Unsettled Feelings

"It's not a settlement," I said to my wife again as we passed through a giant gate that opened automatically. I checked a million times, it's not a settlement. It has the name of a settlement, the location and landscape of a settlement, but this place is on the western side of the Green Line.

"Leftists live here," I said and started driving about in the quiet streets, checking out the place and the impressive construction sites. "You see? There are no settler bumper-stickers on the cars," I added, and then pointed to a boy walking down the street with a little dog. "Look, he's not wearing a skullcap."

All the houses are pretty, all are new. Duplexes, villas and cottages. No apartment buildings. Roof tiles of various colors. I liked the blue ones best. Tiles are the dream of many Arabs. I remember how as a boy, we neighborhood kids went out to verify the rumor that someone in the village had built a house with tiles.

Yes, it's a little far from Jerusalem, but that's nothing considering the price and the tiles. According to the plans for the new construction that are published in the newspapers and the real-estate ads on the Internet, I think that here in these verdant surroundings I can fulfill my American dream. I'll have an office in the attic, I'll put all my books there and hook up a good sound system. I'll have peace and quiet. The kids will romp in the garden or somewhere on the two floors below me. I'll work day and night on quality writing. For some reason, when I picture myself there, I notice I've started to smoke a pipe.

"It is really nice," my wife agrees. "So, we'll just get up 15 minutes earlier."

I got out of the car. The kids were sleeping in the back and my wife stayed with them. I squeezed in a few puffs on a cigarette before straightening my coat collar and entering the sales office that stood in the middle of the construction site for the new neighborhood of cottages. When I finished, I smoked another one and got in the car.

"So?" my wife asked, and received just a shake of the head in return. I didn?t have the energy to speak. As we came out of the gate, I turned west. "But we came from the other side," my wife said, pointing to the left.

"The Tunnel Road is shorter," I said curtly, making an effort to forget the agent I'd just met and trying to focus my thoughts on driving. We passed through the first checkpoint without a problem, because anyone entering the territories is not of as much interest to the soldiers as anyone coming out of them.

As we neared the Beit Jala checkpoint the traffic slowed down. I looked around and caught a glimpse of them from inside my heated car. And I thought about how I'd stopped looking at them lately, that I'd learned not to see them. At most, I'd turn my head for a moment, take a glimpse through my sunglasses, turn up the music and ignore them. Sometimes I feel a little pity, mostly for the children and women, and maybe a little for the older men, too. Pity that changes with the weather. In the summer I pity them because of the heat, and on a wintry morning like today because of the rain. Pity. That's it, nothing more. Pity for a group of people to which I've convinced myself that I don't belong, somehow persuading myself that I have succeeded to escape and hide elsewhere.

How I've dulled my senses, how I just pass by them day in and day out, sometimes standing with their backs to the wall, and sometimes facing it, hands up, in every corner of the city, large groups standing in rows, always next to a wall, always with a space of one meter between one person and the next. Just standing and waiting until the Border Police officers decide what to do with them. If only I could go back and be one of them, if only they would make me stand with my face to the wall, and some Bedouin Border Policeman would curse me in Hebrew as he spreads my legs from behind. Let him curse me as much as he can, as he searches my body, pokes his stick in my back, shoves it between my legs. Let him spit on me and curse "Arab son of a bitch," and make me stand there for hours in the rain. That's just what I need - for some Arab Border Policeman to remind me who I am and teach me where I came from. I deserve it. God do I deserve it.

I'd like him to do it to me in Rehavia, at the doorway to my office in the morning, when I show up with my neatly pressed pants and button-down shirt. I'd like them to catch me at the entrance to my rented apartment, next to the driveway, near my educated neighbors, right before the eyes of my wife and daughter. For them to laugh at me in Arabic after they check my ID card and throw it back in my face. I'd like to hear them cursing my wife and teasing our little girl to the point of tears - for her to stand there in her nice clothes, all designer labels, with her imported shoes and tears in her eyes and not understanding a word of the language they're speaking to her. She'll yell at them in Hebrew to leave me alone and that will only impel them to continue. She'll beg for help from the neighbors coming down to their cars with their kids who go to the same school, and they'll ignore her and keep on going.

Maybe that way my daughter will understand what it is to be an Arab. Maybe that way I'll learn to stop dreaming about tile roofs.