Thursday, July 22, 2010

Arab hospitality vs Israeli hospitality

Journalist Michael Totten writes:

The warm welcome travelers experience in the Arab world is so well-known it has become a guidebook cliché, but the Arabs have earned it. Their part of the world seems to suffer from no end of grave and serious problems, but a dearth of manners and kindness for strangers isn’t one of them. Everything you have heard about their hospitality code is true. Even first-time visitors who expect it are often astonished — especially Americans who might be used to frosty receptions in Europe.

Less well-known is the hospitality of Israelis. Their reputation is on-par with that of New Yorkers. Aggressive security officials at the airport, yelling taxi drivers, and occasionally abusive wait staff can put people off. That sort of thing, though, accounts for less than 1 percent of my experience when working in Israel.

A few days ago, I announced that I’m leaving for Israel this week now that I’ve finished and sold my book, and the same thing happened that always does when I mention in public that I’m on my way over there. My in-box filled with offers of generous assistance from Israelis whom I’ve never met or even heard of. Most offered to buy me dinner. Some said I could sleep on their couch or in a spare bedroom. A few even offered to show me around, introduce me to people, and set up appointments for me. Some of these offers even showed up in my comments section.

This rarely happens when I go anywhere else in the world. It happens every time I’ve announced a trip to Israel, though, in times of peace and during war, and it has been happening to me for years.

I get these sorts of offers from the entire range of Israeli society, from people affiliated with Peace Now to the settler movement. I can always count on kind and generous people in Arab countries to help me out once I’ve arrived, but only Israelis reach out so extensively, so consistently, and in such large numbers before I even get off the plane.

I've never understood why people who have visited the Arab world drag out Palestinian hospitality as evidence of their innate goodness and - therefore - worthiness as a political cause. It seems perfectly clear to me that on a personal level, you can be a warm, generous, hospitable human being - while on the political level, have malign and even murderous intent. You only have to look at all those mass murderers and terror suspects whose neighbours swear they are quiet, good citizens.

I have always wanted to send those who seem to equate "Palestinians offered me coffee" with "Palestinians are wonderful people who are being cruelly repressed by an evil Israel" to visit the most radical Israeli settlers. The fact is that some of the nicest people I know - on a personal level - are settlers and would doubtless be just as kind, just as caring and just as welcoming to any foreign guest as are their Palestinian neighbours. Does that exclude them from having mad or dangerous politics? I doubt most Western visitors would think so, but they seem mysteriously incapable of following the same logical path with the Palestinians.

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