Sayed Kashua illustration
Illustration. Photo by Amos Biderman
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Two women who were sitting in the waiting room stopped talking the moment we entered. One of them, who had a baby carriage by her side, cast curious glances at me and at the girl holding my hand. A 3-year-old boy, who was tired and looked like he had a cold, was playing with animal figures in the room's toy corner. We sat on the bench, across from the two women; the girl quietly rested her head on my shoulder, and I could feel her body's warmth slowly enter the jacket I was wearing.

"What, they aren't right?" said the woman with the carriage, continuing their conversation, as her partner nodded. "The problem is that whoever says these things is considered as - I don't know what," she explained, and turned her face toward me to see whether I was listening to her conversation and, if so, what I thought about what she was saying. I turned my glance toward the girl and avoided eye contact; I kissed her burning forehead and stroked her hair.

Perhaps I shouldn't have come, I thought to myself. Perhaps, on that bleak, cold morning it would have been better to have left the child at home under her blankets, and treat her with fever medication and painkillers until her temperature went down. But the truth is that I never miss a chance to go to the clinic. I worry that perhaps there is some dangerous virus, or maybe it's strep throat - whatever it is, the doctor better check it. Sitting there, I assured myself that everything would be okay, as long as the boy with the runny nose did not approach us and expose her to something else.

"Don't touch your mouth, eyes or ears with your hands," I whispered to the girl. "Try not to touch anything here."

"And you should know," continued the outspoken mother as she rocked the baby carriage back and forth, "it's about time somebody here should speak the whole truth. We don't want them here. Period. How long should we keep quiet about that?"

"You are absolutely right," the second woman said, perplexed, as she looked right and left as though to make sure nobody was recording. "What, baby?" she said, using the infant's sounds and pouting to change the subject. She wiped her brow with the back of her hand. "Oh, baby, does something hurt?" she asked. "Soon the good doctor will take care of you, all right?"

The boy listlessly picked up another toy animal, this one a giraffe. His mother took out a tissue, wiped his nose, tossed the tissue in a bin and returned to her seat. "No," she said to her friend as she sat down, "you are totally right. I really hope it isn't already too late."

My cell phone vibrated, and an unidentified number appeared on the screen. I didn't know whether the caller was an Arab or a Jew, and I wondered whether I should answer in Arabic, or in Hebrew that didn't conceal an accent, so as to end the conversation being conducted by the two women in front of me, a discussion that was veering toward an ugly dimension I didn't want my girl to hear. At least not now, not at this stage of her life. In the end I decided to ignore the incoming call; I convinced myself that I was there for one reason: to wait quietly for a physician to examine the girl. I will try not to listen to the women, I told myself. I have no strength for conflicts, and I have no energy to absorb malicious stares. I'll keep quiet. That's always worked.

What could they possibly add to what Rabbi Druckman said, in a discussion I heard on Army Radio during the short drive to the clinic? This rabbi, who is considered a moderate, declared that every Arab who purchases an apartment in a Jewish neighborhood is funded by hostile forces. As proof, he claimed that there is no other way to explain the fact that Arabs are ready to pay 25 percent more than a property is worth. I hoped fervently that my daughter was not listening to this rabbi, or that if she heard his words she wouldn't understand their meaning, that she is too young to know what "hostile forces" means, that she is too young to know the meaning of racism.

The women across from me, I thought, are correct. The rabbis who sign letters against renting apartments to non-Jews are merely saying what most Israelis say in surveys, in their deepest desires, and in democratic elections. And wasn't this the same radio station on which I heard one of the announcers explain that the qualms Carmiel residents have about Arabs living in their town derive from the fact that Arabs make a lot of noise? And he went on to explain that radio announcers at his station know what they are talking about, because their studio is located in Jaffa.

A memory brought a smile to my lips. The truth is that the first time I was really bothered by noise occurred when I moved to the Jewish neighborhood where I live. Yes, I live in a Jewish neighborhood, and I hope that Rabbi Druckman is wrong when he says that I paid 25 percent more than the value of the property. I know that he's wrong about something else, since Bank Hapoalim, which helped us acquire the apartment, is not, under the laws of the state, considered a "hostile force."

The two women apparently interpreted my smiling glances as a form of endorsement, and proceeded to speak loudly and freely. "It starts slowly," the younger one declared. "The first one comes, and you ignore it. Then another family comes, and another, and you find yourself a minority, and you can't live the life you wanted for yourself."

"Listen," said the hesitant mother, as she glanced in all directions to guarantee that nobody else was listening. "I'm telling you, my husband and I are really worried about all this. We already have a teenage girl, and I don't want to think about what sort of influence this will have on her."

"Yes, of course," said the younger woman, taking the baby out of its carriage. "And what would happen if one of us wanted to live with them?"

"They would ignite an intifada."

"They would burn the person. So why should we keep quiet? Everything, believe me, is planned from above. They don't work randomly. They have a system. The first buys at an expensive price; the next buys at a reasonable price, and then we sell everything else dirt cheap, just so we can escape from there."

My girl lifted her head - I hoped she couldn't understand the conversation. She sighed, and rolled her eyes when the younger mother declared: "We are guilty, I'm telling you, everything is our fault. The first sells out of greed, moves to a better neighborhood, and messes up things for everyone else. You know what, I'm in favor of ostracizing anyone who rents or sells to them."

"You are right," said the mother of the boy with a cold, as the door of the doctor's office opened, and a religious women with three children walked out. "Good health to them," the young mother said, sarcastically, as she lifted her child in her arms, and went in to see the doctor.

"Are you from the neighborhood?" asked the young mother, holding her baby tightly.

"Hmmmm, not really, close by," I said, giving the name of the neighborhood where I live.

"Oh, it's nice there, but they'll be there soon."

"Who?

"Who? The Haredim. It's already insufferable."