Spending a few days in a luxurious hotel by the Dead Sea induces a sense of well-being, of physical and mental peace. The air is still pleasantly warm, and has not yet reached the burning heat of summer. The décor of the hotel is aesthetic and comfortable, and the scenery round about impressive, with the mountains of Moab shimmering on the other side of the water. The food is plentiful, varied and of excellent quality, and if one can manage to restrain oneself it can even be beneficial, as all kinds of healthy options are provided.
Along the roadside trees and shrubs have been planted, providing shade and a visually pleasing vista to all those who, like me, like to start their day by setting out to walk for a kilometer or two or three. At seven a.m. the path is abuzz with people walking, some slowly some fast, in twos or singly, as they enjoy the imposing scenery and gain health benefits in the process.
The guests staying at the hotel while we were there could be heard speaking several languages, with Hebrew prevailing, of course, but English and French were also in evidence. In addition, several of the guests were Arabs, though whether they were Druze or Muslims I was unable to tell. The only way of knowing whether a family is Arab is by observing the attire of the women, as the men dress and behave much the same as any secular Israeli Jew.
Although the Arab families were identifiable there was no apparent animosity between them and the Jewish guests, just as Arabs and Jews travel side by side in buses and trains in Israel, tend to patients in hospitals as nurses and doctors and are attended to by them, and work and shop alongside one another in any and every public place.
I was witness to an interesting exchange between an Arab woman in traditional garb (long black embroidered dress and flimsy white head-covering) and various Jewish guests. The conversation was in Hebrew, so I could understand what was going on. The woman was sitting in the spacious lobby and occupied with knitting a colourful sweater. As I watched, one elderly Israeli woman after another went up to the woman and opened a conversation with her about what she was knitting, admiring her skill and complimenting her on her work. After a while a Jewish man sitting with his family also spoke to her, congratulating her and wishing her well. She seemed to take all this with perfect equanimity, answering their questions in fluent Hebrew.
On another occasion I was intrigued to see an Arab family of not-so-young husband, wife and grown-up son, the latter apparently having some kind of physical and possibly also mental disability being unable to use one of his arms. At breakfast I saw the son bring a plate of scrambled eggs to his father and I immediately assumed that this particular paterfamilias was used to being waited on by the other members of his family. How wrong I was! The father deftly cut up the food on the plate, mixed the eggs with tomatoes and other salad vegetables, then gently fed it to his son. For me this was an object lesson in the way that a caring father attends to his son’s needs.
On our last day the news of the stabbing spree by a Palestinian terrorist in Jaffa was all over the newspapers. I was in the lift on my way to our room, my eyes riveted to the headlines describing the event when a young Arab couple came in and we began our ascent to a higher floor. Coward that I am, I could not look them in the eye. I’m still wondering what would have happened if I had.