I was walking across the bridge from my home in Givat Shmuel to Bnei Brak. Walking towards me was an Arab looking teenager. Hands in his pockets, jeans, sneakers, hood, walking right towards me. I instantly noticed my heartbeat and started sweating but I forced myself to walk straight. “Everything’s okay Binny. He’s just a kid walking somewhere”.
I take my headphones off as I do when I’m in Jerusalem and as I get close to him he turns to me. In broken Hebrew he asks how to get to the municipality. “Why does he need the municipality at this time of night? Is he going to blow it up? Don’t take your eyes off him. Explain how to get there without looking away from him”.
With all that going through my head I attempt to strategically position my phone to show him I’m reading the Palestinian news, as is my daily habit, in a ridiculous attempt to send some message to him.
He didn’t understand my Hebrew as I struggled to talk slower and clearer and fight my instinct to run down the bridge as fast as I could. The interaction of asking directions felt excruciatingly long.
Everyone left the interaction safely (physically).
I was on my daily commute waiting for my bus at a major junction. It was Sunday morning so lots of soldiers were also waiting for the bus.
An old beat up pick-up truck stopped by the bus stop and three men get out. Mustachioed and middle-eastern looking. I rip my headphones off again and instantly go into high alert.
One heads right towards me with a garbage bag. What’s inside the bag? A knife? Gun? Just a bat? Again I force myself to calm down. One of them opens the bag, goes behind me, and starts picking up the trash in the bus stop. I force myself to not look at him behind me but at the road waiting for my bus.
He hangs up the garbage bag on the bus stop. I force myself to say something to him. I spit out some question about the garbage bags. He says “Yeh it’s not like anyone uses them so I’m not sure why I’m hanging it”. And he gets back in the truck with the two others and heads off to the next bus stop.
I’m involved in dialogue organizations between Israelis and Palestinians. I’m friends with Palestinians on Facebook and have had both meaningful conversations and done menial tasks with Palestinians. I try so hard to break my initial racist stereotyping I naturally do. I read Arabic and am working on my speaking. I’m falling in love with the language, but am still terrified of the speakers themselves.
I try giving myself some slack. “I’m a victim of the media. Terror. Extremism. Fear-mongering”. Even as a humanist, liberal, leftist, Peace Now sign toting, card carrying Amnesty International member, Meretz member, etc, etc, etc; I’m still mentally debilitated by an Arab asking me directions.
Maybe I’m a lost cause; but my rationality will beat out my emotions long enough to allow for the next generation to not have to overcome their own racist emotions.
I’m ashamed by my above stories on a rational level but I get it and Iget my reactions. I pray my kids will read this post and be disgusted at how backwards their father was.
We can’t let our emotions stop us from making difficult and important decisions that can lead to a safer future for our children. Our fear and hatred for the other side, albeit understood, is an obstacle to creating any sort of reconciliation and must be overcome for the sake of our children’s future.