Mideast Enemy, New York Partner
Palestinians and Israelis in Brooklyn are amicably knit together by business relationships
BROOKLYN, N.Y. — ON the West Bank, they would be enemies. But in Brooklyn, second home to many Palestinians and Israelis, the two groups manage to do business together amicably - but with complicated undercurrents. ``It's business, that's all,'' says Sam Sudqi, who like the majority of Brooklyn Palestinian-Americans owns a small grocery store. Several of his suppliers are Israeli-Americans.
``It's separate, not friends. And it can never be anything more,'' he adds, ``because of what goes on over there.''
A young Palestinian who works in his store disagrees. ``Over here, we're all New Yorkers,'' he says, and describes the two groups as ``first cousins.''
David Weinstock, an Israeli-American who co-owns a pump manufacturing company, says, ``We don't hate them, but we hate what they do to us,'' referring to the Palestinian intifadah (uprising) that has gone on for 27 months. He adds that he would never socialize with his Palestinian customers.
However, David Amrusi, another Israeli-American, not only employs Palestinians in his bagel shop, and buys from Palestinian suppliers, but considers them friends.
``People say they should be my enemies, but they are not,'' says Mr. Amrusi, who speaks seven languages, Arabic among them. ``We talk politics - with respect. There is no fighting.''
The two communities are similar in size. There are approximately 10,000-15,000 Palestinians in Brooklyn, according to Kate Seeley of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee. The number of Israelis in the borough is approximately 12,000, says Frank Vardy, a demographer with the City Planning Commission.
Similar outlook shared
There are other similarities: both groups are close-knit, family-oriented - and deeply attached to their homeland. It's common for Palestinian-Americans, ``even those who are poor, to go back once every year or two,'' says Anis Barghouti, director of the Saudi-American Bank, and an activist in the Brooklyn Palestinian community. Palestinian national days, such as the anniversary of the intifadah (Dec. 9), are celebrated with rallies, says Mr. Barghouti.
In the Israeli-American community, ``No one feels they've really left,'' says Ofra Grinboum, a mother of two who lives in Canarsie, a Brooklyn neighborhood with a tightly knit Israeli population. Politics are constantly discussed, she says, ``and everyone talks about going back for good.''
Though solidly middle class, both groups feel ``apart from mainstream America,'' says Antoine Abraham, who teaches Middle Eastern history at New York Institute of Technology, ``and want to keep alive their own cultures,'' rather than assimilate.
Indeed, many Israelis in Brooklyn send their children to yeshivas, instead of to public school, ``and try to marry within the community,'' says Ms. Grinboum. Many Palestinians - even some who have been in Brooklyn 30 years - still arrange their children's marriages. The majority of sons ``go straight from high school into their fathers' businesses,'' Mr. Barghouti says.
Though cordiality is the rule when the two groups do business, caution and even distrust can surface.
Zeev Avigador, co-owner of a carpet store in Brooklyn, says he doesn't let his Palestinian customers know he's Israeli until he makes a sale. And while he used to go to Palestinian-owned restaurants because ``the food is good,'' he has stopped, he says, fearing his food might be tampered with because he's Israeli.
`We call them cousins'
There is less tension when Palestinians do business with American-born Jews, Mr. Barghouti says: ``We call them cousins, kid with them - it's easier to put politics aside.'' Many of the stores now owned by Palestinian-Americans were bought from Jews, he explains, ``and they have provided financial support for our businesses.''
When speaking of the intifadah, there is frustration and rage on both sides. But there is empathy as well.
Michael Farah, a young Palestinian-American whose relatives live in Ramallah, tells about members of the Israeli Army randomly beating his friends, and about the humiliation of being stopped for identification papers. ``If you don't have them, you go to jail right away.''
Yet he adds that ``Those in the Army have no choice - some hate what they have to do.''
Hassam, a young Palestinian-American, discussing the killing last year of a young Israeli girl by her guard, says, ``All our dead have mothers - we are all the same.''
What of the next generation?
And an Israeli-American contractor, who grew up in a building in Haifa that was mostly Arab and is now Jewish, says, ``If somebody took your property and you had no recourse, you'd feel enraged. You'd want to kill somebody, but you couldn't. You'd eat your heart out. That's what they feel. Anybody would.''
Yet each community remains firmly loyal to its own. ``We support our people,'' Mr. Barghouti says. ``We expect them to support theirs.''
``I feel for their kids,'' says Mr. Avigador, who has three children. ``But if I have to choose between them and me - I choose mine.''
Will the next generation of Israeli and Palestinian Brooklynites be any closer?
When several adults were asked how they'd feel if their children became friends with those of the other community, most said they wouldn't interfere.
Ms. Grinboum, however, probably speaks for many: ``I wouldn't like it,'' she says. ``It's looking for trouble, for problems for me.''