The shooting seemed to loom on everyone’s minds. These were dark days, tough days, as one politician would later opine. But in spite of the terror attack that killed four people and injured many others in central Tel Aviv the day before — which the Hamas terror organization dubbed the “Ramadan operation” — a busload of Jews from Tel Aviv travelled Thursday evening to tour the Arab town of Tayibe in central Israel.
Tayibe — not to be confused with the Palestinian village of Taybeh in the West Bank, or the Israeli-Arab village of Taibe in the Galilee — lies just within the borders of the Jewish state, just off of Highway 6. The meaning of Tayibe is either “good” or “tasty” in Arabic, and it would very soon live up to both the gastronomical and social standards its own name demands.
Most of the Israelis on the bus had never been to the town before, neither had they ever participated in an iftar — the evening meal to break the day’s fast performed every night of Ramadan, which requires Muslims to fast from sunup to sundown.
The group — mostly middle-aged to elderly Israelis — was taking part in a month-long event called “Ramadan nights,” in which Jewish Israelis can visit eight different Arab towns and join a local Muslim family for an iftar. The initiative was run by Sikkuy, an Israeli organization that works for civil equality.
One of the trip’s organizer’s, Gili Roi, co-director of the Shared Society Department at Sikkuy, told The Times of Israel that there was a brief period of uncertainty after the Sarona Market terror attack, which claimed the lives of four Israelis and injured 16 others.
The Sikkuy staff quickly decided that the trip, rather than being cancelled, had more urgency to go on exactly as planned.
That wasn’t the case a couple of years ago. In 2014, the first night of Ramadan Nights coincided with the finding of the bodies of three teenage boys kidnapped and murdered by Hamas members in the West Bank some three weeks prior; the incident and its aftermath later escalated into the Gaza war. That summer, Roi said, the whole program was cancelled due to the rapid escalation of hostilities. But a year after the war, some 1,000 Israeli Jews participated in Ramadan Nights. This year organizers are to double that.
At a small ceremony for participants at Tayibe’s city hall to celebrate the opening of a Ramadan market, which will be open every night of the holy month, Mayor Shuaa Masarwa Mansur spoke briefly with journalists.
“These are dark days,” he said, referring to the shooting in the Tel Aviv market that took place the previous evening. “We are doomed to live together so we must learn how to live with each other. The only way to win is through dialogue and understanding the other.”
When asked about how he felt that Hamas had called the terror attack the “Ramadan operation” and the “first sign of the holy month,” the mayor responded: “Ramadan is a month of tolerance, a holy month. Our religion is against killing, all over the world. This is the time for those against violence to raise their voices and say ‘yes to peace and no to war.’”
The mayor also had some words of criticism against the Israeli government’s decision following the Tel Aviv shooting attack to cancel the permits of tens of thousands of Palestinians to enter Israel during the month, calling the move “collective punishment” and “a mistake.”
After leaving city hall, the Jewish group made its way to the home of the family that would host their iftar. As is common during Ramadan, as the sun set, life in the town began to awaken. Groups of people could be seen standing on their lawns or in the streets making falafel and chicken, some for their families and some to sell to others.
Those arriving at the home for the iftar were greeted with colorful lights and a white arch through which ran a red carpet, giving it a slight movie awards atmosphere. For the meal, around a hundred people sat in a courtyard around white-clothed tables, enjoying a delicious meal that included tabbouleh salad, stuffed eggplant and grape leaves, chicken, mejadra (rice with lentils) and cooked lamb topped with yogurt. For dessert, the traditional Ramadan pancake called kataif, which was filled with cheese.
For this iftar, art teacher Amena Massarwe, 23, was the night’s main host.
“I host Jews so that they should feel Ramadan, which is supposed to bring families together,” Massarwe said. “The type of event we are hosting here brings Jews and Arabs together.”
She also criticized Hamas’s use of Ramadan as a call to violence.
“Ramadan is a very blessed month. We need to honor this and we need to take care of all types of people whether they are Jews, Druze or Arabs,” she said, adding that the event “is very emotional” for her and brings her closer to “the other.”
Ravid Bogaire, who participates in what she calls a “shared living” program between Tayibe and the Jewish city of Kfar Saba, was charmed by the 23-year-old running the meal and was delighted to be at the Ramadan event.
“What a beautiful atmosphere here this is tonight, such a warm welcome,” she said. “There is always such generosity here. People who know Tayibe know it is really an inviting city.”
Tachsim Jaber, a bus driver from Tayibe who was dining with Boged added: “We teach our neighbors the values of Ramadan, how we celebrate it and what the holiday spirit here is all about.”
For more information on Ramadan Nights, visit shared-tourism.org.il.