I’ve spent the afternoon reading at Café Yafa before I met with the co-owner, Michel El-Rahab. The coffee shop is housed in a very small unit just off of Yefet Street, the main road running near the coast of Jaffa. The walls are lined with books, ranging from the English Orientalism by Edward Said to Al-Amir Al Saghir, The Little Prince in Arabic.

Michel, an avid reader, had the dream of opening a book store that would promote an Arab reading culture. Michel lives in the city of Ramle, approximately halfway between Jaffa and Jerusalem. Originally, he wanted to open his coffee shop there, yet found Jaffa would be the better location. He founded the coffee shop with a Jewish Israeli woman who had the same idea: “to make a place full of books with food.” It was a simple idea, yet not a simple concept of having an Arab man and Jewish woman working together as business partners.

“We sat together and we started. We’ve had now eight years at this place. After seven years, we start to teach Arabic. Upstairs, we make it like a school and we start to teach Arabic. We have books in Arabic, Hebrew and English. We take books that speak about politics, Palestinian and Israeli people.”

Café Yafa doesn’t serve as simply a place for a cold drink and quick read on this unforgiving hot day, it is place for people to meet freely from all backgrounds to enjoy a poetry reading, language class, or discussion.

“Many people they come from outside of the country and inside. They come here, groups, and speak…Many people come, many Jewish people come, and they want to speak with Arabs, they want to know the Palestinian people. They want to know how the Palestinian people think, says Michel. He continues to say how the Arab people have the same curiosity for the Jewish Israelis. “They sit together and they eat together. We have many groups, Palestinian and Jewish groups, so they come here and they speak together. Many times they make another meeting and another meeting.”

Café Yafa’s efforts to bring people together have not gone unnoticed; it was recently recognized by Shimon Peres, the Israel President, as the first recipient of the Yisraela Goldblum award for joint living, an award of $15,000.

Michel hopes that more and more people come to the coffee shop, and anticipates that he may need to move into a bigger location.

Although Yafa Cafe is not an NGO, although it does not have a political agenda, it is a safe place for individuals to come and meet together, to learn about and embrace each other’s culture, and to discuss topics, including politics, in a respectful way. Above all, it is a message that co-existence is possible, even if it begins in a small coffee shop in Jaffa.

“We want to have peace in this world,” Michel says. “This is a place where people like peace.”

To learn more about Yafa Coffee House, visit: http://www.yafabook.co.il/

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