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(Bedouin) boy meets (Jewish) girl
Inter-religious couple living in Safed deals with cultural differences, hostility from friends - and keeping relationship secret from family. 'It's not written on his forehead that he's Muslim,' Jewish student says
They share a tiny apartment in Safed, and lead the normal life of a young couple: They study, they work, they love. But a closer look reveals that Dana, a Jew, and Rafiq, a Bedouin, are not an ordinary couple – definitely not, considering they live in the city that gave rise to the rabbis' letter that urged Jews to avoid renting or selling property to Arabs.

 

Their love blossoms away from the eyes of their families - only her mother knows, and she is far from overjoyed - which is why they insisted on keeping their real identities secret.

 

Growing up in Israeli society, they were not meant to fall in love. Rafiq, 23, grew up in a religious family, in a Bedouin village in the Galilee region. His mother hails from the conflict-torn Jenin refugee camp, and he grew up hearing her stories of suffering and hatred towards  the Israel Defense Forces.

 

Before meeting at Safed College, Dana, 24, was sure that Bedouins still rode camels, while Rafiq saw relationships with Jewish women as nothing more than casual sex. A lot has changed since then.

 

'You don't choose who you love'

Next month they will celebrate their first year anniversary. "I don't think that you choose who you fall in love with," Dana says. "It just happens. It's not written on his forehead that he's a Muslim, and it's not written on my forehead that I'm a Jew. We're good together and that's what's important."

 

The difference between Dana and Rafiq's roots is hardly noticeable. A trace of an Arabic accent in his speech is only noticeable after an extensive conversation. When people tell her that "he doesn't look like (an Arab)" she asks, "What does an Arab look like?" – but she knows what they mean.

 

"I had prejudices about Arabs as well," she says. "Only in college did I understand that the perception of a Bedouin that still lives in a tent without electricity is just not true. Actually, it's they who ride Hummers and the fanciest cars.

 

"I started socializing with them and found out they are wonderful people," she adds.

 

College was an eye-opener for Rafiq too, who found out his best school friends are Jews.

 

The two met in a study group organized by a mutual friend, and moved in together almost immediately. "It seemed the most natural move for us," Dana notes.

 

But not everyone around them saw it this way. The first blow came soon: One of Dana's best friends cut off ties with her. Her classmates were not enthusiastic about their relationship either.

 

"They didn't look upon us favorably," she says. "At first we were quiet about it but now we don't care anymore. We do what's good for us – we study together, maintain our home together. We have fun. He cares for me."

 

Rafiq's friends were more welcoming. "They accept our relationship," he says. "We have Jewish women who married Arabs in our village."

 

It is clear that the two are happy together, despite the hostility directed at them.

 

"Sometimes we sit at college with our Jewish friends, and suddenly somebody will say, 'Those Arabs,'" Dana notes. "The opposite happens too, I hear statements about 'those Jews' when I sit down with our Arab friends."

 

'Rabbis won't manage our lives'

But friends are the least difficult part to handle; it was only a year ago when the Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, issued a reply to a question by one of his followers, who wondered if he was allowed to rent his apartment to an Arab student. Eliyahu ruled that Jewish law unequivocally forbids renting property to Arabs, and called for the banishment of anyone who does so.

 

The ruling got nationwide response, most notably with the expression of support from 60 rabbis but also with many bodies calling for the prosecution of the rabbi for racist incitement.

 

Far from the public debate, in the safe haven of their central Safed apartment, Rafiq and Dana are not letting Jewish law manage their lives. "Who is this Rabbi Eliyahu, I don't know him and he won't tell me how to live," Dana says.

 

Their daily lives are quite busy - juggling school and work occupies most of their time. They note that they don't have the leisure to deal with those who oppose their love. Racism and condemnation stay out of their cozy home.

 

"My relationship with an Arab is not some kind of rebellion against those who forbid it or my parents," Dana explains. "A man is a man, and love doesn't have a religion. I heard all the theories about Arabs tempting Jewish girls with money, but this is definitely not our case."

 

Later, Dana says she does not understand what all the fuss is about. "What does it matter to the owner if a Jew or an Arab lives in his apartment," she ponders. "He gets his money on time, without problems. That's what's important. Money is money."

 

'Arab change their name to get Jewish women'

Rafiq acknowledges that Arab men often change their last names to appear Jewish. "For most Arab men, relationships with Jewish women are just for sex, but this is not the case here," he says. "There are many young people who change their names to Jewish names, on their ID cards as well. I changed my name too when I was 17."

 

"Girls are not stupid, they know they are Arabs," Dana exclaims in response. "I don't think that anyone has to lie to them."

 

The difference in mentality does not seem to come between Dana and Rafiq. "We have our own culture," Dana says. "We simply live in the moment. It doesn't bother us that I am Jewish and he is an Arab. We respect each other; we respect the holidays and the traditions of the other. I do what's good for me, and not what some rabbi says."

 

"I have never been in such a long relationship," Rafiq adds. "I'm happy with her and that's what matters."

 

'My parents won't accept her'

A wooden heart that bears a picture of the happy couple is attached to Dana's keychain – a type of a private declaration. Her mother has seen it dozens of times, and is reluctant to accept their union. Afraid of his reaction, Dana keeps the relationship a secret from her father.

 

Rafiq does not dare tell his family either. "I think they know but turn a blind eye," he says. "I prefer it this way for now." He explains that his religious family would disapprove of an extramarital relationship, even if it was with an Arab woman. But he expects the reaction to be even more severe if they found out that he has a Jewish girlfriend, especially from his mother's side.

 

"My mother's family that still lives there was severely hurt during the IDF's operations in Jenin," he says. "We had terrible experiences. It's traumatic for her. She grew up there and doesn't like Jews since. It would be difficult to accept a Jew entering her home."

 

"I'm sure that if his mother gets to know me, she will change her mind," Dana intervenes with a smile, but Rafiq sounds less than optimistic. "It will be a mess," he says. "It's a different culture. My parents won't accept her. It's a problem."

 

Even though he is secular in his daily life, Rafiq occasionally joins his parents in prayer in while visiting home.

 

"At the mosque they talk about young men dating Jewish women, and the Imam preaches against it," he says. "It's not accepted and the strictly religious people sternly oppose it, but they don't publish it in the media like the Jews do."

 

Rafiq postpones deciding on the matter to what seems to him like the distant future.

 

"We're not bothered by it right now," he says. "We have another year to be here together, and after that, if we go on being together, we will decide what to do. For now it's far away."

 

 

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