I’ve recently started taking classes at Haifa University. In the beginning I endured the 80 mile (120 km) roundtrip drive, twice a week, back and forth, back and forth. I even put up with the endless search for parking. But after the first month, it got old; it also made my car old. And at $7.00 per gallon, it made my pocket poor.
So I explored public transportation, instead. Kfar Tavor, my hometown in Galilee, is the Capital of No Where. It’s close to only one thing — itself. Which means you have to get creative to get around. At first, I tried the obvious–Egged Bus Lines.
Egged brings back childhood memories to all Israelis. The buses have been crisscrossing Israel for decades. They’re part of the culture, like the American Greyhound buses, only better.
The trip to Haifa involved taking 3 buses, each way. I tried it for a week. I gave up. Getting off the buses, my body continued to twitch and jerk. In time, I got to know every station, every turn, every bump in the road, even recognized the drivers behind their Ray-Ban sun-glasses.
So I gave up on the Jews and joined the Arabs.
It turns out more than half the student body at Haifa university is Arab. The University draws Arab students from all over Galilee, and beyond. On campus I hear more Arabic than I do Hebrew; my university desk mates answer to Mohamed and Aziza more often than they do to Moshe and Dina; I see more women’s faces covered and less legs uncovered.
Talk about making an adjustment.
The privately owned Arab bus line makes its rounds through Arab villages only. I wait for it at Golani Junction, a ten minute ride from my house.
The bus arrives.
I climb up the steps and hand the driver my bus pass. “Good morning,” I greet him in Hebrew. He returns the greeting in Hebrew. It’s a sign of co-existence, but we don’t admit to it. The bus lurches forward. I walk down the aisle to find a good seat in the back. I’m the only Jewish passenger on board. Men and women students, all Arab, are either dozing off, or they work their cell phones.
The first stop is in the village of Tur’an. I’ve driven past it many times, but never went in. I have no business going there. But that day, the bus leads me deep inside the Arab village. There’s a rock quarry at the rear of the village. It looks like someone had punched a giant hole in the hillside, scarring it forever. Next, the bus goes past an automobile junkyard. Dozens of trucks of every type, flatbed, concrete mixers, are parked in open spaces, waiting for an order to haul dirt, rocks. The homes are mostly two to three stories high; they house the extended families of the Arabs. The homes are covered in marble tile, overly ornate. No dogs anywhere. Rows of olive trees sprout between houses. Grocery stores, computer repair shops– the signs are mostly in Arabic.
The bus stops. More students board. It gets back on the road to another village. On the radio, Arabic music is playing. The strumming of the oud strings fill the bus. I get into the groove. I would have preferred songs by Arik Einstein, Eric Clapton, or The Doors, but it is what it is. I lean my head on the glass and look onto the open highway. The one hour and fifteen minute ride ends at the top of Mount Carmel.
A bus for Arabs, a bus for Jews. A village for Jews, a village for Arabs. We travel in parallel universes.
It’s the final stop. We all get off; students scatter in all directions of the campus. I go through a security check at the main entrance, from there I head to class. I take a seat next to an Arab student. “Good morning,” I say, in English. “Good morning,” he replies, in English.
If life were only this simple in the Holy Land.
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