One of the consequences of the Six Days' War was the influx of cheap Arab labor to Israel. Until then, from the Second Aliyah onwards, "avodah Ivrit"--Jewish labor--had been the ideal, largely because so few Jews in Eastern Europe worked at all. They were locked out of agriculture because of anti-Semitic legislation and most professions were barred to them unless they converted. So it became a primary tenet of the re-establishment of the State to have Jews plowing the Land, Jewish bus and truck factories (even a Jewish car, for a while), Jewish policemen, Jewish construction workers, instead of Jews soliciting charity while warming benches in yeshivot. The very first pioneers in the 1880s had, indeed, used local Arab labor, mainly because the chalutzim didn't know which was the business end of a hoe--or "ma'ader", which is the all-purpose implement used by Arabs.
But by the 20s, using hired labor was no longer regarded as the way to go. There was a joke about two men on a kibbutz building a wall--one with a PhD from Nuremberg, the other a professor from Berlin, both of whom had fled Germany upon Hitler's rise to power. "Bitte, give me another brick, Herr Doktor" says one. "Of course, Herr Professor" says the other. "Danke shoen, Herr Doktor".
This changed in the Fifties when hordes of "primitive" Jews from North Africa and Middle Eastern countries flooded into Israel after fleeing their native countries. "While the Ashkenazim read books" one Mizrachi once said to me, "we built the libraries the books were in". But it was still Jewish labor.
In 1967 the world turned upside down. When I was newly married, I lived in a 4 storey building with 16 condominium apartments. The "House Committee", charged with maintaining common services such as keeping the corridors and stairwells clean, was having trouble finding a reliable cleaner within the tenants' budget. At the time, there were 8 or 9 teenagers in the building. When I suggested, knowing how teenagers are always short of pocket money, that they do the work according to a monthly rota and we pay them whatever we had intended to pay the cleaner, there was a shocked silence. After a moment, one mother said: "My son work like an Arab? NEVER!"
Last Sukkot I bagged all the junk, leaves, and other detritus that was littering our back patio. It was a pretty considerable amount. I asked my dear husband to gradually shlep the bags to the "frog"--the green dumpster that is just across the street. "I'll get an Arab" he said. But there was a rash of suicide bombings or something.
Around Purim, when our back yard was sprouting lush vegetation because of the winter rains, I said to my dear husband, "We need to do a bit of work in the garden before this stuff turns to jungle". "I'll get an Arab", he said. But a restaurant was blown up, or something.
Now, after Shavuot, with the bags from Sukkot torn, and even more junk in the patio, and the weeds and thistles as high as an elephant's eye and as dry as, well, straw, I reiterated my pleas for some help bringing some semblance of order and good husbandry to our benighted plot of land. "I'll get an Arab", he said. So far, nothing untoward has happened--knock wood--but no Arab has appeared to cut down the weeds, turn over the soil, and cart all the trash and stuff away.
The problem is that you can't get an Arab easily, these days. Between the fear of being axed in your own back yard, closures, restrictions on Palestinians entering Israel proper, and the deportation of as many "guest workers" as Israel can find, there isn't anyone available except Jewish gardeners, who cost far more than I can afford. Life has changed, once again. We can hear the muezzin in the neighboring village of Bet Safafa, but there aren't any wandering "alte zachen" (it took me ages to realize they were calling out "old things" in Yiddish) men, who are Arabs who'll buy recyclable junk from you. I begin to think it's a little like "Waiting for Godot", whom, if you remember, never shows up in the play.
I think we're going to have to resurrect the idea of "Jewish Labor" and I don't mean the political party. Just the thought makes my back ache and my knees buckle. I should have bought a goat, back around Purim...
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