by Steve Amsel
I live near the university in Jerusalem in a fairly mixed and tolerant neighnorhood. Most of the residents here own there own apartment, but there is a sprinkling of renters as well. Many of the renters are students who pile themselves into the flats opting out of taking up residence in the university dorms.
Having a spare room, I always rented it out to students. That’s how the following saga began about fifteen years ago….. I ‘dared’ to rent out a room to an Arab law student. I am not what you could call your ‘normal’ landlord, you live in my home, you become part of my family. A simple fact of my way of life. This case was no different, in fact let me give a little background info as to how this came about…
Fifteen years ago a neighbour came rushing down to my apartment to inform me that my solar boiler on the roof was leaking. I ran up to check it out and sure enough, she was right. I went out to the front of the building to see if water was running down the side. In front of my window two young men were sitting on the grass reading the newspaper. I greeted them and we started talking, one lived in the building next door, the other in the university dorms. I invited them in for coffee and when they told me their names I realised that they were both Palestinians, one was Hassan, the other was Azmi.
Azmi turned out to be a most interesting young man and a friendship was sparked, one that has lasted through two intifadas and much turmoil in the country we live in. About a month after we met I found a note on my door when I returned home from work … it simply said, ‘please call me’, which I did. Azmi wanted to know if he could come over to discuss something. He arrived and was silent…. I told him I thought he wanted to discuss something. He replied that he did, but it was a stupid idea that wouldn’t work. I insisted that he let me be the judge of that, so he proceeded…. he said that the school term was over and he had to move out of the dorms. Although he knew me for such a short period he had the idea that we might be able to live together in the same apartment…. but ended the thought with “but I know that would be impossible…. you are a Jew, I am a Muslim, these things just don’t happen”. I looked at him with a look that said “that’s ridiculous”! I told him that the only problem of him moving in with me was that I would not be his landlord, he would become a son to me. He had no problem with that and before the sun set that day he was all moved in.
This is not to say that others didn’t have problems…. not all of my neighbours were that keen on having an Arab living in such proximity to them. The first indication of this was a visit from an upstairs tenant. She heard Arabic spoken in the hallway and wanted to know if I knew anything about it… I told her the Arabic was a language commonly spoken by Palestinians so it was probably people visiting someone in the building …. even more likely, visitors to someone that lives in my apartment. The neighbour was speechless, which was welcome considering the alternative.
Then the fun started…. the very basis for this post….
Azmi became a lawyer after graduation and set up a private practice in East Jerusalem. Lawyers get mail…. lots of mail, so his name was added to my mailbox. About a year later there was a knock at my door, it was a sales agent from Remax, a real estate company. She had a ‘problem’ and proceeded to tell me about it. There was an apartment for sale in my building and she was handling it, but because there was an Arab name on my mailbox, three prospective buyers refused to even enter the building to see the apartment. She requested that I do something about it, which I promised I would…. the very next day five other Palestinian families living in my building put their names on their mailboxes. Problem solved!
The nerve of that woman….. an employee of an American firm that franchises their operation in Israel attempting to get me to play racist …. no way no how! This was not the first incident of Remax’s role in the ethnic cleansing of Israel, another example can be seen in THIS link from an earlier post. My way of life is uncompromisable despite efforts by outfits such as Remax.
That wasn’t the end of my involvement with Remax … five years ago Azmi wanted to rent an apartment of his own for his growing family, a wife and three children. There was one for rent right above my apartment, an ideal situation for all of us. The rental was being handled by Remax. The manager of the local branch was not keen on getting the reputation of being the sole real estate company in the area that rents to Arabs. The only way they would agree to rent the premises to Azmi was if I agreed to have the lease put in my name, which we did. I guess we could have taken the firm to court and made a case out of that, but we wanted to remain in the same building as a family and so we did not make an issue of this.
I was reminded of all of the above because after 15 years, I had to have my solar boiler replaced today. This, just days after the latest tirade of rabbinical racism. Nothing and no one can change my lifestyle and principles. Racism is as alien to me as those that spout it out. If no one listens, they are defeated …. AND THAT THEY WILL BE!
The rabbis threatened that “Anyone who sells (property to a non-Jew) must be cut off!!” , Remax endorsed that position years ago. As far as I am concerned, both are cut off from my way of life!
Hopefully others will follow our example, a road that can and will lead to a permanent peace in this Godforsaken land they call the ‘Holy Land’.
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|Timothy V. Gatto|