On racism violence and public transport

While waiting for the route 25 bus in north Tel Aviv, I pondered whether to pull out an Arabic newspaper. Would it be better to read the Hebrew text in order to reduce the tension, I wondered, so that the elderly lady he lady next to me wouldn’t be frightened? After all, what does is an Arab woman to doing in this beautiful, serene part of Tel Aviv? There are no malls or Super-Pharm branches for her to work at. The kind of traditional thoughts that go through the mind of a trespasser, preparing herself for the moment when she is caught, knowing what to say. And despite desperately wanting to read the annoying interview published in the local Arabic newspaper, the Hebrew text won.

Finally the bus arrived. I got on, took a seat, and before pulling out the newspaper out of the bag, I stopped again to consider, is it worth it? Would it make people swap their seats? Pull their bags into their laps? Do they know at this moment I am an Arab? Not sure, there have been some who said that I actually look like a Yemenite Jew. Suddenly the thought strikes me, what would have happened if I were a black African woman? What is certain is that I would have been saved those doubts. My identity would scream out and ooze out of me, because the identity of the black person is in being a black person, nothing more. Beyond the exterior colour, that person does not exist as a human being. So there is no prospect that such a person would surprise you. It’s good, it’s not threatening. And lo and behold, it was a liberating thought. I decided that from now on, I’m black, and being that I have every right to pull out the black people’s newspaper and read it. That is the legitimate thing which is expected.

I delved into the interview but I got dragged out again by shouting, screaming really, coming from the back of the bus. What happened? Everyone was yelling. An old man, of a Mizrahi appearance, had slapped a 17-18 year old boy who looked like a sweet nerd, and pushed him violently from his seat. And it was not as if there was a lack of seats available. The sweety rose, and the vulgar so-and-so took his place. I really felt sorry for the boy, he looked like he was on the verge of crying. You could tell that he managed to control himself because he is a man. Almost instantly I found out what kind of man he wants to be. Out of nowhere a young beautiful redhead appeared, and started a conversation with the boy. In fluent English She apologised, and said she had never before seen such an occurrence. Things like that do not happen in Israel. She calmed him down and welcomed the new immigrant from Texas. And the conversation went on and on, about this and that, until I just about had a headache. I could not concentrate on the interview for which I had almost risked making a scene on the bus and scaring away its passengers. Then came the interesting question, where do you want to serve? In the Special Forces, he answered, in the Duvdevan unit [which operates mainly on the West Bank.]

I did not know what to do with compassion I felt for him a few minutes earlier. What do I do with it and to where do I consign it. And the more I looked at him the more I saw the face of a kid, a baby really, so sweet and innocent. Someone who does not know that people in Israel fight each other if not worse, and who doesn’t know that we are not all polite and apologetic redheads who speak fluent English. She wished him luck and went off while he became even more embarrassed and alien than before, continuing to sit and listen to music and play the iPhone like any other kid.

Two minutes later that vulgar so-and-so got up from his seat and prepared to alight at Allenby Street. He stood right in front of my face. I had just received a phone call from my husband, should I take it or not? At that moment that was the question. If he is willing to beat up an American who immigrates to Israel in order to die and kill for it, what would he do to me? And before I went through too many scary scenarios, I took the call. In the fluent Arabic of this curly black woman I said: “I’m delayed at work, there is a chance that you can cook?” And the vulgar so-and-so, shot a few glances at my direction, smiled and almost laughed. Well, I remember, Arabic is probably much easier for him.



About Asma Aghbaria Zahalka