Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Basic Training

I don't really know why I'm here. Getting to know people's everyday life seems unrealististic and I don't feel useful. I am frustrated that I allowed myself to be talked out of taking a part-time job here. As a result, I don't feel that I have a place in society here. I hang out during the day, read the newspaper or relevant literature, sleep late and go out in the evening when people have more time to meet with me. I shop a little and drink too much coffee. Tell me, how is this like everyday life? 

And what of the content of my project? Perceptions of safety and danger. People tend towards racist positions regarding what they think "the Arabs" believe and how they will act. This is explained by way of their "culture" and "religion": "Given the chance, they would kill us all. As a Jewish woman, you have to know this." And the worst is that I'm beginning to fall for this rationalization myself.  Recently, I got lost in the old city - in the Muslim quarter. It was evening and I was with a female friend. The winding alleyways were abandoned by the tourist throngs which crowd the area during the day and now there were only a few men on the dark streets and some little kids kicking a soccer ball over the ancient stones; a last burst of energy before their bedtime. Why is it I preferred to ask the Jewish men in the streets for directions rather than the other men who I assumed were Palestinian? It's not because I think they know the city better. It's because I trust them more.The Jewish men were easily recognizable, as they were wearing kippot (yarmulkes) or they were soldiers or policemen, and thereby also Jewish-Israelis. These men were easy to spot as members of the tribe (Here I refer mostly to group identity and not religious beliefs). The conflict and fear of violence makes racism and prejudice a good survival strategy. Yuck. I'm having a hard time tolerating myself. 

The next day I was also in the old city, this time during the day, and asked some Palestinian guys how to get to via dolorosa, but there I was a tourist. The night before, though, I was a Jewish woman.

And its not like violence is rampant, no, no. It almost doesn't exist in everyday life in western jerusalem, but there is a conviction that violence is a potentiality - and only a matter of time before it bubbles over again. By the way, what counts as violence is very fuzzy, especially as a woman, because imagined violence has many facets. You must understand that  "Arab" men are not only violent for political reasons- they are just generally dangerous. As a woman you are especially vulnerable because you can be sexually harassed (been there, done that) or become a victim of sexual crimes (I have an informant who has). And then there's the petty crime that many speak of which is attributed to Palestinian construction workers who work in West Jerusalem. Plus, you've got the political aspect which is, of course, also a component in this briar patch of perceptions...And these criminal acts happen- there is factual evidence for them and they have an influence on me: I am afraid.

And reading the local newspaper confirms these prejudices.  An example: today there was an article in haartez about a man who is the son of a top Hamas leader. The son became a secret agent for the Israelis and was able to avert many suicide bombings over the last ten years. He converted to Christianity and has since moved (fled) to California. He says: "Palestinians! They do not hesitate to massacre people in a mosque or to throw people from the 15th or 17th floor of a building, as they did during the coup in Gaza. The Israelis would never do such things. I tell you with certainty that the Israelis care about the Palestinians far more than the Hamas or Fatah leadership does." 

Thanks a lot. You are not helping this leftist author deal with her own prejudices....

But at the same time I'm living in this bubble and violence and the conflict are not - physically, at least - a part of my everyday reality. I don't experience violence personally, but I'm afraid of it anyway. I have taken up the local practice: I am aware. And that awareness is directed towards specific people with certain outer characteristics to which I attribute some kind of imagined potential morality. The conflict turns us all, on both sides, into racists because we become convinced that this is how to protect ourselves.  The lines are drawn simply and clearly, they infiltrate our practice and become thereby reality. I'm having a hard time challenging these categories. And so my concern now is not so much for my academic project, but for my moral integrity. 

So I sit here in relative luxury in a safe house that once belonged to a Palestinian family (I don't have a problem with this, in case you were wondering. It was bought legally. But it's existence and look remind me of the history and reality that brought me to Israel in the first place). I have too little to do, am apathetic and am slowing getting sucked into a rationalization that I hate, but am beginning to understand and practice myself.