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For young New York attorneys — never mind those who once were movie stars — what follows is a story of the road less taken. As a film script scenario, it goes something like this: FADE IN. Rifat Harb, a bus driver’s boy from Nazareth, chucks it all as the Middle East’s answer to Hollywood’s Brad Pitt … Makes his way to hospitable uncle’s home in Canada, immediately doubling the Palestinian population of Vancouver … With showbiz and the Great North under his belt, Rifat lands in Gotham and becomes collegiate soccer star … Adds second citizenship as fresh new Yankee Doodle boy … Works his way through law school as paralegal for the Manhattan District Attorney … Hangs lawyer’s shingle in the polyglot bustle of Steinway Street, Astoria, Queens … FADE OUT. Rifat, the Yankee Doodle who holds fast to fragrant memories of sweet rice and lamb and almond mansaf delicacies for guests in Palestinian homes, now lives happily ever after in New Jersey, of all places … Where he buys a fine suburban home … Marries a Palestinian lass by way of Illinois and Florida, whom he met on a sentimental journey home to Nazareth, of all places … SEQUEL PLANT. Rifat, the dual citizen who learns and prospers in his new land, talks of politics one fine day … Rifat A. Harb has been a sole practitioner in Astoria, N.Y., since February 1998, following his graduation from St. John’s University School of Law in 1997 and his admission to the New York bar in December of that year. “Maybe it’s the immigrant mentality, but I never wanted to work for a big law firm,” said Harb. “I preferred to have something of my own.” Harb now serves “about a thousand clients,” by his count. Most are Arabic speakers. “I do immigration law, to be sure,” he said. “Also criminal defense, and a bit of commercial law.” The higgledy-piggledy journey of his now 32 years contains for Harb moments of simultaneous amusement and regret, especially the part about tossing away the life of a silver screen idol. Of that particular episode, he said, “A lot of people thought I was crazy.” Sanity, according to “a-lot-of-people,” would have been for the 18-year-old Rifat Harb to exploit the public adulation accorded him in 1986. That was the year that “Nadia,” a hit film in the Middle East and Europe, brought him two more offers for leading roles in motion pictures. (“Nadia” concerns the star-crossed campus romance of a Palestinian girl and a Jewish boy. It played briefly at the Angelika Film Center in New York, and aired over WPXN-TV Channel 31 in New York.) Behold the world’s next Omar Sharif! — so proclaimed the people who count on young actors’ heads to be turned by the bright lights of a marquee. But they had not counted on young Harb’s having a head full of strong ideas. Not that the bus driver’s son had any grand design for a future beyond the movies or, for that matter, beyond the working-class life of John Paul VI Street in the Palestinian quarter of Nazareth, Israel. But young Rifat heeded the plain counsel of his father, Abed, and his mother, Ferial, who knew too well the hardships of being dispossessed as refugees. “My father was a hard-working guy who got up at 4 o’clock in the morning to go to work,” said Harb. “He told my brothers and sisters, ‘This is what I do to raise you. But you’ll all have to take it more than one step further. Your only path is education; then you’re on your own.’ ” — which inspired young Harb to take his bagrout, the Israeli equivalent of America’s SAT college entry examinations. He took the exams and was off to Uncle Samir Shalaby’s home in Vancouver despite the attractive offer of a leading role in the Arabic film “ Ours Sey Jallile” (“Wedding in Gallile”). “I wanted the part, and I was excited,” Harb recollected. “The only problem was, the shooting took place exactly when I was set to take the bagrout. “I really wanted to be a part of the movie, which was about a Palestinian wedding in defiance of an [Israeli] army curfew,” he said. “The story was cultural and political. Through the wedding, you see all kinds of customs and traditions. It’s a statement that we [Palestinians] are not just people who showed up [in Israel].” Before that, there was a movie offering that Harb rejected, “Hameouhav” (Hebrew for “The Beloved”). “I was lucky to be careful,” he said. At the tender age of 18, he was also savvy enough to calculate the stereotypical effect that his role could help perpetuate. ” ‘Hameouhav’ spoke of hatred as being almost innate in the Palestinian psyche,” Harb said. “ Really, the sentiment was, ‘Never trust a Palestinian.’ “ Better that Rifat Harb should work as a restaurant waiter or a delicatessen counter man or a security guard — all of which he did in Canada and the United States — than surrender to cinematic stereotype. Anyone who spends five minutes with him knows at once that there is much gravity lying beneath Harb’s modesty, his enthusiastic talk of theater, his affable manner, and his jokes. (An anonymous St. John’s chum tells of his teasing fellow students cramming all night for tests in estate and trust law. In the morning, Harb would ask with a straight face if his bleary-eyed colleagues had been careful to study the “Humble Worker” rule, or the “Headlight Administration” rule.) PEACE MAKER Harb has a preoccupation, heart and soul, with the complex hostilities between Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel. It is likewise obvious that Harb feels he must help in some personal way with the long and tortured efforts toward a permanent civil peace in his birth country. “Rifat Harb is very proud of his involvement in the peace movement, and proud of his ecumenical interests,” said attorney Paul Nalven, who shares a suite of law offices with Harb. “It is very impressive, this strong friendship he has with Jews. “He was such a find for us,” said Nalven. Along with his partner Alexei Schacht, a former Manhattan Assistant District Attorney, Nalven represents a largely immigrant clientele, in his case Latinos. “We were looking to have some like-minded person here.” On what Nalven calls “some weightier cases” of criminal law, Harb brings in the firm Nalven & Schacht for help. “But he’s become a very good criminal lawyer in his own right,” Nalven said of his suite-mate. “And he’s really picking up steam as an ombudsman in the Arabic-speaking community. He’s got a fantastic future ahead of him.” FUTURE PLANS Not that Harb could say exactly what that might be except, of course, for June 1, the day he will wed his fianc�e, Dounia Assad, now studying to become an American schoolteacher. Other than that, he said, “My only plan is that I don’t want to spend my time just passing through life.” A man of Harb’s experience could hardly be so frivolous. In Israel, his father’s best friend — also a bus driver — is a Jew. The son of his father’s friend, Moti, was likewise young Rifat’s best friend during his Nazareth boyhood. “I began learning my Hebrew from Moti,” said Harb, who is as fluent in the language of the Jews as he is in Arabic and English. (“I studied French in college,” he said, “but I think there wasn’t enough room left in my head.”) Moti and his father, Schlomo, were one day the random victims of the violence that curses Israel. Moti was killed. (For personal reasons, Mr. Harb preferred not to disclose his friend’s surname.) “These two great friends Schlomo and my father, Abed, were here in my office only last September,” said Harb. “Schlomo said to me, ‘I want to tell you something: Gvarim bokhim balayla.’ That means in Hebrew, ‘Men cry at night.’ “He began to weep,” said Harb. “He said, ‘This time, Rifat, I’m seeing my son through you.’ “Schlomo was telling me what I realized even at a young age,” said Harb. “We all have our prejudices, but we can actually treat people on an individual basis.”

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