Wednesday August 27, 2003: (The Guardian) She makes an incongruous figure, waiting in front of the central mosque in the northern Israeli town of Tamra. There is no danger I will miss her. She has short blonde hair, in contrast to the rest of the women who cover their dark hair with scarves, and is wearing a loose-fitting floral kaftan, better suited to the streets of Wimbledon, her former home, than here in the Middle East.
The difference runs much deeper than mere looks: Susan Nathan is the only Jew among 25,000 Muslims in Tamra, one of the country's dozens of Arab communities whose council is run by Islamic fundamentalists. She is one of only two Israeli Jews known to have crossed the ethnic divide: the other is the controversial academic Uri Davis, who lives in nearby Sakhnin.
Nathan, a 54-year-old teacher and former Aids counsellor with the London Lighthouse Project, arrived in Israel four years ago, after the break-up of her marriage. For the first few months she shared a tiny room in an absorption centre near Tel Aviv. "I was breastfed Zionism. My parents were prominent members of the liberal Jewish community in London and were firm friends of Abba Eban," she says, referring to the Israeli foreign minister during the epoch-changing period of the 1967 six-day war, when Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza from Jordan and Egypt. "At the age of 10 or 11 I remember telling my parents that one day I would live in Israel."
But since her move from Tel Aviv to work as an English teacher in deprived Tamra seven months ago, she has lost her Jewish friends. "At first they thought I was just being provocative," she says. "Then they thought I was suffering some sort of mental breakdown. Now they realise I am serious, they have turned their backs. What I have done is far too threatening."
Seated in her second-floor flat, surrounded by African cloth prints on the walls, classical music CDs and shelves filled with art and Jewish history books, it is not immediately clear what kind of threat Nathan represents. She is slight, still not fully recovered from surgery for a rare eye cancer, and her thin voice is easily drowned out when the muezzin begins the midday call to prayer. Although she refuses to speak Hebrew in Tamra, she still wears a Star of David pendant around her neck.
Paradoxically, her stance has also earned her the enmity of the Israeli peace movement. "The Jewish left is totally in thrall to the idea of two states for two people. What I am doing by showing that Jews and Arabs can live together in peace undermines their argument."