I first met Rayek many years ago when he was the Mayor of the community at Wahat-al-Salam-Neve Shalom (WaSNS) – a unique village in Israel where Israeli Palestinian Arabs and Jewish people live in a shared, equal society. Rayek has lived at WaSNS 36 years and here he together with his wife Dyana have brought up their family. After leaving school, Rayek studied in the USA for six years and later received a MA in Peace Studies at Bradford University in the UK. Rayek and Dyana run a thriving Cafe at WaSNS and an even more thriving shelter for feral cats! Recently Rayek has written ‘The Anteater and the Jaguar’ reviewed here. I began by asking Rayek about his roots.
I was born an Arab Christian in 1955 and can trace my ancestry in Nazareth back to 1625. I know this because I read a book written in 1924 about the history of Nazareth which encouraged me to discover my ancestry and have my DNA tested – we are all related from the early days – we all have mixed ancestry. A lot of my family migrated to the USA in the late 19th/early 20th century from Greater Syria before the country was artificially divided into four pieces in 1918. They went there to improve their life style.
Wow Rayek, that is such a parallel with my own narrative. Just a little bit earlier at the beginning of the 20th century, my Jewish grandparents were leaving Russia because of pogroms and hoping to get to the USA. But what was it like to grow up in Nazareth?
In 1948 Nazareth was fortunate – it was visited by missionaries who opened up schools and clinics. That has happened in this area since the mid 1800’s. Nazareth is a special place for many Arab Christian denominations and also for Muslims. We all got on together fairly well.
Why did you come to WaSNS?
We joined because we believed in the principle and life of equality between Jews and Palestinians,. Dyana and I also came to enjoy life in the quiet of the countryside away from the bustle of Nazareth.
When did you come to WaSNS?
1984. There were 22 adults (6 couples and 10 singles) in addition to 10 children. It consisted of about twenty individuals and four couples. Now there are about 100 families including those who are building homes at the moment, which is around 450 people.
What have you learned about the conflict between Jews and Arabs from your time in the village?
One of the main things that I have learnt from my life here is that being Palestinian or Jewish does not mean that you are part of this group against the other group. I realize that the disagreements and agreements are not necessarily between Jews and Palestinians but are between people and people who have different convictions and attitudes. And that is why we end up meeting or not meeting, connecting or not connecting with the other regardless of their background. There are those that are stuck with their one specific radical conviction and there are those that are more liberal and are willing to listen and to meet the other. And those people exist everywhere. The conflict is definitely between people and people.
Yes, that is very much what you are writing about in your book ‘The Anteater and the Jaguar’. You can be Palestinian and certainly not get on with every Palestinian and likewise be Jewish and not get on with every Jewish person. Your book really speaks to the heart of the joys and pains of living in the unique village of WaSNS. Thank you Rayek.