Jews and Palestinians find a separate peace in Hunts Point

Israeli and Palestinian shop owners along Southern Boulevard have no problem getting along. (Photo by Ted Regencia)

On one corner of Southern Boulevard and 163rd Street, a 25-year-old Palestinian refugee stirred chicken kebabs over a hot fryer in his halal cart, contemplating the tensions between his country and Israel being reignited this week in the United Nations General Assembly.

Down the block in Hunts Point where Musab Abusbeih peddled his $5 kebab and shawarma specials, Jewish and Palestinian-owned businesses operate peacefully side by side.  Abusbeih believes that if only the warring parties learned to talk like the merchants of Hunts Point peace might be attainable.

“We don’t even fight about parking on this block,” said Ron Levy, a former Israeli soldier.  “And everybody fights about parking in New York City.”

Downtown in United Nations headquarters last week, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas sought official statehood recognition from the General Assembly. Israeli president Benjamin Netanyahu opposed Palestine’s unilateral declaration of statehood, saying a two-state solution can only be achieved through a negotiated settlement, which would include Hamas dropping its call for the destruction of Israel.

On Thursday, President Barack Obama urged Abbas to drop his bid until peace talks resume. The Palestinian leader rejected his plea.

And the stalemate appeared impassable. “If Israel, Palestine, and the U.N. want to see how to live in harmony they should look at this block,” said Levy, who believes in the Palestinian Authority’s right to its own state. “Here, Palestinians and Jewish people get along very well.”

The 60-year-old, who now works at Pay-Less Electronics, said he came to the U.S. in the 1970s after becoming weary of all the fighting in Israel. The former Israeli soldier said he found some peace in the South Bronx.

John Zib, a Jewish manager of Sweet Girl clothing store in Hunts Point, said he was not aware of the impending vote in the U.N. “But I know that on this block most of the stores are owned by Jewish people,” said the 25-year-old businessman. “There are also Palestinian owners and we have no problems with each other.”

A Palestinian Christian who owns Seham Discount, northeast of Hunts Point, said his family was forced to abandon its home near Jerusalem when war broke out following Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948. “They took my father’s land,” said George Ishaq, 71. “Everything they took.”

Ishaq and his family were eventually exiled in Jordan, where he lived for a long time until he moved to New York City around 10 years ago.

Asked whether he is willing to go back, Ishaq said, “I can’t live there while it is occupied.” It is for that reason that he is supporting the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

Ishaq, however, said that his experience being a Palestinian refugee does not affect how he relates to Jewish people, whom he often interacts with regularly in business.

“It is normal,” Ishaq said. “We buy from them, they sell to us.” Besides, he said, the business setting “is not the place to talk about politics.”

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