Otherwise Occupied

Should I Take the Settlers’ Bus to Save Time?

Some ethical dilemmas that arise from living in this land

A military tribunal at the Camp Ofer prison near Ramallah
JINI

I’m hereby exploiting my good neighborly relations with “Mechalek Hamusar,” a guide-to-the-perplexed blog in the Hebrew Haaretz’s Galleria section. Instead of sending the blog frequent ethical dilemmas one by one, I’ve put together a list of examples. If the blog wants, it can answer them. If it doesn’t, I leave these answers for you, my seven loyal readers.

1. Should we enrich the occupation by five shekels or accept special privileges (“protektzia”) from it?

Background: In the fenced entrance in front of the Ofer military court there are about 100 small storage lockers. The Palestinians (those accused of traffic violations, defendants who in rare instances aren’t held in detention until the conclusion of proceedings, and family members) are required to deposit their belongings, mainly their cell phones, in the lockers. They’re of the type found in museums, for example: You insert a coin, the key is released and the locker is locked. But in the museums you get your money back, whereas in the Israeli military court, the coin remains inside.

This is one more way we manage to collect money from the Palestinians to cover the costs of oppressing them. Usually I also part with the five shekels and wonder what it will pay for: buttons on the uniform of a soldier who breaks into a home in the middle of the night and frightens children? The ink on the inscription on the canister of tear gas that has already killed demonstrators? A cubic meter of water that the military camp provides to a violent outpost, whose usurpation of the land is encouraged in a half-concealed manner by the authorities, and this at a distance of five kilometers from a Palestinian community, which is not allowed to be connected to the water infrastructure?

The last time I was at Ofer, when I was approaching the storage locker in the fenced-in area before the entry cage, the officer in charge called out in a friendly manner from the other side of the gate, which is opened by remote control: “Come, leave the telephone with us in the lockers.” In the staff room, free of charge. In other words, preferential treatment for a Jewish woman.

2. Should one travel on a settlers’ bus to save time?

Explanation: S. came from France to visit friends in Israel. The direct bus from Tel Aviv to Ramallah is still awaiting the approval of Donald Trump. By chance I was in Qalqilya that day, the city around which we built a concrete wall with only one exit gate. Instead of S. running around on public transportation from Tel Aviv to West Jerusalem, from there to East Jerusalem and then to the Qalandiyah checkpoint and the eternal traffic jams, I suggested that she take a bus to the settlement of Ariel, and from there we would travel in my car to the city where I live, El Bireh. With my assistance, the privileges of Jewish Israelis are conferred on her, due to her being a tourist (and a kosher Jew). Is that kosher?

Alleviating circumstances: There was a campaign against Palestinian laborers (who are building our country and also being killed for it in work-related accidents) riding in buses shared by the settlements. The campaign failed.

Aggravating circumstances: The entry of Palestinians to the settlements is forbidden, unless they’re building the settlement (or shopping at a Rami Levy supermarket). Palestinian buses are not allowed to enter the State of Israel. Palestinians who receive an entry permit to Israel must waste their time crossing on foot at separate checkpoints-of-humiliation. Israelis don’t need a permit to enter the area of the West Bank.

3. Should I cut short a work-related conversation due to an anti-Semitic slip of the tongue?

Background: It has happened to me that during work meetings with various foreign nationals, when the subject is us, the Israelis (in other words, our rule over the Palestinians), my name or my origin reminds them of the Jews they know. Believe it or not, but too often (even six times is too often, for my taste) they also mentioned that those Jews they know are from “a very wealthy family.”

Once, someone – after saying “very wealthy” – even added “of course.” The speaker, in addition to everything else, was Austrian (which spurred me, of course, to come down hard on him until he apologized).

In such cases, should I end the meeting or should I make do with a remark such as: “It’s interesting that all the Jews I know are actually not wealthy.” Or: “Would you also immediately describe a non-Jew as being wealthy?” and also, “Is it also a communist family, by any chance?” Perhaps those reactions are too refined? And did I add that example to try to please occasional readers?

4. Should I reveal to Palestinians where I am?

Explanation: I receive a call from A., who as a child was seriously wounded by an Israeli missile and still suffers from pains from the shrapnel that remained in her head. Now she’s studying for matriculation. A call from N. from Deheisheh, who was shot in the knee by an Israeli sniper, and whose knee was shattered, and who has been undergoing repeated surgeries. A call from R., who was refused entry to his land beyond the separation fence. And from Y., who misses his children: He can’t get an exit permit to Gaza, they can’t get a permit to come to Ramallah. And F., whom I saw only when she accompanied his mother-in law from Al-Shati in the Gaza Strip to surgery in Nablus, and M., whose brother is on a hunger strike in prison and who’s going crazy with worry.

They just called to chat. Should I tell them about the lovely view that I see from the balcony? Send them a photo on WhatsApp? Or simply not mention the beauty in the world, which is off-limits to them.