Abu Arar’s Homemade Missile

The Hour

By Leonard Fein

Published October 10, 2007, issue of October 12, 2007.
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The question of the week is: Shehade Abu Arar or Omer Gavar?

“Who?” you will ask. And I will answer: Abu Arar is an Israeli Arab who has fathered (gulp) 67 children, as confirmed by Israel’s Interior Ministry. He is from the village of Burgata — or, perhaps, he and his eight wives and children are the village of Burgata. He is 58 years old, may he live until 120, albeit perhaps a tad less fruitfully.

Gavar is also an Israeli Arab, father to 39 via four wives. Of him we as yet know little more.

On the face of it, Gavar would seem to be a distant runner up. But if you pause to ponder the matter, you may come up with an alternative view: Abu Arad has fathered 7.43 children per wife, while Gavar’s productivity stands at 9.75 per wife. Which of the two is the more awesome? Things are not always what they seem.

I realize, of course, that polygamy is widely disfavored in these times, and I neither endorse nor recommend it. But it does not seem to me fair merely to harumpf and turn away from these instances of polygamy, which are to conventional polygamy as the World Series is to your grandson’s game of catch. Admire or revile, the matter is at least noteworthy.

I found the basic information just the other day in a report from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, which often tantalizes and sometimes titillates with snippets such as these. JTA, in turn, picked up the story from Yediot Aharonot, Israel’s largest circulation daily newspaper.

Thinking to learn more, I looked to Yediot itself, checking first under “News” and then, hope rising, under “Activism.” Nothing. Nor in “Sports,” nor in the newspaper’s archive. At last it did pop up, in a category of its own, as seems both reasonable and appropriate.

We know a bit about Abu Arar, though much is left to speculation. His first marriage was when he was but 18, and his first two wives are mothers to his first 31 children, which makes the average for the next six wives a more conventional six each. Two of the six are currently expecting, and Abu Arar is already planning his ninth marriage.

As might be expected, there have already been 20 grandchildren. A reasonable extrapolation indicates that by the time he is 75, Abu Arar may very well have more than 100 children; if these children manage to limit their multiplication, producing, say, only five children each, we end up with a clan of more than 600, not counting spouses.

“They all live within a complex surrounding my house,” Abu Arar says, “We are very close.” Close enough so that he claims to know all his children by name. One wonders, of course, what mnemonic aids he employs; even remembering the names of his wives would prove a challenge for less gifted people.

And the birthday gifts and parties! By the time the full complement of grandchildren is on site, there will be an average of two birthday parties a day. The family would do well to have a couple of clowns on retainer.

But not to worry about the financial implications of all this. It may be counter-intuitive, but Abu Arar does not have to engage in fundraising. The Israeli government, as a result of intense pressure from the less-fecund Orthodox Jewish community, awards families a special, tax-free allowance for all children under the age of 18.

Assuming half Abu Arar’s children are under 18, a rough calculation indicates that his monthly income, no strings attached, comes to about $4,500. Add to that his income from the flowers and vegetables he grows, as also cows, sheep and goats, and then factor in that he is the only camel breeder in the area — no, no, don’t even think of that! — and you can see that finances are not a problem.

What is a problem, as might be expected, is international relations and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel’s Interior Ministry officially recognizes only 53 of the 67 children. The mothers of the remaining 14 are residents of the occupied territories, and were they to be officially recognized, they would all qualify for Israeli citizenship and the related subsidies and benefits.

In addition to the monetary implications, there are underlying demographic implications. Just imagine, for a moment, that Abu Arar’s children all decide to follow in their father’s footsteps — or, in this case, I suppose, his bedsteps. Say half his children are males, and produce each their own 60 offspring, and the females each an even dozen.

There’s an old debate among historians regarding whether history makes the man or the man makes history. Abu Arar may settle that debate once and for all, he and his children chugging along until, like compound interest, they win the day and, no matter where Israel’s boundaries are drawn, render Jews a minority in the Jewish state. (Bankrupting the National Insurance Institute, which pays the family subsidies, along the way.)

Ehud Barak, Israel’s defense minister, has said that within a relatively short time, Israel will have an impenetrable missile defense system. There is, however, reason to doubt that there’s a program to defend against Abu Arar’s homemade missile, which utilizes the oldest delivery system known to man.

But let us not look at the problematic side. Let us think, instead, of the opportunities the Abu Arar story presents, from work for barbers and shoemakers and teachers and bus drivers to projects for documentary filmmakers, fertility specialists and orthodontists. Think pride, not prejudice. Think, simply, wow!

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