This is the second post we've had from "Wondering Jew," which Weiss sought as a counter to the main thrust of this site. Weiss quizzed WJ about his use of the term Arab/Palestinian, and he explained, "The fact is when I see Palestinians, the word that comes to mind is not Palestinian, but Arab, which is much shorter than Palestinian, but also accurate. Palestinian refers to their nationality or (less charitably) their national aspiration; Arab refers to their language and wider loyalty as in the Arab League."
Due to the circumstance of price and availability I rent an apartment near the Malcha Mall in Jerusalem. Although there are stores nearer my apartment than the Mega Store in the mall, the selection available in the Mega Store is wider and I find myself going there at least twice a week.
My initial reaction on my first visits to the mall was "Look! An Israeli mall! Great!" I moved to Jerusalem from Brooklyn and although Brooklyn is not the natural habitat for malls compared to say New Jersey, I lived not far from Kings Plaza and thus I was quite familiar with the mall phenomenon. There was nothing special about the Malcha Mall per se, the mere fact of it was its significance. Although most writers, commentators and I assume readers of this blog view Israel through the lens of the Palestinian population that was not allowed to return after the war of '48, that is not my perspective. My natural reaction is to marvel at the mere fact of a Jewish country with Jewish people and Jewish children speaking a Jewish language and thus the mere existence of a mall in Jerusalem rather than on Flatbush Avenue was in itself significant..
Although the mall itself (I'm quite sure) is built on pre 67 Israel, it is near Arab/Palestinian neighborhoods captured in '67 and thus the mall attracts a 20 to 30% Arab/Palestinian clientele. (This is my own unscientific approximation. The manager of the mall in a recent newspaper article gave a much lower approximation in the single digits, but I believe that he lied in order to avoid scaring away Jewish patrons.)
Now my reaction to the mall is "Look! A mall where Arabs and Jews shop side by side! Great!"
The mingling of populations is a positive within itself. Last night waiting on the checkout line at the Mega Store my Arabic was insufficient to determine what the Arab/Palestinian people behind me were saying, but the combination of their body language and tone indicated that they were wondering whether the items they had chosen (including expensive "Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream") could be covered by the amount they intended to spend. With them was their 8 year old daughter and she looked at me questioningly and I smiled tentatively in her direction. "Are you the Israeli monster that I must fear?" her eyes seemed to ask. "No, just another human being waiting on a checkout line at the crowded Mega Store," I tried to communicate.
My fledgling Arabic is sufficient to understand when a middle aged woman asks me "How much?" ('adesh?) regarding apples. But I am too shy and so point at the sign rather than attempting to speak. It is too expensive for her, so despite her appreciation for my sign language communication she walks away from the overpriced apples. When a mother refuses to buy her child candy at the check out counter I understand when he whines "Why?" (Laish?) But when a twenty something female waits for the last moment to buy some cigarettes, the check out clerk is annoyed by the fact that she had not requested them earlier. She explains in Hebrew, "I don't want my mother" (who was with her before, but is now headed towards the exit) "to know that I smoke."
Other interesting aspects in the mall outside the store: A twenty something son, trying to assure his fifty something mother of the safety of using the escalator, as she steps on to it gingerly for the first time. The excitement of the kids as they sit by the fountain or play on the miniature train locomotive. And of course the covered hair of the Arab/Palestinian woman juxtaposed to the covered hair of the Orthodox Jewish woman: each with its own distinct style, but both to the same purpose.
There are less positive aspects as well: For the most part the Arabs and the Jews do not mingle. Groups or families in malls are usually self contained and maybe this lack of mingling stands out only because I am watching for it, but the lack strikes my eye. When Arab/Palestinian male youths walk in groups and talk loudly and proudly as youths tend to do, it induces nervousness. When workers in the produce section joke with each other loudly in Arabic it induces nervousness. When a new Palestinian/Arab female checkout clerk with a head covering was hired at the Office Depot franchise she smiled appreciatively when I chose to be checked out on her short line rather than wait for the Jewish checkout clerk whose line was much longer.
Are there political implications to this sociological phenomenon? I don't know. The Hamas leaders who would threaten to rule a theoretical one state are not represented by the non ideological patrons of the mall. Neither are the ideologically driven teams of Kassam rocket launchers who might attempt to disturb airplane traffic from Ben Gurion airport in the theoretical two state solution. It would probably be naive to throw away very real fears based upon slender hope. But that is what it is: hope.