By Edited by Thomas K. Arnold
(page 1 of 6)Peace on Earth
In the immortal words of that great prophet of peace, Rodney King, can’t we all just get along?
That’s the question dogging George Saadeh this holiday season, amid continued strife in the Middle East. He desperately wants to spread a message of peace, love and understanding. Like many of us, Saadeh, the 60-year-old owner of Wurts Carpets & Interiors, is sickened by the constant scuffles between Palestinians and Israelis, by the hatred and killings and suicide bombings that have hogged headlines for years.
It doesn’t have to be this way, Saadeh insists—and he points to his own experience as an example. He was born in Jaffa, in what was once the Palestinian Mandate. When the nation of Israel was created, his family’s home was seized during the Jewish military’s spring 1948 “cleansing,” and the family fled to Ramalah, in what is now the West Bank. “We wanted to get the hell out of the bombing,” Saadeh says.
Even away from the bombing and the war, Saadeh’s boyhood was one of poverty and transience. His family moved to Jordan, then to Kuwait, in a vain attempt to establish roots and to no longer be seen as refugees or outsiders. Finally, the Saadehs emigrated to the United States in 1956, settling in Washington, D.C., where they set up a floor-covering business.
While other Palestinians blamed the Jews for their misfortunes, the Saadeh household was different. Saadeh says, “I have never known prejudice, even when I was growing up. All I knew was that people are people, no matter where they are, no matter what they are.”
Indeed—in 1967, Saadeh married a Jewish woman, Carolyn Nathan, niece of prominent economist Robert Nathan (one of the driving forces behind the Social Security Act). And today, the biggest client of his interior design firm is CityFront Terrace, the downtown condominium complex owned by Crescent Heights, an Israeli company whose executives, for the most part, are Orthodox Jews.
“Crescent Heights buys luxury high-rises all over the country, and when they bought CityFront Terrace [in 1999] they interviewed me, among others, to do work in that building,” recalls Saadeh, who moved to San Diego in 1971 and bought Wurts three years later. “There may have been a little apprehension, at first,” he says. “But once we started doing business, the cultural blood started flowing in. Culturally, Palestinians and Israelis are very close—they live in the same region, they eat the same food, and they share many of the same traditions.”
Schlomo “Sam” Fellus, president of Crescent Heights’ West Coast operations, agrees. “I don’t look at people this way, as being Arabs or Jews,” he says. “I look at the character of the person.” Even in Israel, where he lived before moving to the United States in 1986, Palestinians and Israelis work together a lot more harmoniously than one might think, Fellus maintains. “I’ve worked with Palestinians all my life,” he says. “In Israel, I was a floor layer on a building site, and they used to mix my concrete.”
Wurts was hired to help transform CityFront Terrace from apartments into condos. The company has since redone more than 200 of the building’s 330 units, to the tune of more than $1.5 million, Saadeh says.
“They have been absolutely magnificent in our collaboration, in trust, in work, and this is just something I wanted to share,” Saadeh says. “I’m speaking from the heart here. For years, we have never, ever seen a positive story about a peaceful coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis. All we read about in the media is the hatred and the killing and the fighting.
“I really want to get my story out there, because for most of us, Arab as well as Jew, here and in the Middle East, this is the reality—not the bloodshed.”