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Arabic Lesson

Diana Bletter è una vecchia amica (nel senso che la conosco da oltre trent’anni) dal cuore giovane. Americana newyorchese ha scelto da una ventina di anni di andare a vivere in un paese nel nord d’Israele, vicino al Libano. E lì ha cercato di lavorare per la pace con le donne palestinesi. Un bridge, lo chiama lei. Diana è giornalista, quando l’ho conosciuta a Roma mandava corrispondenze a giornali comes Rolling Stone e Village Voice. A Roma conosceva tutti, ma proprio tutti. Non è cambiata, anche se ora col marito ha collezionato un sacco di figli, uno è stato ferito durante il servizio militare. Poco tempo fa, a giugno,  ha pubblicato sul New York Times questo contributo. Eccolo, contiene molti temi di attualità.

I.H.T. Op-Ed Contributor

Arabic Lesson

SHAVEI ZION, ISRAEL — A few days before the Israeli flotilla disaster, I started studying Arabic. I’ve lived in the Galilee for the past 19 years and this was something I’ve always meant to do. Now, it seemed even more urgent to learn the language if I was ever to help bridge the gap between Arabs and Jews.
My teacher’s name is Samia but she’s actually my very good friend. Samia’s daughters are the same age as my daughters and they used to play together until, as Muslim and Jewish teenagers, they drifted apart. But Samia and I have remained close. We even started a local women’s peace group. Our friendship has survived the Intifadas, suicide bombings and growing religious extremism. During the Israel-Hezbollah 2006 War, when my oldest son, a paratrooper, was wounded in battle, she called me immediately to make sure he was all right.
Which was why, this past Tuesday morning, I didn’t think twice about riding my moped from my Jewish village to her Muslim village just across the highway for my Arabic lesson.
Samia’s family compound is on a narrow street in the heart of the village. The television flared when I walked into her apartment and she didn’t move to turn it off.
“Did you hear the news?” she asked me in Hebrew. “They attacked those ships trying to get into Gaza! They’re saying that tomorrow Israeli Arabs will start a civil war.” Then she raised her chin and made a tsk-tsk sound with her tongue. A sound of sorrow. Anger, too.
“It is terrible,” I said. Then I sat down at her kitchen table, my back to the TV. I couldn’t bear to watch the news. I wanted to work on the conjugation of Arabic verbs. To do. To go. To have. I wanted to repeat ordinary, everyday words. Pencil, desk, evening: guttural, enchanting words I’d never really be able to pronounce. I wanted Samia to joke the way she did the day before, “After our lesson, you’ll need to go to an ear, nose and throat doctor.”
But she was in no mood to joke. Her youngest daughter, Dareen, came out of her bedroom. She was on her way to study criminology at a nearby college. Samia had already made a finjan of Arabic coffee and poured some for Dareen in a disposable cup to go.
“I told Dareen that if there were any fights at the college between Arab and Jewish students she should stay quiet and not get involved,” Samia said.
I nodded. I thought of my youngest daughter, Libby, Dareen’s age, who’s volunteering this year in a distressed neighborhood in Jerusalem. My oldest daughter, Amalia, is a fitness instructor in the Israeli Army. Who knew what would happen next?
“Now it is morning,” Samia told me, pointing to a picture in my textbook of a house, some trees, the sun rising. “What time do you get up?”
“At six o’clock,” I replied in faltering Arabic. “What time do you wake up?”
“At ten o’clock,” she said. “I can’t sleep at night.”
I knew the reason. A few years before, her husband had left her. We rarely talked about it. Like politics, the subject was painful. We moved on, talking about the sun, the moon, the stars.
“What time can I come tomorrow?” I asked after an hour.
“Tomorrow isn’t good,” she said. “They’ll cancel school. There will be demonstrations.”
My heart sunk. I pictured making a mistake and riding my moped through the village. How would I ever explain that I’m just a nice Jewish girl trying to learn Arabic for peaceful reasons to people shouting and throwi
ng stones? “Tomorrow will be dangerous for me to come?” I asked in Arabic.
“La,” she said. “Maybe not dangerous.” She pointed to a missing tooth in her mouth. “But tomorrow I have to go to the dentist.”
I breathed a sigh of relief.
Sometimes in the middle of strife, anything normal and routine, even going to the dentist, seems like a very good thing.
Diana Bletter is a freelance journalist.


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