We had been chatting for almost an hour before the otherwise-friendly Arab youth asked,
"You know Hitler?"
I suspected where he was going with this, but, hoping I was mistaken, I responded,
"Of course...why do you ask?"
His answer was the sad but unsurprising,
"Because Hebrewi is Hitler."
That about sums up my interaction with 3 Arab Israeli youth on Mt. Precipice, Nazareth.
I had been out exploring Nazareth that evening. A real tale of two cities, Nazareth: there's old biblical Nazareth -- Jesus' hometown -- now an Arab town with garbage-lined, tightly-packed streets.
Then there’s Nazareth Illit, the Jewish town, clean and modern and situated on the hill overlooking old Nazareth.
I took my wife and kids to a restaurant in old Nazareth the week prior -- our first visit to the old biblical town. I don't know about you fine Kineti readers, but my mind's eye had a picture of Nazareth like this: a nice little town rich in biblical history, maybe some churches and otherwise unremarkable.
But the reality was kind of sad. There's a smell along some of the inner city streets due to the garbage. Seemingly poor, largely Arab, largely Muslim town. My wife mentioned she didn't feel particularly safe as we walked through that night. Left a bad taste in the mouth.
Telling about the ugly state of old Nazareth to my coworkers the next day, one of them mentioned he lived in Nazareth Illit (hi Grisha!) and that it was actually a nice place, nothing like what I was describing.
So I ventured back some days later to check out Nazareth Illit. And he was right: it’s clean, modern, commercial. Snapped a few photos from the hill, overlooking old Nazareth:
After some exploring and a nice dinner, I headed back to my apartment in Caesarea.
As I’m in my car heading out of Nazareth, I see a sign:
Mt. Precipice →
By now it was almost midnight, but hey, who knows when I’ll be back in Israel? (Exploring the beautiful land of Israel was my most enjoyable experience I had during the trip; more than visiting the famous sites, which sometimes feels a bit tourist-y.)
I turn right and head up the mountain.
At midnight, there are zero cars on the mountain; no people in sight. I figure I have the mountain to myself.
I made it to the top. Parked my car on the side of the road, walked over to a lower ledge overlooking Nazareth and miles and miles of Israel.
(I later learned this is traditionally the location recorded in the gospels where the people of Nazareth rejected Jesus’ messianic claims and tried to throw him off the above cliff.)
Real serene place. With nobody on the mountain, beautiful night sky above, I took it all in. Overlooking miles of holy land, no one in sight, I stood there thanked God aloud, lifted my hands thanking God for the privilege to be in the Land.
Some 30 minutes later, I hear something behind me. I turn around and see 3 silhouettes approaching the ledge where I’m standing.
“Shalom! Ma nishma?” I said.
“Hi there, how are you doing?”, I said, thinking maybe they’re tourists out late.
It’s so dark I can’t see their faces until they’re about 10 feet from me. I see they’re older teens, and they’re speaking Arabic.
Right then in my mind, I had a moment of fight-or-flight. The war was still going on in Israel, and it was sparked by the the kidnapping and murder of 3 Jews. I could easily be overpowered, kidnapped, and murdered by these 3 guys! So I thought to myself right then, “Ok, if they try anything, I’ll dart through those trees and wrap around to my car and high tail it out of here!”
Thankfully, I played it cool. I see the 3 youth had brought a bottle of something, some Coca-Cola, cigarettes, and and a bag of some munchies. There were just there to have a good time.
One of them finally comes over with some broken English and asks,
“Want some?” pointing at the bottle. I declined – my mind still wondering if it was a trick to knock me out or something (yeah, paranoid, I know…)
Two of the Arab youth speak almost no English, besides a little profanity. Sh*t this, mother f**ing that.
But the oldest one comes over again and strikes up a conversation.
“Where you from?”, he asks.
“United States. You guys?”,
“We are from Nazareth.”
“Ah. I was exploring Nazareth tonight…”
“United States. Hebrewi hate you.”
“Jews hate me?”, I ask.
“Hebrewi say they love American. They no love you. Hebrewi hate you.”
I laughed a little bit. I explain it’s simply not true. Israelis have shown me so much hospitality and kindness, heck, more than I receive in the US. But he persisted.
“You see this land?”, he asks as we overlook the Jezreel Valley.
“Man, it’s beautiful, isn’t it?”, I respond.
“This land is Philistina.”
“Haha. You mean all of Nazareth here belongs to Palestine?”, I clarify.
“No, no. All this land Philistina.”
I challenge him a bit, “You know, this is the homeland of Jewish people. What would you do with all the Jews who live here?”.
“They can live. But it is Philistina.”
I asked him about his life in Nazareth. Does he live a good life, is he happy.
“It is good life. But not for Hamas.”, as he brings it back to the conflict.
Pushing back, I respond, “Hamas is doing evil. They are killing any Israeli they can, even civilians.”
“Hamas no evil”, he adds, “you know Hamas only from CNN. You know CNN?”
“CNN is Hebrewi.”, he says, lighting up another cigarette and pouring himself another cup.
CNN is controlled by the Jews, he says.
I’m shaking my head at this point.
And that’s when he throws in the Hitler into the mix. (Godwin’s law in the real world!)
“You know Hitler? Hebrewi is Hitler.”
“Ha! How can you say that, man? It’s not true.”
“I go to Nazareth Illit, they kill me.”, he says.
“Nope, I was just there tonight. I even saw some Arabs there, it’s no problem.”, I respond.
“Maybe they not kill you. But they kill me.”
We talked for a good hour altogether. It wasn’t all bad: he told me Da’ash (ISIS/ISIL army) is evil; at least we agreed about that. Perhaps trying to smooth things over a bit and try to find common ground with me, he told me, “I pray to Allah, to Jesus, and to Muhammed.”
And he explained to me why all Shia Muslims are evil, and only Sunni Muslims (the variety found in Israel) are the good guys.
“Shia no real Muslim. Shia say Muhammed no big man. Shia say drinking OK. Shia say smoking OK…”, he continues.
I interrupt, “But wait, you’re drinking and smoking right now!”
The young man explains, “See…I no very good Muslim.”