This morning, my brother, Jesse, and I went down to Ein Gedi (see this post on the journey down) to visit and friend and take a few hours outside of Jerusalem. It was super lovely, stunning place, great company. And refreshingly minimal politics… Which lasted exactly as long as we stayed in Ein Gedi, and came tumbling back on us the second we left.
We stayed till late in the afternoon, which meant that we’d have to hitchhike back, as buses to Jerusalem stop early per-Sabbath. We walked down to the bus stop, blown away by the physical beauty of the place, and stuck our fingers out. A silver car zooms around the bend, sees us, and stops. We hop in, thrilled at our luck.
The car is driven by a religious man with dark stubble, and the passenger seat is occupied (pun not yet intended) by a woman with her hair covered. They turn out to be siblings, and are both extremely nice. The sister is doing her National Service with troubled youth in Tel Aviv, and the brother is doing his Mechina (year of army preparation).
“Yeah? Which one?” I ask.
“It’s in Lod,” he responds.
Jesse and I look at each other and exchange a silent Eep. The Mechina in Lod is run by a group called B’Emunah, an ultra-religious group with roots in the extremist H2 settlement in Hebron that seeks to Gentrify mixed cities in Israel (Akko, Lod, Yafo) in the most explicit-direct-political-chauvansit sense of the word, that is to say, to buy up property in the middle of Arab parts of the cities and to make them for “Jews Only.”
“So, where in Jerusalem do you live?” Jesse asked, looking to change the subject.
“We live in Tekoa,” the brother-driver replies.
Alright, I think, so this fellow is a double-settler (both inside and outside the green line). And we are inside of his car. I know that they usually only warn nice Jewish kids about hitchhiking with Arabs, but perhaps we Leftists forfeit “nice Jewish” status?
And then I tell myself to cool it. Who am I to assume what he thinks about anything? All I know is where he lives and studies. I don’t actually know what his beliefs are, and even I could guess that we disagree, so what? Even if we disagree, I have nothing against him personally, why should he have something against us? Right? So when the conversation inevitably makes its way around to what Jesse and I do, we give a soft-but-honest answer:
“We are on, like, a fellowship through the New Israel Fund,” (honest, yes, and “soft” because I didn’t say “I am a field worker and activist in the Occupied Territories who takes part in and organizes nonviolent actions and protests against racism and, well, occupation.” Which turned out to be a very good choice on my part, the whole “soft” answer thing).
“I have to ask you,” the driver begins, and I brace myself, “I’ve heard a lot of things about the New Israel Fund, what is it exactly that they do?”
“Oh, you know, they, like, fund all sorts of groups working for social change.”
“What does that mean?”
“All sorts of groups!”
“Like… Im Tirzu?” He asks.
Im Tirzu is the nutso right wing group responsible for the poster campaign portraying NIF Director Naomi Chazon with horns a few years back.
“Um, well, no,” I say, “the NIF does not fund Im Tirzu.”
“So Left wing groups?”
“Yup,” I say, realizing there’s not way around it, all the while keeping my eye on the km/ph sign 120…125…130… “Left wing groups.”
“Yup. Like B’Tselem.”
“Do you agree with what B’Tselem does?” He asks me.
“Yup. I generally agree with what B’Tselem does.”
“What about what happened last month, here in the Jordan Valley (remember, dear reader, as noted the post linked at the top (and here: the lowest place in the world), we are in the middle of the West Bank)?”
“What happened last month in the Jordan valley?” I ask.
“You know, when Shalom Eisner, um, hit that… European.”
“Well, what do you think about it? Obviously he shouldn’t have hit him like that, but do you agree with that European?”
“Well, I don’t know him personally…”
“Obviously you don’t! [Editor’s note: Actually, it’s not so obvious… heh…] What I mean is, do you support them getting in the way of the soldiers?”
“Well, I don’t blame individual soldiers for what I see as a much more systematic problem, but…”
“But what!?” I notice that his voice is quivering. A lot.
“But,” I take a deep breath, trying still to be soft, but also honest, because who knows what conversation will influence who, right? “I think that it is legitimate to nonviolently protest a situation in which Palestinians are not allowed to use a road.”
“I think that you are a traitor… that you are betraying your people, with the NIF and B’Tselem and those pesky Europeans.” He takes a breath, and then he goes:
“I’m stopping at the next juncture.”
“And you are getting out of my car.”
“Um. Ok. I think that’s a shame, as I’d be happy to talk about this more, but I respect your decision,” I go and say, without anger, but actually feeling a little bit hurt, to my surprise, as I thought I’d gotten over being offended when people call me a traitor, et cetera. “Shabbat Shalom,” I say.
And just like that, Jesse and I are standing in the middle of the West Bank, wearing dorky-tourist hats and, beneath them, open-jawed expressions of shock.
“At least he didn’t kidnap us,” Jesse goes. I laugh, and we eventually flag down a taxi.
The lessons here are many. Shabbat is drawing near, so I’ll leave them unelaborated, and let the readers decide for themselves what this story means. I like to end pieces on a positive note, and actually our day trip ended on a stunningly positive note that came as if it were a heaven-sent reminder that despite this experience, we still cannot and must not judge anyone based on their appearance or group-affiliation:
We arrived back in Jerusalem, and realized we didn’t have enough money, so we asked the driver to stop at an ATM. He says he needs to turn around, and can only take us to the ATM in Musrara, which has a large Haredi/Ultra Orthodox population. No problem, Jesse hops out of the car, tries to take money out, but, oh, right, Shabbes. The ATMs are Shomer Shabbat. Jesse begins to look distressed, and immediately a Haredi man with dark skin and payos (side curls) hanging down well below his shoulders comes up to him, takes one look at the situation, and pays the taxi driver himself.
Jesse and I are going to meet him and pay him back after Shabbat, but… Woah. What a day. What a country. What a world.