Friday, August 01, 2008

On the Arab Man Serving Scrambled Eggs at the Breakfast Buffet

Thanks so much to everyone who commented on my last post.

I think I’ll have to tackle this piece by piece.

Regarding “Part I,” and the question of staying in hotels where lots of Arabs work, the most fascinating aspect of the issue is that every single person who actually lives in Jerusalem, both among blog readers and friends – all but one of whom self-labels as “right wing” or “center-right” – believes that it is ludicrous to let the presence of Arabs deter someone from staying in a good hotel in the holiest city in the world. The only people in my extremely informal survey who sympathized with this guy’s racism are people who live outside of the city.

I think it stands to reason that those of us who actually encounter Arabs every day, even if only in service situation and at the mall, understand that the likelihood of being blown up, poisoned, or given the evil eye by any one particular Arab person is extremely low. Yes, the city is very segregated, but we encounter Arabs every day. In my particular neighborhood, they prepare our food, they drive our taxis, they stock our supermarket shelves. And it is obvious to anyone who is exposed to this on a consistent basis that the vast majority of these Arabs are just there to do their job, get paid, and go home. They are no more interested in actually hurting anyone than they are in endangering their employment or, really, doing anything other than living their lives and paying their rent.

Of course there is also the Jerusalem worker who killed several teenage students at Yeshivat Merkaz Harav, and the two who used bulldozers as weapons. I’m not naïve. The social, political, and military reality around me leads me to ponder, sometimes, about what really lurks in the hearts of men. Someone is sending their kids to Hamas summer (training) camp. Someone is giving money to the PFLP. This guy who is making a delivery to my favorite coffee shop: what does he say about Israel and Jews when he’s hanging out with his friends? Does he just go home exhausted and watch television for the rest of the night? Does he spit when he mentions Jews? Does he congratulate the mothers of “martyrs”? Does he not really care either way? Does he participate in a peace-effort Israeli-Palestinian basketball club in his free time? Who knows?

I “get” why people are afraid of Arabs. And even in the absence of fear, I “get” being uncomfortable around them, because I often am too – not because I assume that this particular Arab will try to kill me, but because it is always uncomfortable to be around people who are different from you, even under the best of circumstances. In my college dining hall (in the United States), it was typical for Jewish students to sit together, for black students to sit together, for a group of Muslim girls to share a table, etc, because it is always easier to surround oneself with others just alike. And here in Jerusalem, it is by far not the best of circumstances. There is active suspicion, and fear, and often hatred.

But people have to live their lives. If Jerusalemites let their suspicion, fear, and hatred get in the way of their activities, they would have to shut themselves into their homes and never enjoy what this amazing city has to offer.

Besides which, taking one’s general fear of war and killing and transposing it onto the bellhop is not savviness, it’s just racist. And, frankly, for an Orthodox person to not stay in JERUSALEM because of the Arabs? What popped into my mind when I read that was “black-and-white thinker,” “paranoid,” “bigoted jerk,” and “can’t see the forest for the trees.”

I may have been willing to overlook it – maybe, but with hesitation – had it not been for “Part II.”

More about that next week, along, I hope, with a post on "Why Asher's comment is spot on" and "Why the value of supporting one's fellow Jew takes on different nuances in a country where Jews are the majority."

Thanks to all my readers for your attention and good vibes!

Shabbat shalom.

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