Things didn’t start out as they usually do, and at first, it threw our tour guide off. Usually, the granddaughter of Fauzi Azar tells groups about her family’s history, and how their former home has come to be an award-winning guest house and tourism magnet. But the granddaughter was delayed, they said, so start the tour, and perhaps she’d be there at the end.
Our guide, Linda, is an American Christian (I suspect Catholic) who quit her job in Michigan over five years ago, and came to Israel to make a life of hiking and camping — working odd jobs in hostels to pay for the hiking and camping. Her nomadic life morphed into guiding tours and doing charity work after she met Maoz Inon, an Israeli Jew who had turned a 200 year old mansion into a guest inn, and who was working with some Arab Muslim restauranteurs to revitalize the neglect and decay of Old Nazareth.
Her tour intentionally leaves out politics and church visits to focus on the transforming change that new businesses have brought to the city — largely based, she emphasizes, on cooperation among Muslims, Christians and Jews. It was less about what people believe, and more about what can be accomplished when they work together.
Back at the Inn, most of our group settled in to see if Fauzi Azar’s granddaughter would show. We were an unusually small number — Uri, his wife, son, two daughters, the boyfriend of one daughter, and me. Six secular Jews from Tel Aviv, up to celebrate mom’s birthday. And a dorky American pastor along for the ride.
Just when we thought she might not, Fauzi Azar’s granddaughter, Suraida, joined us, and began to share her family’s story. Her grandfather had been a man of position and hard work, who’d had 400 acres of land and several orchards taken at the founding of Israel in 1948 — an event Palestinians call the Naqba, that is, “The Catastrophe.” Whatever you call it, its 66th anniversary was yesterday.
Suraida shared her family’s catastrophe, and how she had therefore resisted when a Jew proposed making the historical family home (now damaged and empty after the 1980 fire that took her grandfather’s life) into an inn. The treasured property of this proud Christian Arab man turned into a Jewish business in the most Arab city in Israel? Never. After meeting Maoz Inon, she and her family finally relented — but she realized she had to come and tell her family’s story to tour groups.
For their part, Uri and his family listened politely, and asked questions. For my sorry benefit, everyone spoke English almost all the time. Except when it got particularly animated. Then I could understand the occasional “Ken” (yes) and “Lo” (no) and little else. It came out that Suraida had not come earlier because she’d seen it was a mostly Israeli group, and she’d taken so much argument and anger from Israelis over her story, and she’d had a bad day, and she was just done with antagonism. But the staff, she said, had “forced her.”
On and on the dialogue went, well over the normal time. At one point, Suraida had to take s phone call, and I asked Uri’s family “How often does this kind of conversation happen?” “Never,” the young adults said. “Once every ten years, maybe.” “We are separated — we talk to Arab waiters sometimes, but not like this.”
Suraida eventually had to leave. But Uri and family took me out for hummus (see the photo), and more talk — on the way, at the table, on into the afternoon. I was very late for my next tour. I didn’t care.