The three women soldiers who detained an old Palestinian on the main street of the German Colony in West Jerusalem didn't hit him; they didn't spit at him or kick him or shove him against a wall with the butt of a rifle, but there was something in the behavior of these three girls, border policewomen in uniform, detaining an old Palestinian on a narrow stretch of a main street in Jerusalem that made me pause, look at them for a moment, go on walking, then retrace my steps. There was something I couldn't overlook and then go about my business.
What was it that drew me back there? It was something undefined and awful; an evil, whose ripples forced me to return and take a second, more focused look at what was happening: The old man, a tall Arab of about 70, wearing a traditional white keffiyeh and with an expression of disorientation and meek acceptance on his face, was standing on the narrow part of the sidewalk, his back to the stone wall of the old German cemetery, whose iron gates are always locked, and the three Border Police soldiers were leaning on the banister separating the sidewalk from the road. One of them was holding the documents the Palestinian had handed them - he came from Hebron and had no permit to be within the Green Line (1967 border) - and was talking on her mobile phone about personal matters, while the two others chatted and laughed, going on with their personal affairs.
This went on for a long while. I had seen them standing with him about half an hour earlier, on my way to the neighborhood grocery store. The soldiers were having a good time. And the old man stood there helpless, his face expressing the knowledge that he would have to wait until they finally decided to pay attention to him.
I spoke to them about respect and civility; I told them he could have been their grandfather. I asked them to identify themselves. They refused.
This was not one of the greater and more visible evils that take place around us daily, nor was it a disaster, only an insidious and consuming evil, one that is hard to pinpoint and define in words. I do not see the horrors that take place at the checkpoints every day. I know very well that such an act by a woman like me, someone who avoids any political activity or any consistent struggle for human rights, is actually a sentimental act. Such a trivial act of protest is a bit like sweeping the path to my own private garden, but what the words and eyes of this soldier with a blond ponytail and a pierced tongue reflected was not easy to sweep away; it was the glittering, sharp tip of a force of nature: the destructive power that has been penned up in the all-powerful authority of 18- and 19-year-old men and women. This power which we, the Jewish citizens of the state of Israel, have put in the hands of our children, the second and third generation of a very long occupation.
From the moment the soldiers opened their mouths at me ("Why? Who the hell are you?" said the one with the pierced tongue, who wasn't wearing a badge, as required by law, in answer to my request for identification) the hidden plot of our lives, a plot that is engraved in us, was exposed suddenly in its full banality and in its truth: I found myself saying that I refuse to feel like a German walking past an abused Jew in Nazi Germany and turn away indifferently or fearfully.
"You're calling us Nazis!" shrieked the soldiers, and within a minute this word became a precious possession upon their lips. They rejoiced in their justice and I could already imagine all the self-righteous people gloating over the use of this word. At the same time I could not but see the incident with the old Palestinian through this prism. This is the prism through which I saw a young woman, who could have been my daughter - in looks and in age - acting with the total conviction of being right. From where she stands there is no crack through which she can see that the person she had detained is a helpless, 70-year-old man who could be her father, her uncle or her grandfather. She could not even see that I could have been her mother.
From that moment on I was arrested for disturbing a policewoman in the line of duty: "Move it lady, get in the car," yelled the pierced-tongued girl with victorious glee. That tiny stud, that shining metal bead, which in any other context would have been mischievous coquetry, became the glittering tip of total corruption.
Because what this young woman has not grasped is that this uniform symbolizes a society and a nation, a responsibility and a duty.
The glittering bead at the tip of her tongue, combined with the uniform, attest to the complete opposite: For her the uniform was a permit to do whatever she wanted. The glittering tip of her assaulting tongue is the tip of what we have become.
Time and again, every day and every hour, we see how we have turned our children into soldiers in hobnailed boots. It is not political stances we're talking about here; and not Peace Now or peace talks; but about the image of man and his dignity.
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