A Chronicle Of Common Decency

People like Hillel Bardin are not remembered until the fight is over and historians go hunting for heroes. For as long as Sidra and I have known him and his wife Anita, they've worked to understand and, at critical times, introduce to us families they've gotten to know in Palestinian neighborhoods.

The key here was "getting to know." Hillel was curious, sick of conflict, wondering if personal connection could be an end in itself, if not lay the ground for something better. During the first Intifada, in 1988, he was on reserve duty and began to engage some of the Palestinian men and women he was supposed to be guarding. The rest is, well, history, chronicled in his own remarkable book, A Zionist Among Palestinians, published last May, and unjustly overlooked since then.

Born in Mandatory Palestine, Hillel was a passionate Zionist of the old, better kind: patriotic, romantic, humane, emancipated. He was a founder and former board member of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and helped found the Rapprochement Dialogue Center, and the Shlom Yerushalayim Party. But he never seemed caught up in institution building. Nothing was just business, everything seemed personal.

With us, too. There was always that peculiar humility, greetings at meeting points, zippy drives following his car down strange routes. His last preoccupation was the village of Jabel Mukaber, which I wrote about here in March, 2008. It was Hillel who found out about the injustice about to be visited on the town by the security wall, a couple of miles from our own homes, after all, and whipped us into action.

I hasten to add that--whatever will someday be made of Hillel's activities in and around Jerusalem--heroism is not his style. He and Anita are still arrestingly handsome; yet they seem rather proud about being ordinary, on the line, like Dr. Rieux in Camus' The Plague, denouncing heroism and promoting common decency--in a way, the harder thing. You can get a taste of Hillel's book from this excerpt. You'll see what I mean.