There are people on our planet who know me as Tobi the German, a name I cherish much, and an identity that opens many doors.
Today, for example, Tobi the German is going for a walk with Jibril the Arab, a man who spent 17 years in Israeli jails and is presently the President of two entities: The Palestinian Football Federation and The Palestinian Olympic Committee.
Of course, and as you might guess, there's more under a name than the eye meets.
To start with, Jibril is not really a footballer. Jibril's full name, in case you didn't guess by now, is General Jibril M. Rajoub, former head of Preventive Security for Palestine and one of the most feared leaders in this region. Why is the general spending his time on football? Well, Jibril is a spymaster and you can't tell what characters like him do, no matter how hard you try.
Whatever his reasons, his job title works great for me: He is a football master, while I am a sports writer – and the two of us make for a perfect match.
Earlier today, for example, when Jibril had made up his mind to walk by foot all the way from Ramallah to Jericho, he asked me if I’d like to join him.
By now, we are like Siamese twins: when Jibril walks anywhere, Tobi comes along.
Understandably, walking with Jibril is quite an experience.
Like any general the world over, Jibril has security personnel surrounding him wherever he goes but, as fit a feared spymaster, his security entourage doesn't flaunt assault rifles or any other impressive metals. Nope. Instead, they carry water, ice cream, bananas, dates, yogurt, and other similar smart weapons. When we go down a wadi or up a mountain, security men put into my hands bottles of water, sweet cakes, fresh fruit, delicious ice cream -- and whatever my heart might desire while walking.
While biting, licking and walking, I become bewitched by the surrounding landscapes. The roads go in circles in midst of massive displays of white-brown sands, narrow and wide streets hide in between hills and mountains, and the wind constantly blows softly on our wet faces.
We walk and walk and walk, but the roads never end. Parts of the walk take place inside Israel, parts inside Palestine, parts in shared roads, and it is hard to tell when we enter one country and when we leave another. I always thought that heavily guarded checkpoints separated these countries, but I’m obviously wrong.
For many people on the planet, those who for decades read and hear about the Israeli Palestinian conflict, the area in dispute must sound as a huge area, maybe even bigger than Canada, but you walk with Jibril you will realize not only how small the land is, meaning both Israel and Palestine, but also how inter-related both are. The only way you could tell which country is which is the road signs: here they are in Arabic, here in Hebrew.
Then, at one particular section of our walk, and for no particular reason, Tobi decides to leave Jibril behind and examine the Holy Land on his own.
"Don't walk there on your own," Jibril of Arabia promptly warns Tobi of Germania. "They see your blond hair; they will slaughter you!"
Who are "they"? I better not ask.
"Did you visit our refugee camps?" the Olympic Walker asks his Aryan soul mate.
No, not yet. But I'd love to.
"Nidal!" Jibril calls out one of the ice cream lickers. "You arrange for the German to see a refugee camp!"
Nidal nods in obedience, and then offers me a banana.
No refugees before bananas.
Palestinian bananas, let me tell you, are sweeter than honey. Allah only knows how they get this done.
After an hour or two, nobody counts time here, we reach an intersection and Jibril asks: "Would you like to turn right, into Jericho, or would you like to keep going for a few more hours?"
How many hours?
"Until midnight or, if you prefer, two o'clock in the morning. Whatever you want is okay with me."
I think it's time we see Jericho. It is the oldest city in he world, I heard people say. Is it true?
"People say that. Yes."
How many years?
"Ten thousand years."
We should see it.
"As you want."
We turn right unto Jericho.
Standing next to Jibril is a young man, also named Jibril. Jibril the older puts his left hand on the right arm of Jibril the younger, and he says unto me:
"His mother named him after me."
Young Jibril’s eyes shine with pride.
And then General Jibril has an idea, a brilliant one:
"Your name, from now on, is Abu Ali."
I gleefully accept.
An hour or so later, Jibril and his closest and newest friend, me, Abu Ali, reach home – one of Jibril’s homes, to be more exact.
Dinner is served.
Everything is delicious. Humus, hot peppers, fresh tomatoes, fresh pitas, scrambled eggs, tea, coffee, apples and a host of other goodies.
"Eat, Abu Ali, eat," Jibril orders me.
Not so Jibril. He eats only vegetables: tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, red cabbage; the healthy stuff. And halva. "I need sweets, Abu Ali," he says.
An older man approaches me. "Do you know what Abu Ali means?" he asks.
You tell me.
"The brave. The hero."
Fits me perfectly.
All present agree.
What none here tells me, and maybe they assume I know it, is the other white man that the Palestinians have honored with this very name: Adolf Hitler.
"My blood is German," one of the people tells me. "All of us, all Palestinians, are German."
There is a swimming pool steps away from our dining table, and some of the walkers decide to jump into the water, inviting me to join them.
I respectively decline; I will swim only with Eva.
I look at Jibril and we share a laughter.
General Jibril M. Rajoub is a lion of a leader, smart, sharp, funny, loving, hating, harsh, sweet, friendly, fatherly, crazy, determined, capricious, charismatic, cold, warm, genius. If the Palestinians ever decide to get their act together, they will throw away their current leaders and put this one on. A man who has the discipline to walk for six hours in one day, will know how to lead his people for years.
Don't ask me how I came to this conclusion. Abu Ali the German knows what's best for his blood brothers.