Sunday, July 1, 2007

"Look here, Bedouin!"

June 21

Left: the really reac-tionary segment of Israeli society. I think there were a few hundred people at the protest. Note that Jews protesting gay rights not only are allowed to block a road, but are assisted in this endeavour by the police. Meanwhile, Palestinians protesting the theft of their land (in other words, something that actually has an impact on them) are forcefully stopped from doing so. Different laws for different ethnoreligious groups under the same government, aka apartheid.

In the clean corridor I was talking to one of the anesthesiologists between procedures. He trained in Russia but speaks enough English to communicate. He asked me about all the usual things, then about working in the US. I said it’s possible, and it’s easier for medical professionals than for most other people. He responded by saying it’s difficult to go to the US because of the political situation. Then, a bit randomly, he said “I want to live in peace with everyone, I hope to live in peace.” It's a sentiment that, as odd as it sounds, works itself into almost every conversation I have when I meet someone new.

Today I went to Haifa to visit Seher, a friend from college. I took the service to Jerusalem, it cost 15 shekels. There’s a tunnel near Bethlehem and Jerusalem on the Jewish highway, it’s meant to bypass the Palestinian village of Beit Jala (which is pretty much continuous with Bethlehem). There's a checkpoint at the tunnel entrance. We stopped; the female soldier looked at me and told us to pull over. We pulled into the holding area and another female soldier came over to us. She stared at me and I stared back until the driver said “she want passport”. I gave it to her and then argued with her about whether or not my visa was expired, which it obviously isn’t. Then a male soldier who looked like he was trying to bring the Bon Jovi look back into style came over, put the barrel of his assault rifle on the deck of the van and said something in Hebrew. The female soldier said something, and then he walked away. She checked the driver’s ID, then gave both of us our IDs back. When we pulled away I asked the driver what the male soldier had said: “He ask if there is trouble maker here. She say no.”

Needless to say, a car with Israeli license plates carrying Jews - be they American or Israeli or Polish or anything else - doesn't have to deal with any of this. But a car with Israeli license plates carrying the indigenous population does.

When I got to Haifa I had to walk to the central bus station, which I think took about forty minutes from Damascus Gate. On the way there I passed through an Orthodox Jewish protest, of what I couldn't figure out. There was a police barricade set up to stop them from moving out of their designated protest space (which was a large intersection). I went to one of the cops at the barricade and asked where the central bus station was; I already knew, but I wanted him to hear me speak in English so he wouldn't stop me from walking through the protest with my backpack. I walked through, looked around and took a few pictures, then walked through to the barricade on the other side. I asked two women what the protest was about. "They don't want the...uh...the homosexual." I guess the American and Israeli religious establishment do share common values. (Although, to be fair, Israel's treatment of gay Jews - not all homosexuals - is far more humane than American treatment of gay Americans.)

I took a bus from Jerusalem to Haifa (I was floored when they said it was 39 shekels, that's a week's worth of food in Hebron). It took forever because of traffic, but normally the trip takes less than two hours. Eventually I got there and met up with Seher and her friend Nour on Ben-Gurion St. I’d forgotten how attractive Seher is; her intelligence only enhances her appeal. I love being friends with such people.

Seher is living with a young Palestinian woman named Nour (her name means “light”), who also happens to be incredibly attractive. She’s a lawyer at Adalah, I think she said she specializes in prisoners’ rights issues. Being around her means you're constantly laughing, every word out of her mouth is a joke. Her favorite thing to do when someone asks her a question is to respond (in English), "come, I'll show you the light." She cracks herself up, and then everyone else laughs at how easily she amuses herself, it's fantastic.

When we met up Nour mentioned that her friend Katie was going to join us later. I got excited, I assumed it was the Katie I knew when I lived in Haifa, but Nour insisted it wasn’t. It turned out that Nour is also bad at keeping secrets and wasn’t supposed to mention Katie’s name, since it was indeed her.

Watching Nour interact with her friends at the bar was hilarious. They’re all Palestinians who live in Israel, some of them are politically active and others aren’t, but they’re all pretty well steeped in their culture and so the jokes they make are all about each other’s heritage. Nour is Bedouin (stereotype: stupid violent goat herders), some of her friends are descended from fellah (peasant farmers; stereotype: stupid violent farmers), and some are medini (city people; stereotype: conniving arrogant elitists). My favorite running joke of the night was that Nour is a terrible and reckless driver because she learned to drive on an Israeli tank (Bedouin Palestinians often join the IDF; she’s never actually driven a tank.)