The first people I told were Safa and Imad. Good friends, they lived near me in the Aida Refugee Camp and invited me for lunch every Friday. I knew they were religious Muslims. Imad had told me that Israeli soldiers had killed his brother during the second intifada. But the topic of religion and politics was on the table, and now seemed like a good time.
I was scared. I knew I was speaking with friends, but I had a nightmarish image that they would throw the dish of rice and chicken into the air, grab the glass of sugary tea from my hand and smash it against the wall, bellowing, “Get oooouuuuuttt!”
I took a deep breath. “I’m actually Jewish. And I’ve always felt….” Who even remembers what I said next? I finished my sentence. Safa took my glass and refilled it. Imad said that he wanted to tell me three things. First, there are many similarities between Jews and Muslims. Second, he understands the difference between a Jewish person and the Israel Defense Forces. Third, it was shameful that I hadn’t yet gone to see more of the Jewish holy sites in Jerusalem.
It’s great to be a Jew in Palestine.
My shared taxi was waved over at the IDF checkpoint between Bethlehem and Ramallah. The soldier yanked open the door and looked inside. There was an old man in the front seat, three old men in the middle row, and in the back row myself, a businessman and a teenage boy. The soldier asked the teenager for identification and motioned for the boy to get out of the car. He was placed on a bench between another soldier and an IDF dog. The soldier told the driver to continue on. As we drove off, leaving the boy behind, I saw a third soldier, too scrawny for his uniform, walking toward the checkpoint, holding two pieces of matzo. He dropped them, and when he bent over to pick them up, his M16 fell forward, whacking him in the face.
It’s weird to be a Jew in Palestine.
I was at an IDF military compound. I was there because I’d been at a demonstration. In the West Bank, demonstrations are illegal. The boys next to me were detained for throwing stones. They had plastic cords binding their hands. When they cut the ties off the boy to my left, it took two men to wriggle the knife between the plastic cord and his skin. When they finally broke it off, his wrists were bruised and bleeding. I began speaking in Arabic to the woman to my right, until a soldier shouted, “Sheket!” I opened my mouth and closed it again, just barely stopping myself from finishing his sentence as I’d been taught in Hebrew school: with a singsong “b’vakasha — hey!” and then a big clap.