Cablegate: Making Bread, Not War, in Jaffa: An Israeli Arab

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A

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1. (SBU) Summary: In the mixed city of Jaffa, where Jews
and Arabs buy and sell side-by-side in one of the busiest
marketplace environments in Israel, prominent bakery owner
Hamis Abouelafia made news this week by presenting a
ceremonial loaf of leavened bread to Jews at an
end-of-Passover celebration. This event was the most recent
example of the work Abouelafia has been doing for years,
which aims to foster a better business environment for
Israeli Arabs as well as encourage peaceful coexistence in
the broader arena. Economic officer spoke with him about
subjects ranging from his multi-ethnic charity organization
to the annual Arab Land Day events, and discovered that his
unusual perspective may offer some surprising solutions to
the issues Israeli-Arab businesses face in the current
environment. End summary.

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Bread and Circus: In a Mixed Marketplace, Symbolic Gestures
Pay Dividends
--------------------------------------------- --------------

2. (SBU) Hamis Abouelafia, a familiar Jaffa personality
whose family has worked on the same spot in the town's center
since 1879, became news this week when Israel's channel 2
aired a spot featuring his participation in the historic
revival of a Moroccan Jewish Passover tradition. Invited by
the Savir family of Tel Aviv as the guest of honor at the
Mimuna celebration, Abouelafia presented over 300 revelers
with the first plate of hametz, or leavened bread, at sunset
to mark the end of the holiday. Quoting the late Zionist
poet Natan Alterman's statement that "peace will be made in
the marketplace before it is made in the government," he
encouraged others to follow suit in coming years. Host Ami
Savir explained that this gesture of mutual respect was once
a cornerstone of the Passover celebration and a way of
affirming the good relations between Jews and Muslims in the
mixed areas of Morocco. He said the symbol was particularly
apt for modern Israel, where the circumstances are dire and
the need for coexistence urgent.

3. (SBU) At a meeting with Abouelafia at his street side
bakery, he restated that he believes peace will be made
primarily through the activities of everyday people, in the
streets and markets of the "schonot", or close-knit
neighborhoods. He should know, he says: his family has seen
six generations of booming business in Jaffa, through five
wars and two Intifadas. Today Abouelafia and Brothers
employs over 200 workers in restaurants, bakeries, and a real
estate office. He says the key to his success should
surprise no one: take care of your employees and invest
resources in your customer base. He believes that in this
environment, 'resources' means intangible, not-for-sale items
such as respect, understanding, and a careful tread around
sensitive political issues.

4. (SBU) In the workplace, Abouelafia said he endeavors to
foster harmony by requesting that his employees turn off the
television during potentially incendiary events, and by
discouraging political discussions on the job. He said he
makes a point to hire Jews, Muslims, and Christians in equal
measure, working closely himself with the Jewish woman he
employees as his assistant. His customer base is mixed as
well, and on any given day a passerby can spot black-hatted
Haredim haggling next to bearded sheikhs for the softest
laffa and freshest baklava. He takes pains to keep such
Jewish customers coming back by doing them an unusual favor:
he closes up shop over the Passover holiday out of respect
for the dietary restrictions of the observant. He notes that
the gratitude the gesture gains him is more valuable than the
money he does not make during the holiday week. Efforts like
these may help keep his business on solid ground even amidst
conflict, because, as he says, "Abouelafia is a household
name on both sides."

Facing the Reality of the Intifada

5. (SBU) Despite such gestures of outreach and goodwill,
Abouelafia speaks freely about the difficulties he and other
Arab businessmen face in the mixed cities. He says that the
second Intifada has harmed Israeli-Arab business more than
any previous conflict - and he is unsure whether it is fear
or a vague concept of punishment that has caused a drop in
the number of Jewish customers. Economic officer held an
informal conversation with a group of young Tel Aviv Jews who
emphasized the punitive element. They noted that when it
came to light that some Israeli Arabs had supported several
of the suicide bombings in Tel Aviv, Abouelaffia was hit
especially hard because of his visibility. Despite the fact
that Abouelafia's bakeries and restaurants employ and serve
Jews as well as Israeli Arabs, rumors began circulating that
his employees spit on or even poisoned the food.

6. (SBU) Abouelafia believes that his response to such
negative sentiment is unique in that it reaches beyond his
own economic self-interest. During last year's intense
period of almost-daily suicide bombings and heightened
tensions, many of his friends who owned small to medium-sized
businesses such as humus stands, gift shops, and garages,
simply closed up shop and left for Canada or the United
States. Abouelafia took a different tack, printing up
plastic bags for customers on which were written, in Hebrew
and Arabic, "Abouelafia calls both sides to be patient and to
refrain from violence." Similarly, Abouelafia saw this
year's Arab Land Day as an opportunity to discourage his
neighbors from activities that could be seen as incendiary
and lead to situations of real danger. He says he called all
of the Arab leaders of Jaffa together ) businessmen and
sheikhs, Christians and Muslims alike - and advised them to
keep a tight hold on their neighborhoods. "You can know how
a protest starts", he told them, "but not how it might end.
Stay inside this year." Whether through his influence or due
to other factors, there were no demonstrations ) and hence
no clashes with Israeli authorities ) in Jaffa on Land Day.

--------------------------------------------- ------
Sponsoring Peace: Abouelafia's Coexistence Association
--------------------------------------------- ------

7. (SBU) Abouelafia explains that when he realized the
second Intifada would not end quickly, he wanted something in
place that would counteract its devastating effects on his
business and his community. Last year he founded
Abouelafia's Coexistence Association, a charity run by a
board of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim residents of Jaffa.
The Coexistence Association gives financial assistance to
needy families from the three religious groups, for anything
from a Passover Seder to children's clothing. The only
catch, he says, is that beneficiaries are made aware the
money comes from an organization founded by Arabs. When he
donated money to a soccer team that included Jewish and Arab
children, for example, their jerseys bore his name. When the
Association paid for supplies and tee shirts for a school
tour group traveling the country, Abouelafia was especially
glad to see his logo in a short spot on the Hebrew news.

8. (SBU) Comment: Abouelafia acknowledges that his
Association does as much to counteract the unpopularity of
Israeli-Arab business in times of conflict as it does to
foster peaceful coexistence in the broader arena ) and he
makes no apologies for promoting peace because of its
economic benefits. Abouelafia is unusual in his local fame
and his inherited wealth, and it would be difficult for less
established Arab businessmen to imitate the outreach tactics
he employs, such as quoting Zionist poets and making
conciliatory public statements at a Passover Seder, without
alienating some community members. But the fact that his
daily turnover has increased since the founding of the
Coexistence Association may encourage other Israeli-Arab
businessmen to find their own programs of outreach to Jewish
customers. End comment.

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