I’m at the Sacramento Hyatt as part of my recent trip to the U.S. to visit my oldest daughters, Michelle and Vanessa. It’s morning. Outside my hotel room there’s a complimentary copy of the Sacramento Bee. I bring the newspaper to bed, skim over the headlines. I stop on page 2. “Israeli soldier abducted, killed by Palestinian.” But what draws me most into this horrific story is the mention of my childhood’s hometown – Bat-Yam, a coastal city south of Tel Aviv.
Tomer Hazan, age 20, a Bat-Yam native, was an Israeli sergeant in the airforce. The military allowed him to work off-base. He supplemented his income by working at a popular Bat-Yam restaurant. There he befriended Nidal Amar, a 42 year-old Arab from the West Bank who’d worked illegally in the restaurant for years. The chain of events are not yet clear, but the Arab was able to convince Tomer to cross into the Palestinian Territory, near the town of Qalqiliya. The Arab strangled Tomer and dumped him in a well. Once the military had learned of Tomer’s vanishing, a massive manhunt was conducted, and finally, his body was found. The Arab was arrested.
The motive for the killing?
The Arab’s brother is jailed in Israel for terrorist acts. Amar wanted to negotiate his brother’s release in exchange for Tomer’s dead body. In the end, blood ties and tribal obligations were stronger than friendship.
Who can you trust?
I fold away the newspaper, get out of bed, and an hour later I meet up with my daughters. I make no mention of the killing.
Three months earlier, Michelle and her husband Jonathan, and my daughter Vanessa came to visit me in Israel. I showed them around Galilee, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and ultimately we spent time strolling Bat-Yam’s seashore, kicking our toes in the water.
On their last night before returning to California, we dined at Tzachi Grill and Hummus Bar in Bat-Yam. We feasted on shawarma, smooth-tasting hummus, falafel balls, salads.
Little did we know then that Tomer and Amar, his Arab “friend,” were working in that SAME restaurant. Little did we know that three months later tragedy will strike this community.
How was Amar able to mask his “friendship” for so long?
How and why did the owner of Tzachi Grill employ an illegal Arab from the West Bank?
How did the Arab lure the unsuspecting soldier to enter “forbidden territory?”
The people of Bat-Yam are mad. They wish to boycott the restaurant. They accuse the owner of wanting to save a few shekels by employing an illegal. To his defense, the owner said Amar showed no signs of being a “Jew Hater.”
Tensions are running high.
The Israeli military routinely warns its personnel not to trust Arabs, not to get into vehicles with unknown drivers, and yet – it happened.
My nephew, Daniel, is devastated. He’d known Tomer for years, shared beers and Karaoke songs with him. Now the restaurant is closed pending an investigation by the secret service. All in the hope of preventing the next tragedy.
In Sacramento I join my daughters and we settle for Mexican food at Chipotle. The cook behind the grill is not killing his co-worker. No one’s kidnapping anyone.
Do they know how lucky they are?
Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.
He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com
or at BN.com