Eye on the Middle East Jan/Feb 2001

Every now and then a story breaks that contradicts the notion that Jews and Palestinian Arabs could never live together in peace and mutual respect for one another. Recently, on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, a young Palestinian Arab and his family were enjoying a day at the beach with their two children. Omri Jadah, 24, was the oldest in a family of fourteen children. His wife, Kifiya, is expecting their third child soon.

A short distance from where the Jadahs were picnicking, members of a Jewish family were enjoying a swim. Suddenly, cries came from the water where six-year-old Gosha Leftov, from the Jewish family, was swimming. It was immediately obvious that the boy was having great difficulty keeping his head above water. Without hesitating, the young Palestinian ran into the water and made his way out to the child. Jadah successfully pushed the exhausted six-year-old into the arms of a cousin. Before he himself could reach safety, however, Omri Jadah was caught by a current and dragged back into deep water, where he drowned. Twenty minutes later, his body washed ashore.

When word of his heroism spread, an immediate outpouring of sympathy and gratitude came from the Israeli Jewish community. The Jerusalem Post, Israel’s oldest English-language daily newspaper, initiated a fund-raising campaign to raise $100,000 for the family. Contributions and phone calls flooded the office of the Post. Although Jadah had no national health insurance, the National Insurance Institute allotted the family a $750-per-month benefit with an increase scheduled when the baby is born.

Two Jewish schoolchildren expressed the sentiments of thousands of other Jewish people. In a letter sent to Kifiya Jadah, they wrote, “Our Mother read us the story, and we have decided to donate whatever we have. We know it is not much, but we hope it will help. When we say our prayers in school, we will mention you and your late husband.”

Yes, many great issues remain between Israel and her neighbors. But all of us can learn that when the issues are reduced to two young families on a beach in the Galilee, there is neither Arab nor Jew, just an extremely personal, mutual struggle to survive. As a result, through the selfless act of one young father, a bond was established that will never be broken. Such bonds between Israelis and Palestinians at street level do exist; and peace negotiators on both sides of the street will do well to take note of it.

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