- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 5, 2003

HAIFA, Israel — Maxim became a dining institution in this northern Israeli city for its view of the shimmering Mediterranean, a menu of Middle Eastern comfort food, and a clientele of political and athletic luminaries.

When a female Palestinian suicide bomber detonated an explosive-packed belt Saturday, killing herself and 19 Israelis, it ripped apart a living symbol of Arab-Jewish coexistence, which has become so rare in this tortured land.

“It was a meeting place for all peoples and a stage for the entire country of how to live in harmony,” said Tony Matar, 36, the second-generation owner and manager of Maxim who lost three relatives in the attack. “Somebody tried to wreck that, but they won’t succeed.”

Haifa has suffered fewer attacks compared with Jerusalem, but Palestinian militants haven’t been spared from the carnage. In a city where Arabs make up 10 percent of the population, terrorist attacks inevitably claim victims on both sides of Israel’s ethnic divide.

“No matter how you look at it, it’s a mixture of blood, but it’s also a mixture of life,” said Jafar Farah, director of an Israeli-Arab civil rights group and a Maxim diner. “The fact that people die in the same place is a sign that they also lived in the same place. In most of Israel, Arabs and Jews don’t meet. Here the owner was an Arab and a Jew.”

The restaurant was founded in 1965 by Mr. Matar’s father, Salim, a Christian Arab from a village near the Lebanon border, Abu Sharval, also, Christian Arab, and Shabtai Tayar, a Jew.

In a country where bloodshed has kept Arabs and Jews in segregated communities and school systems, few business ventures cross ethnic boundaries. But in Haifa — the one city in Israel where the two groups live in the same apartment buildings, shop at the same stores and play soccer together on the beach — such partnerships are inevitable.

“There are many joint businesses. The interaction between both peoples is special here,” said George Jeries, a Christian Arab who once served as the restaurant’s accountant. “Haifa is one big village.”

But relations between Arabs and Jews in Israel have suffered during the three years of the Palestinian uprising. As Jewish politicians fired off accusations of disloyalty at Arab parliament members, the 20 percent minority has grown bitter about ethnic profiling for security checks.


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