Friday, April 1, 2011

Is it racism to be afraid of dying?

Yom shishi, 26 Adar bet 5771.

There has been a lot of talk among my friends lately about racism.  This was brought on, in part, by Israeli Apartheid Week, as well as by a video clip called "What Would You Do?"  The clip shows an experiment in which actors play the parts of a racist store keeper and the customer he refuses to serve.  In this case, the store keeper is an Israeli, one assumes Jewish, and the customer is a young Arab woman in a hijab.  The experiment, with hidden cameras, observes how people respond to the situation.  (Israeli Apartheid Week is just nonsense; so I won't waste your time with it here.)

Much conversation has ensued about whether or not Jews in Israel are racist toward their Arab neighbors.  The discussion has gotten heated, as one friend will post examples of how Jews in Efrat write unchallenged anti-Arab comments on the community chat list  ("Just one example: 'They can do their shopping out of Efrat. It is NOT a place for them.' No one on the list took issue with it."), while another will refute this, pointing out that there is a difference between how that same person in Efrat might think about an Israeli Arab as opposed to a Palestinian Arab -- clearly not racism. What is it, then?

I have a friend who will go anywhere, just to show the world that he can.  He has an Arab friend who lives in Ramallah.  "So, when can I come and visit you?" he asked his friend.  "It wouldn't be a good idea," his friend told him.  "My [Arab] neighbors wouldn't like it."  Why does the cautious Jew get castigated, but this kind of story never even makes the news, much less the court of world opinion?

As another friend says, "What is needed is SYMMETRY. There is no symmetry in Israel -- almost in all ways related to Arabs. You are not able to create the very same video with a Jew walking with his kippa into a shop in Ramallah or Jenin. Lets create symmetric situations, film them and then I agree to discuss about this topic."

For the record, while relations between the Jews and Arabs in the Middle East have never been totally trusting and easy, there were periods before the increased involvement of the West and the United Nations that were much better.  Not only could Arabs travel relatively freely all over Israel, shopping and dining wherever they wished (as, indeed, they still can, certainly with a greater degree of safety than a Jew can shop in Ramallah or Jenin), but a Jew could travel to Bethlehem, shopping and exchanging pleasant conversation with merchants in the Arab shuk.  Now, even the old-timers I know don't dare travel through those cities.

When I was a girl in America, one could still hitchhike to get from place to place.  One day, I got into a truck with a truck driver who forgot to keep his hands to himself.  I got out at the first opportunity, and resolved never to take rides from men again.  I didn't suddenly become sexist.  I just became cautious.  Later, when a few women passengers were reported to have done scary things (such as attacking their hosts with knives, holding them up, and so on), people stopped giving rides, period.

None of my children ever appeared on a milk carton -- if you can't remember this era in American history, ask your parents -- nor were the children of any of my friends kidnapped.  That was irrelevant.  MY kid wasn't going to be stolen.  I didn't suddenly become "transportationist."  They just weren't permitted to travel on city buses or to go anywhere alone until they grew to be husky young bruisers.

When we moved to Baltimore, we had just come from the US Army, where everyone -- regardless of race, creed or color -- is "green."  Racial intermarriage is tolerated within the military to a greater degree than in society at large, because -- with the usual exceptions -- we are all one family.  So when we moved to this East Coast city, we shocked our black neighbors by actually talking to them and smiling at them.

Later, as black high school boys turned my kids upside down to shake candy and money out of the their pockets, and routinely stole their bikes and other toys, they and we learned to be prejudiced.  But our prejudice was specific: it only included inner-city black males in packs between the ages of fourteen and twenty-five.  (Incidentally, my black neighbors who were in their fifties shared the same unfortunate prejudice.)  When we moved to Israel, we did not take this "racism" with us.  Ethiopian Jews are as beloved to us as any other Jews.
The warmth of one Ethopian soldier helped us raise Jewish lads with good attitudes.
Perhaps the most difficult inner turmoil with which I wrestle is the way I am forced to treat the Palestinians who work on my yishuv as invisible.  In America, if a workman of another race or social group worked regularly in my neighborhood, I would greet him, ask about his family, give him something to drink.  Here, I do not feel that comfort level, purely because the workers won't walk around with clear neon signs on their foreheads stating "I am just trying to make a living, and have nothing against Jews," or "I hate Jews, and can't wait for the next Intifada so I can kill off a few."

When I have a pleasant encounter with an Arab woman on a bus or in a shop, I am delighted!  But I cannot treat all of her brothers like people.  This causes me great pain.  It's just not the way I was raised, and it's not the way I want to behave.  You may call this racism, if you like to toss around emotional epithets without thinking too deeply.  I call it tragically necessary caution, and cannot wait for the day I can set it aside, and take advantage of some of those great sales in Bethlehem.

Happily, the customers we are allowed to see in the filmed experiment treat the situation in what I see as the typical Jewish manner.  They are offended at the store keeper's callousness; and customer after customer offers to pay for the young woman's coffee.

The most touching scene is at the end.  A young Jewish woman stands quietly while the store keeper loudly declares to the Arab woman that he doesn't serve her kind in his store.  At first, we are disappointed by the Jewess.  Unlike the previous customers, she doesn't speak up.  When asked, she responds, "What difference would it make what I think?"  Finally, when she gets her coffee, she responds to their questions, "You want to know what I think?  This is what I think."  And she hands her coffee to the Arab woman, and walks out.

The interviewer who set up the experiment approaches her in her car.  She is sobbing and shaking.  When he asks her why, she answers that it is because she could not believe anyone would behave in such a cruel manner toward another human being.

The Arab woman and the Jewish woman share a few warm remarks, and a gentle touch of the hands -- and we share a moment of hope.  May the day soon come when all men can treat one another as friends and brothers.

If you wish to view the video in full, you can see it here.


Ami said...

כל הכבוד רותי - אלה דברים שצריך לכתוב אותם

שבת שלום


Keren Hening said...

Yesterday I asked a black neighbor, out of the blue, for a ride, having bitten off more than I could chew trying to walk to Reisterstown Road from my home on Menlo Drive. Today I am dropping off a plate of homemade brownies to say, "Thank you" to her and her husband. Would I get in anyone's car, black or white? No. Would I get in hers again? You bet.

When I was a Brownie Girl Scout leader, I taught the girls NEVER to get in a man's car, even if he looked frum. They are little girls and predators come in all shapes and sizes. And races. And ethnicities. It's the world we live in - Baltimore or Neve Daniel.

My favorite sign I keep hanging in my home? "Pray to G-d. Row towards shore."

Hasbara With Attitude said...

True story. Our neighbor was having work done here on the back road using a Cousin-operated front loader. I asked if he could take care of behind our house too. For NIS 100, he scooped up and made disappear all the shmutz and rubble behind our house, including an impossible thatch of weeds (those smelly ones you can never get off of your hands if you have the misfortune to touch one). I brought him a cup of Turkish coffee and some sugar, plus a couple of individual packets "for the road" and he just kept on clearing until it looked amazing, or at least less slobberly.

in the vanguard said...

"May the day soon come when all men can treat one another as friends and brothers," you say, Ruti.

That day will not come, unfortunately, until AFTER Moshiach gets here, because one of his jobs will be to finish the war against Amalek and to rid the world of evil and hate that Eisav or Yishmael still hold out for the Jew.

rafua said...

Ruthie, this is your best blog ever. If only, if only...

Anonymous said...

oh you know what about this video...o please. not only would arabs not serve us jews, they would kill us to boot. so i do not feel sorry about not serving arabs let themn stay on there own turf. and when people who tell you they want to kill you -better listen to them, they mean it. we canot drive in neighborhoods let alone get served in arab markets. kahane was right, transfer all them out to their own lands while wedefend this ours.

Anonymous said...

There is something about us Jews. It is indescribable. Our enemy can beat us to a pulp with one breath left in us and we will still try to do something nice for someone and it is usually our enemy. But our enemies.....that's a different story. The venom that they are filled with and the hate they have for us Jews would never allow the reverse of this situation. Let alone a cup of coffee. Arabs want free access to Israel. Can Jews have free access to Arab countries? Arabs want a right of return to Israel. Can Jews have a right of return to their former countries? Arabs want to pray in freedom in our country and take away all Jewish places. Can Jews pray in Arab countries and are there any Jewish places left not destroyed in Arab countries? Arabs teach their children hate and killing of Jews. Do Jews teach hatered and killing? No we throw our own Jewish citizens out of their homes and businesses to allow the Arabs to have a country with peace. What do we get? Rockets and missiles lobbed at our citizens and at our country as thanks for giving them more land.
I could go on and on. But the thing that made me see red was when I sat in an Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital waiting room and on the news a report of a piguah was announced. Who do you think thought that was just great? It wasn't the Jews sitting in that waiting room.It was the Arabs who were waiting for Jewish doctors to cure them When you have a child in the IDF you will understand that loving your neighbor is very difficult when your child's life is on the line. This will be my third child going into the army in August. .....I'm waiting for that cup of coffee from an Arab. I won't hold my breath! RKIsrael

the sabra said...

"Whoever is kind to the cruel will end up being cruel to the kind", taught our Sages.

Ali ridha said...

Look like racism or policitial.people like Arab can't buy food and water.

Schvach said...

The situation you've described reminds me of a similar situation that existed during my days in elementary school in Jackson Heights, NY. Two blocks away from that school, and five blocks away from our apartment building, lay Junction Blvd. On the other side lay the neighborhoods of Corona and East Elmhurst. G-d help anyone who looked like me who strayed into those areas. At the time, Malcolm X lived a mere 5 minute walk from the school I attended; his house was torched on my 12th birthday; he was murdered 1 week later. The zeit geist was a spirit of absolute intolerance of my presence on the other's turf. Visa versa wasn't nearly as bad - not even close. A decade later I had the same experience as a college student in Harlem; the next decade I had the experience in Brooklyn, NY. There's nothing unique about Israel and its Arab neighbors.