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Friday, November 06, 2009

The racism they have forced upon us

I was standing at the entrance to Kiryat Arba waiting for the bus that would take me to Beer Sheva (Zahava had the car), when a late model SUV pulled up and let off a 20-something woman at the bus stop.

The woman was dressed in loose slacks, a pretty blouse and sweater, and had her dark hair pulled back in a sloppy ponytail.  At her feet sat an overstuffed soft-sided suitcase, and in her arms she held a baby blanket and a bottle filled with milk or formula.

This seemed odd... baby blanket, baby bottle... but no baby.

But then I spotted the car that had dropped her off idling nearby, and as our bus approached, an older man (perhaps in his 40s) emerged from the car with a baby and handed the child to the woman.  Mystery solved.  Since it was cold outside, they had simply left the baby inside the warm car until the last possible moment.  Responsible parents.

But as I was watching the man pass the baby to the woman, the blanket slipped from her arm and landed by her suitcase.  But for this small slip I would never have noticed that there was a luggage identification tag on the handle... written in Arabic.  And on the suitcase itself I noticed there were a few more Arabic words written in magic marker.

I should pause here to point out that once upon a time it was commonplace to see Arabs riding Israeli buses and Jews riding the Arab bus lines.  If you were in a hurry and a bus came along you simply took whatever bus passed.  Likewise Jews and Arabs shopped freely in one another's communities and stores, meaning there was significant economic overlap. 

However, this isn't to say that there was much social interaction. There wasn't.

Of course there were exceptional cases of Jewish and Arab families becoming close because of work or proximity... to the point where they invited each other to family celebrations and such.  But for the most part, the relationship was one of economic convenience rather than affection (by any stretch of the imagination).

So back to this woman boarding the same bus that I was about to take to Beer Sheva... a bus with bulletproof windows and armor plating on the sides, roof and floor against a very real external threat.  Now here was a potential internal threat... against which none of that armor would help!

A moment before I had looked at this woman and seen only a caring mother who loved her baby so much, she had asked her husband (or some other relative or friend) to wait with the car so the infant wouldn't be out in the cold.  Now all I could see was a potential suicide bomber with the perfect cover.

Apparently I wasn't the only one who had noticed the Arabic writing on the suitcase.  Nobody was saying anything, but when the woman asked the driver to open the luggage compartment, her Arabic-accented Hebrew caught the attention of everyone nearby.  Suddenly this woman had become the object of silent but intense scrutiny from a bunch of Israelis who would otherwise have been pushing one another out of the way to get on the bus.

A young soldier with the insignia of an elite infantry unit on his shoulder saw that the woman was having trouble juggling the baby and her suitcase, so as she was speaking to the driver, he deftly took her suitcase and carried it towards the storage compartment that was now opening on the side of the bus.

Under other circumstances, his gesture would have seemed polite... chivalrous, even.  But as he got on the bus and flashed his ID to the driver (soldiers ride free in uniform, but they need to show their army card), he leaned in close enough not to be heard by anyone but the driver (and the person behind him; me) and said, "It was too light to be problematic."

The driver, who had certainly heard the woman's accent, nodded and visibly relaxed.  The people at the front of the bus who had watched the exchange between the soldier and the driver (without hearing it), also visibly relaxed once they saw the driver's posture change back to one of 'business as usual'.

The only person who seemed unaware of the scrutiny and discussion was the Arab woman who was now seated about halfway back on the left side... fussing with her baby.

The entire drive to Beer Sheva, my mind was full of conflicting thoughts.  On the one hand I felt like a racist.  After all, in the blink of an eye I had changed my view of this woman's potential reason for being on the bus from passenger to murderer the instant I realized she was an Arab.  On the other hand, who was responsible for this racism... me or the terrorists who so often cynically sent women and even children to carry out suicide bombings and lethal attacks?

I'm sure that in Tel Aviv/Yaffo and Haifa where the Jewish and Arab populations mix more freely this sort of thing doesn't happen. 

But while I continue to read about mythological roads that are forbidden to Arabs, and of terrible restrictions on Palestinian movement here in 'the territories'... the reality is just the opposite.  They can go wherever they want, but there are roads and places that I am forbidden by law from entering because they are 'Area A' and officially Judenrein by order of the Palestinian Authority.  

The Arab buses and taxis are likewise forbidden to me wile Palestinians seem to have every legal right to ride the Egged buses.   While I must pass through countless security checks each day to travel to work, enter stores, restaurants and public transportation, there are no armed guards in front of Arab restaurants or stores... proof that nobody is hunting them.

I'm wondering... I am the racist here?

Posted by David Bogner on November 6, 2009 | Permalink

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"On the one hand I felt like a racist."

Dear heavens; the amount of ppl in the world now who are afraid of Discrimination, as if it is a universally Bad Thing. And -- I speak from actual possible stereotyping here, so sue me: the fear of Discrimination seems to be a more prevalent disease of the political "left."

You would not be surprised at the lengths I have to go to to convince otherwise sane high school students that, far from being an evil to be expunged from their psyches, Discrimination is foundational to long life and sanity.

They gasp. I rejoinder: "do any of you discriminate when you eat? or do you just belly up to the nearest dumpter? or sidewa;k? or pile of dirt?"

Reasonable risk assessment is discrimination, not racism. Maybe, Trep, you felt like that in New York you and I might have a little chat about your feelings. But your in the (adjective excised) Middle East now.

Try not to beat yourself up over rationality. And -- do me a favor -- pass the word. ;o/

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Nov 6, 2009 9:31:32 AM

P.S. kudoes to the soldier for being chivalrous to the woman and looking out for the citizens on the bus as well -- intelligent and kind. Would that all soldiers were thus. A blessing on his parents, and his commanding officers.

P.P.S. curses on my "Fred Flintstone" fingers for any typoes in my posts tonight. Feeling a tad more clumsy than is even usual. ;o/

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Nov 6, 2009 9:33:48 AM

http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/11/05/muslims.fort.hood/index.html
"While several news reports have cited one of the gunmen to be Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, IIC strongly emphasizes that this attack and its perpetrator are in no way representative of the Muslim people or the peace-loving religion of Islam," the statement said.
peace-loving religion of Islam. Haha. (btw, no religion can really claim that bullsh*t except maybe Buddhism).
Also, the primary reason for the release of a condemnation statement was fear of retribution against Muslims (basically, good PR). The PR motive plus the lack of previous condemnations for a litany of serious offenses by large Muslim groups against humanity proves there is little sincerity to this and to the idea of a "peace-loving religion of Islam". I think people in the world as a whole are starting to get sick of the bs Islam puts out.

Posted by: Austin | Nov 6, 2009 9:49:23 AM

If you refused to board the bus, or insisted that the other Israelis don't board the bus, or suggested that the lady seat at the back seat of the bus..only then would I call you racist - what happened was SOP in a country where, anything goes OFF when you list expect it to.

Posted by: Rami | Nov 6, 2009 10:30:57 AM

*Least

Posted by: Rami | Nov 6, 2009 10:31:48 AM

Trep, there are lots of Arabs in Jerusalem, and those feelings come up here as well, of course. (Naomi Ragen once wrote a similar article to yours.)

Meir Kahane, of course, made the identical point over twenty years ago, wondering why stickers warning of suspicious objects aren't on Arab buses. "Are we normal?"

Posted by: Nachum Lamm | Nov 6, 2009 1:07:17 PM

However, this isn't to say that there was much social interaction. There wasn't.

From what I understand (and correct me if I'm wrong), you weren't living in the country before the 2nd intifada, so I don't think you should make blanket statements like this. I'd say there was plenty of social interaction between Jews and Arabs prior to September 2000, much more than there is today.

And by the way, elite infantry soldiers are the ones who don't have tags on their shoulder.

Posted by: avi | Nov 7, 2009 10:41:22 PM

Avi... Most of the comments here have been opinion so I have left them alone. But you are dead wrong on both of your points. Just because I wasn't here back then doesn't mean I haven't talked about this with hundreds of people who were here and have clear memories of how things were. And I don't know what you consider an elite infantry unit, but Maglan qualifies in my book... and they wear shoulder tags. So if you have an opinion... share it. But don't be one of those people who leaves a condescending comment just because you have anonymity to hide behind.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Nov 7, 2009 11:48:26 PM

Copied your post onto my blog. Thank G-d for the people of Tzahal who defend us with daily self-sacrifice.

Posted by: sabra | Nov 8, 2009 10:16:04 AM

Cautious is not racist.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Nov 8, 2009 10:46:04 PM

Once again, you've explained something that I've been trying to describe for ages, but couldn't find the right words and/or example. And yes, a blessing on that soldier's parents, c.o., and insight. I drive through an Arab village sometimes to visit cousins in the outskirts of Jerusalem (now accessible to me since the checkpoints have been opened near Ramallah). I never see security sitting on stools outside the restaurants and grocery stores I drive by in that village.

Posted by: Alissa | Nov 9, 2009 12:22:00 AM

Racist? Not in the least. But....the woman had a baby with her. Has any suicide bomber taken a baby with them on their satanic mission? I think you were just a bit paranoid.

I have a question about Arabs and the Hebrew they speak. Do the Arabs raised in Israel *still* speak Hebrew w/Arabic accents?

Do Jews who emigrated from Arab countries have Arabic accents? (I realize these must all be old folks by now.)

I'm not asking these questions to insinuate anything. I'm just curious.

Posted by: jay | Nov 15, 2009 8:18:34 AM

jay... First of all, your speculation that there is some theoretical threshhold of civil behavior that terrorists won't cross is both naive and dangerous. They have sent pregnant women (both real and those pretending to be pregant)and they have sent children (young teens and pre-teens) with bombs to kill Israelis. Carrying a baby cannot be assumed to be any sort of assurance that the woman did not have explosives with her. I am not alone in this assumption since all you have to do is go to any airport in the world and watch the security personnel going over baby carriages and diaper bags with a fine toothed comb. The point being that anywhere that western sentimentality might create a blind spot in the security net is EXACTLY where the terrorists tend to exploit. As to the accent issue, this is a problematic issue too since some people are much more adept at affecting accents than others. As a rule native Arabic speakers have trouble with the 'P' sound and also tend to over-pronounce throat sounds in Hebrew. But there are plenty of Arabs who speak unaccented Hebrew... so this is far from a fool-proof method of screening.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Nov 15, 2009 8:41:19 AM

There's nothing remotely 'racist' about acknowledging that Arabs and Muslims have a nasty habit of becoming 'shahids' and blowing everyone around them into tiny pieces.

It would only be 'racist' if you stated that 'all Arabs' are terrorists. Clearly, you are not stating this. All you're doing is recognising that sufficient Arabs commit terrorism to place Israelis in danger, day in and day out.

If the American army officials at Fort Hood had been more 'racist' then maybe, just maybe, they could have prevented the tragic killings that have just taken place.

Posted by: A Jew With A View | Nov 17, 2009 10:49:34 PM

ALISSA:


How easy it must be for *you* to label the writer 'paranoid'. Tell you what: YOU go and live in Israel for six months and then come back and let's see if you feel the same way, OK?

I've lived in Israel and thus I know it's not 'paranoia' to be aware of the continued terrorist threat. Hamas has been terrorising Israel for the past EIGHT YEARS.

Nothing 'paranoid' about recognising how evil and determined terrorists are.

Posted by: A Jew With A View | Nov 17, 2009 10:52:20 PM

Is ethnic profiling racism or common sense (based on statistical analysis)?

Do you make security decisions based on what is PC?

The answer to these question will answer your question.

Posted by: Rivka with a capital A | Nov 25, 2009 11:42:24 AM

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