This Is Israel: Armed Guards Check Bags for Non-kosher Food

No other nation in the world searches bags to find forbidden foods, except possibly Iran. The Passover chametz police are more Israeli than Mobileye or Amos Oz

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FILE PHOTO: Israeli security guard checks Israelis' bags at the entrance to a Tel Aviv hospital
FILE PHOTO: Israeli security guard checks Israelis' bags at the entrance to a Tel Aviv hospitalCredit: Tomer Appelbaum
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

This is how the Jewish state, which so many Israelis want to preserve at any price, looks: An armed guard at the entrance to the hospital checking bags. He is not really looking for explosive devices. This week is a holiday and he is looking for something else. The armed guard is looking for chametz, leavened foods forbidden on Passover.

He is checking every food item brought into the hospital, and he is the arbiter of Jewish law, the kashrut supervisor. It is forbidden to bring in anything that he suspects is treyf, not kosher. If there is a doubt, there is no doubt – and it’s banned. If it is not kosher for Passover – back home it goes, or into the garbage.

Our guard is a great guy, friendly, and now he is a theological authority. As if the 10,000 kashrut supervisors on normal days were not enough in the Jewish democratic state (which has only a thousandth as many construction-site safety inspectors) – now the security guards and those who search your bags have been added as soldiers in the army of God. The government invades not just bags, but also the stomach.

The year is 2017, but the situation is medieval. Israel can brag all it wants about being the only democracy in the Middle East or being gay-friendly. The truth is, it is backward. It is coercive. It is becoming darker and grimmer. Ominous clouds are covering the skies. No other nation in the world searches bags to find forbidden foods, except possibly Iran. The problem is that the chametz police are much more Israeli than Mobileye; the chametz guard is much more Israeli than Amos Oz.

This is what was written at the entrance to hospitals: “This place has been made kosher for Passover according to religious law. You are requested not to bring in chametz food during the entire holiday. It is allowed to bring in fruits and vegetables and closed items with kosher for Passover certification.” It was signed by the hospital rabbi, the head of the religious services department and the management.

Let’s forget about the enforced kashrut in all hospital kitchens, which we should have rebelled against years ago. Now, bringing in leftovers from the Passover seder without a kashrut stamp is also prohibited. The religious have the right to observe their kashrut. The nonreligious have the right to eat as they please, and this obvious point is considered subversive in Israel.

In other words, no Israeli has the right to eat as they please while hospitalized, or while in any other public institution. The fact that at least a fifth of the patients are Arabs, as are a significant part of the medical staff, and many more are non-Jews or just plain nonreligious, doesn’t interest anyone. Let them eat matza and choke. They don’t have to eat anything at all. Thousands of Palestinian prisoners eat matza for up to two months after Passover to finish off the production overruns, so Arab patients can abstain from bread for a week. You wanted a Jewish state, you got it. You didn’t want it, that’s your problem.

Israelis accept this situation as a decree from heaven. Almost no one protests. That’s the way it is in an anaesthetized society. The fact that all this is happening on a holiday that for some reason is called the festival of freedom only adds a grotesque dimension to a situation that is anything but funny. What’s happening on the ground is even less funny: People are smuggling in food to the hospital. A chicken leg in the pocket; gefilte fish in the jacket; hummus, French fries and salad inside the double bottom of the shower kit. This week I smuggled in a quarter-chicken wrapped in pajama bottoms. For some patients, home-cooked food is their consolation.

You might say: So what, it’s only one week a year. You can say: What’s so terrible, it’s only food. And what about tradition? But it is not just a week and it’s much worse than it seems. While Israel takes pride in its enlightenment, it does not even sense how it is sliding down the slope into darkness. Yes, a country that acts this way is in darkness. You do not pass on tradition via security guards.

When one day Israel is a bit more democratic and a bit less Jewish, inshallah, everyone will be able to eat what they want, where they want. Does that sound unrealistic? In Israel 2017, it would be utopia.

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