Friday, July 20, 2012

Are you Jewish?

 It was another summer day as I was going home using public transportation minding my own business as usual when the man sitting next to me asked me if I could read a text message on his phone because as he explained he could not see clearly without his glasses. He shoved his cell phone towards me before I could even reply. I read it for him "I'm in a meeting". He thanked me and I went back to my own thoughts. After a few minutes he turned towards me again and starting speaking in English (the quotations are approximately what he said, but his English was broken): "It's not that I don't know English," he explained "but I cannot see without my glasses and I don't have them with me. I know English, the text message says that he is in a meeting right? Your English seems good are you from the States?" Oh god, will he ever shut up?

-"No we're from here." I replied dryly in Arabic.
- "From Al-Bireh?" he inquired.
-"No we're refugees."
-"From which village are you?" he finally went back to speaking Arabic after he realized that I was not willing to converse in English. And at that point I noticed that his Arabic was also very poor.
-"Ein Karem"
-"Oh really I lived there for a while two months ago. It is a very beautiful city…" and my mind tried to put the pieces together; a person that neither speaks English or Arabic, has lived in Israeli territory and does not look like a foreigner?
-"Are you Arab?"
-Yes, what else would I be?"
-"I don’t know, maybe Jewish" (It's not a matter of religion but in our region Palestinians are referred to as Arabs by Israelis, while Israelis are referred to as Jews by Palestinians)
-"Why, can Jews even enter here?"
-"Yes, they can"
-"And why did you assume that I'm Jewish?" He asked as though I had said something offending.
-"I was just kidding with you"
-"No, really do I not look Jewish?"
-"No, it's not that. But you said that you lived in Ein Karem for a while and there are no Arabs living there. My cousin worked there, but there are no Arabs living there."
-"I had a permit, you can get a permit too if you want to (yeah, a 24-hour non-renewable permit that needs over two weeks to either be accepted or denied in my case)

He went on speaking of the beauties of the village in his broken Arabic. I was delighted when the car had reached my block "Please let me down at the intersection" I told the chauffeur. As I was going down the man spoke up again (as if he ever even shut up in the first place). "The important thing is that you are a human and I am a human, it does not matter whether we are Arab or Jews; we are all humans." Oh wow, what a Martin Luther type of speech and just because I asked if he was Jewish? I am not the one who created segregation between Arabs and Jews, he could have told people his dreams while he was living in Ein Karem, they might have sympathized with him. "Yeah," I replied and left.

We were always taught not to talk to strangers; I have finally learned my lesson a couple of decades later.