Lost Identity

For the first time in my life, I left the house without my Israeli ID card

"Tell me," I shouted to my wife from the study while searching my wallet and bag and rifling through drawers like a crazy man, "have you by any chance seen al-hawiya?." "No," she replied, she hadn't seen al-hawiya - identity - as we call the Israeli ID card, one word, without the "card." Simply identity. And I think I've lost mine.

It's always with me, always in my wallet, in the fanciest compartment, securely protected in my wallet, and now I can't find it anywhere. I've never left the house without it. I take it when I go downstairs to take out the trash, when I open the door to bring in the newspaper. What will I do now? Today of all days, when I have to go to the hospital in Ramat Hahayal. Just thinking the word hayal - soldier - is enough to freak me out. After all, the first Arabic sentence an Israeli soldier learns is "Jib al-hawiya," bring the identity.

"It's not so terrible," my wife said, trying to calm me down after spending more than an hour in an exhausting search. "Who's going to ask for your ID?"

"Who? Who?" I replied, flustered. "Everyone, some traffic cop, a security guard at the hospital, a surprise checkpoint."

"Oy, stop, no one will ask you for anything, and if they do you have your driver's license, and that will be enough." I had no choice. My father was scheduled for minor surgery and I had to be there. I shaved twice, took a long shower, applied deodorant liberally and aftershave judiciously, because Arabs are thought to go overboard with it. "Are you sure you bought it in a Jewish store?" I wanted to be sure, lest I find myself emitting a suspicious odor.

"Yes," my wife said. "I swear I got it at Super-Pharm."

Like a kid on the first day of kindergarten I was panicked when I left the house, without al-hawiya for the first time in my life. When I got to the car I gave a big smile, even though there was no one in sight, and made a show of playing with the keys so that everyone who saw me knew this was my car. Pretending to be a cautious driver, I circled the car and kicked the tires, as if to check the air pressure. In fact I was checking that there was nothing on the car that might give away the Arab identity of the owner, no sticker from a garage in Wadi Joz or Arabic word written on a dusty window, as my daughter likes to do. I've reprimanded her a million times but she doesn't get it.

Everything's clean, nothing suspicious. It's a Citroen, deliberately chosen with the aim of blending in, though some might call it camouflage. After getting in I switched immediately to a Hebrew radio station, and with the gleaming smile of a computer engineer setting off for another enjoyable day at work I drove away.

My lost identity continued to trouble me. Where could it have gone? After all, I used it all the time, but when was the last time? For the life of me, I couldn't remember. That week I showed it to a cashier when I used my credit card. Perhaps I hadn't put it back in my wallet and had left it at the supermarket? Or maybe at City Hall, when I registered my son for kindergarten? But that was before the supermarket, and I'm sure I showed the card. I just hope no one took it and misused it. Oh no, if that happened they're probably looking for me already. I should have gone to the police station and filed a complaint, or at least declared that I'd lost the ID card. Is losing an ID card considered negligence? I'll just say it was stolen. No, they'd have to make a record of it, nothing but trouble. "I simply didn't find it," I'll tell the desk officer. "I looked everywhere but it was nowhere to be found."

First I'll go the hospital and then to the police station, I decided in the end. Everything will be fine. They have no reason to suspect me, I am a well-known journalist and maybe they'll recognize me from some television show or from a photo in the paper. After all, in the past few weeks I was interviewed everywhere you can think of and appeared on every television channel, my picture was in all the daily papers, in La'isha, a popular weekly for women, and in the Tel Aviv edition of Time Out. There were write-ups on websites, too. That's all without mentioning the incriminating illustration that accompanies this column every week. I'm a star, I tell you, I thought to myself, and for an instant my heart swelled with pride. It wouldn't surprise me if the desk officer were to recognize me immediately and ask to have his picture taken with me, as a souvenir - after all, just yesterday I appeared in the soccer World Cup studio.

The Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway was full of police cruisers, some on the road and others parked along the shoulder. It was only the radio news update on the Shalit family's march to Jerusalem that reminded me that the cops weren't there for me. My wife was right, I really do think that it's all about me. This whole Shalit thing is quite disturbing, I thought. On the one hand I can understand the fear of the Gazans - after all, rescue missions, whether successful or disastrous, aren't just some Oriental fantasy. On the other hand - the family, the Geneva Convention, the Red Cross. Maybe there will simply be an interim agreement signed by both sides under which one building in Gaza will be declared a facility for holding captives that Israel will undertake not to attack, a kind of protected place under international supervision that will uphold the rights of the soldiers.

The traffic slowed and it was clear I'd never get to the hospital in time. By the time I reached Sha'ar Haggai, the halfway point, my mother called to say my father was already in surgery and that he knew about the heavy traffic and wasn't mad at me in the least. As I passed Ben-Gurion Airport my mother reported that the operation was over and the surgeon had come to the waiting room to say it had gone well and my father was in recovery. A little before the Ayalon Freeway, which cuts through Tel Aviv, a police officer signaled me to pull over. That's it, I'm lost, my time has come. My heart pounded like never before as he approached.

Mustering my best smile I asked, my voice quavering, "Is everything alright?."

"Yes," he said. "Your front license plate came loose on one side. You're lucky I saw it happen with my own eyes, because that's a ticket."

"Oy," I said, appalled, screwing up all the good citizenship I had, "I never even knew."

"No worries," he said as I tightened the screw. "Fix it later."

My cell phone rang. "Mom," the caller ID showed. I tried to ignore it. "You should take it," the cop suggested. "If you do it in the car, it's a ticket."

I smiled, and picked up. "Hello."

"Hello, Sayed, Dad is awake and really wants to talk to you. Here."

"Hello," my father said hoarsely voice. "Where are you, son?"

"I'll be there in a bit," I replied in Hebrew.

"Why are you talking to me in Hebrew?"

I said nothing.

"Why don't you answer?"

"In a bit, in a bit," I said impatiently, again in Hebrew.

"Why are you talking like that, and in Hebrew, too! Don't come, I don't want to see you. Who are you? I don't know if you're even my son. You should be ashamed. And yesterday, in the World Cup studio? Embarrassing - why were you for Holland all of a sudden? All the Arabs are for Spain and you go for Holland? Don't you know they're Israel's friends? It's too bad you went on TV at all," he snapped, and hung up.

The police officer went back to his van and I went back to my car and remembered that I left al-hawiya with the guard at the entrance to the Israeli television station.