see women around,” I asked. “And I don’t have a veil.”
He pointed to a couple; the woman wore an off-the-shoulder top. “See?”
We fit right in.
We had coffee (well, I had bottled water) on a bench and talked about our lives in Israel (the PA, for him). He talked about the good times when he was able to work in Israel “proper” before checkpoints went up in response to the second intifada. He showed me on his phone pictures of his good-looking children.
He complained about the days-long bus ride to Mecca years ago for the “Haj.” He's more traditional, and even offered to have a beer with me one day.
He was ready to stay out until late, but my Israeli security friend who was remotely surveying our route through the Waze app was getting nervous. We are both duly aware of the Islamic “mitzvah” of deceiving infidels into submission.
“It’s getting late,” my friend texted me.
Canaan showed me the grand Intercontinental hotel that was attached to the former Jericho casino. Then he offered to take me to a lookout point. This date was becoming too perfect. I told him it’s late, that I have a long ride home to Ariel.
On the way out, we passed the sign for the historic “Mount of Temptation.” Anxious to show me English signage to demonstrate how Americans should feel comfortable there, he asked: “What does it say?”
“Oh, it’s a sign to some mountain.” I dare not utter the word.
He asked me if I was married, if I had a boyfriend, if, as a single woman, I just wanted to have fun.
“I want to get married,” I assured him.
Back at my car, I thanked him for a truly magical night. I got to see a place so many Jews never dare see, despite their historic roots to the city. He gave me something no tough Israeli soldier can give: entry into the most ancient city on earth. He displayed the type of chivalry that can make a woman fall for a man.
He offered to take me to Ramallah and Shechem, and while I really want to go, I’m worried—not that he’ll kill me, but that he'll like me too much. The next day, when I was chatting with a Western-looking Arab journalist who lives in Jerusalem, I told her about my trip and how my friends are scared to go into PA areas. She was not concerned about my safety going in—she often invites her Israeli Jewish friends to Ramallah.
"Don’t trust Palestinian men,” the divorcee warned. I pressed the issue and she corrected herself. “You shouldn’t trust any man. Men should be segregated into barns and we should use them only for babies.”
I probably won't call Canaan again, as much as I want to see Ramallah, which I hear is really happening. I really don’t want to have the “let’s just be friends talk.”
Still, I’ll never forget Tu B’Av in Jericho where walls came tumbling down. I conquered the city, as did Joshua, by not allowing myself to be conquered by fear, prejudice, and world leaders’ attempts to divide people by their race or religion. However, if they attempt to divide us by gender, I’d understand.
Orit Arfa is author of The Settler, a novel that follows the rebellious journey of an evacuee from Gaza. She lives in Ariel, Israel.
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