The GPS Lady and the Arab

November 2, 2009 - 11:54 pm No Comments

Today was a chilly, blustery day. We decided to take it easy, driving around a bit to explore some of the surrounding neighborhoods and find some sweeping views of the Jerusalem.

Next to the Old City, the Mount of Olives is covered with an enormous Jewish cemetery, Christian churches, and mostly Arab settlements. Garry wasn’t with us, so we relied on the GPS to get there.

It’s very easy to get turned around in Jerusalem. Even though I generally have faith in GPS technology, it seems like we’re often driving around in circles. And maybe we are. Today, I noticed that what the GPS lady says does not always match the directions shown on the LCD screen.

At one point, we found ourselves on the top of the Mount of Olives, turning in to alleys that got smaller and smaller. Eventually, we found ourselves at a dead-end, crammed between parked cars and schoolchildren. The only way out was backwards and uphill. So my Dad rode the clutch and fired it up in reverse. After a few minutes of this, the only thing we had done was fill the car and surrounding alley with the smell of burning clutch. A friendly Arab fellow kindly helped guide us out of the alley and back onto the main road. And we went down there because the GPS lady told us to.

Backing Out of an Alley

It doesn’t help that the drivers here are among the most impatient and selfish in the world. Drivers have NO problem getting in your way, but will do anything to get you out of THEIR way, including screaming and making aggressive hand gestures and laying no the horn. My Dad has been getting into it, honking back to any cars that honk at him, and even taunting other drivers by slowing down or even stopping when he feels like he needs to teach someone a lesson. Unfortunately, there are too many drivers here to “educate.”

An Arab and his Donkey

Dome of the Rock

Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount

At a particularly majestic viewpoint over the Old City, my Dad struck up a conversation with an Arab guy who stopped to show us what we were looking at. His name was Abraham (Ibrahim in Arabic), and he invited us back to his friend’s restaurant for lunch. While I was a little hesitant, my Dad and Marion felt comfortable going with him, so we did.

We had passed his restaurant earlier but didn’t even notice it. Tucked away into an alley, we walked into what turned out to be a well lit, charming, lavishly decorated cave. Abraham led us to the nicest table in the back of the restaurant and sat with us. If not for the other tourist couple eating in the restaurant, I would have thought that this was when we get mugged.

Instead, Abraham sat and talked with us about his upbringing, his work, and his attitudes. He told us that he buys his food only from Jews because he knows they are more careful about food preparation than Arabs are.

We talked a bit about the religious and military conflicts it the region, and we told him how we have waited to come to Israel for so long because we were a bit scared. He was disappointed that we were scared and that there are probably millions of other tourists who are afraid to come for the same reasons.

Abraham’s take is that many of the region’s issues are perpetuated by greedy politicians and overblown by the media, but that in reality, many of the “conflicts” as reported by the media don’t really exist. He conceded that there are extremists on both sides who ruin it for everyone else, but that everyone gets along fine for the most part. He works with other Arabs and Christians and Jews every day and considers them all brothers. He even started to refer to my Dad as “brother.” We share similar customs, languages, hopes for peace. His message was that since we all have so much in common, we should work together for peace and harmony from the ground up. Abraham even holds peace meetings at his restaurant once a week.

Given what we have seen and heard about Arabs in the media, Abraham’s message and optimism was refreshing. If people from all religions were as levelheaded and hopeful as him, we’d solve a lot of the world’s problems.

Then the food came. Big platters of lamb and kebab and chicken and vegetables and bread and hummus and sauces. It was delicious, the best meal we’ve had in Israel so far.

We asked Abraham what the restaurant was called so that we could recommend it to friends. He said it was the Stone Cave Restaurant. By the way he looked up just before saying it, I got the impression that he came up with that off the top of his head. But I guess that’s what it’s called.

Lunch at the Stone Cave Restaurant

Stone Cave Restaurant

After lunch, Arab kids outside the restaurant were friendly and cheerful, and I started to think that maybe Abraham is right about everything.

Abraham offered to help my Dad get his cell phone problems worked out. He was willing to take us anywhere: any of the Arab territories, Bethlehem, Bedouin tents. But it was getting late, and we didn’t want to overcommit to this guy. As they said goodbye, my Dad and Abraham gave each other a hearty hug. My Dad doesn’t hug a lot of strangers.

We thanked him in Arabic, which sounds like “shook-uh-dun.”

We drove around the Mount of Olives for a few more viewpoints. Winds from an incoming storm kicked up some dust, basking the Old City in a golden glow.

The Old City

A Message from Above

Church of All Nations

Inside the Church of All Nations

Then a quick drive up nearby Mount Scopus, where the GPS was better behaved. From Mount Scopus, we looked east, away from the Old City and out across the Judean desert.

It really was a great day, could not have planned it better. If you had told me that we were going to take a photo with a guy and a mule and hang out with a random Arab guy who would take us to a fantastic restaurant and take photos of the Old City in golden sunlight, I would have never believed it. Sometimes, it just happens.

Tonight, I’ll get a few hours of sleep before leaving Jerusalem at 3am. We’re going to watch the sun rise from the top of Masada.

My Dad just walked past my bedroom to the bathroom completely naked. Sweet!

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