'Without us, half of these stores would be closed'
New York — It is a determination to get ahead, and perhaps, in a sense, to get even.
This has been the motivation for an increasing number of Palestinians to follow in the footsteps of previous generations of Jewish and other immigrants by owning and running neighborhood grocery stores to make a start in the United States.
In the Palestinian cafes here it is not uncommon to hear businessmen say how they bought stores from Jewish businessmen who they say were afraid to work in the black and Hispanic neighborhoods. The businessmen boast that they turned the stores into relatively profitable businesses that enabled them to save enough money to buy another store in a little safer neighborhood - and then possibly, later, in an even nicer neighborhood.
''Sometimes we open a store in a rough area, we don't get hit because those people they think we are tough, they think we are not afraid of them,'' says Sam Ismel, a young Palestinian salesman who holds a Venezuelan passport.
Another Palestinian, Mike Shatara of Brooklyn, adds: ''Without Palestinians, half of these stores would be closed. After the trouble in the old country, we are not afraid of anything. What do we have to lose?''
Hashem Mahmoud's father didn't have much to lose when he decided to leave his Jewish-owned delicatessen. As Mr. Mahmoud tells it, his father worked in the store, learning the business for two years before the shop owner offered to sell it to him for $3,000.
When his father took over the store, he began opening earlier and closing later. Business doubled as a result, and the prospects looked so good that he sent word to Jerusalem to his son that he needed help in his New York store.
Hashem went to work in the store, learning English from can labels and the business from his father. In 1972 they sold the store and bought another, larger delicatessen in a nicer neighborhood, where ''people were moving in, rather than out.''
Such success stories not only serve as models of upward mobility for other immigrants, they have also served to create a training infrastructure in which hard-working new Palestinian immigrants, some with limited understanding of English, can earn wages and learn a business at the same time. It is a sort of Brooklyn-Palestinian version of the Horatio Alger story.