Opinion |

Politically Incorrect in Palestine

Why don't BDS activists and the Palestinian Agriculture Ministry remove from the shelves products made in the settlement Tekoa?

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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File photo: An Israeli worker inspects barrels in a winery in the West Bank settlement of Psagot in February, 2015.
File photo: An Israeli worker inspects barrels in a winery in the West Bank settlement of Psagot in February, 2015.Credit: AP
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Plastic bags bursting with garbage are the first thing framed by the window of my apartment in El Bireh. After that is the magnificent guest palace of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, which, happily and to the relief of many, was recently turned into the Palestinian National Library. And this is the time for some politically incorrect questions.

1. Why the hell are some of my neighbors, in a neighborhood that is not luxurious but certainly not neglected, too lazy to walk a few dozen meters up or down the street and throw their garbage in the bins that the municipality empties every dawn? Instead, they befoul the still open ground between the buildings. “If you don’t throw your garbage into the bins, you’re garbage,” reads a sign one of my neighbors put up in the elevator. It didn’t help. His children went from door to door and urged people to do the obvious. Everybody swore it wasn’t them, but the piles of garbage rise higher and higher until the municipal workers come and scrape them up, then it starts all over again.

If it was only our problem, never mind. But it’s not. Too many people, here in the Palestinian enclave, treat the street, the roadsides, the area around the springs that the settlers haven’t yet stolen and the open fields as their private garbage can. As I was sitting on the balcony of a friend of mine in Nablus one day, a bag of garbage came flying from the floor above, and landed in the vegetable garden someone is trying to cultivate. That happens all the time, they tell me. I’ve read and heard theories, especially about the Palestinian alienation from the public sphere because of Israel’s domination (in 1948 and 1967 areas). But, as the owner of my neighborhood grocery store put it regarding the garbage bags rolling around in the street: “Not everything is because of the occupation.”

2. And from the garbage to the checkpoints – not a major change of subject. How is it that a young woman – a member of the Military Police or a security company – is stationed at a checkpoint and her line of cars is always longer than the nearby line, where a young man is stationed? The young women do everything intentionally more slowly. The most politically incorrect thing to say is that when the young woman checking the cars is of Ethiopian origin, the line gets even longer. We’re talking about the checkpoints where only cars with Israeli license plates are allowed to pass. That is, checkpoints from which people drive into Israel (mostly built deep in the West Bank, so it can’t be said they’re separating the West Bank from Israel). The soldiers and security people stationed at the checkpoints must develop skills in the realm of racial doctrine and a canine sense of smell to distinguish between a Jew and an Arab. It’s not hard when the woman is wrapped in a hijab. It’s harder when she’s a crop-topped redhead or a tie-wearing lawyer. But leave it to the young women at the checkpoints. They’ll check the accent, slowly open the trunk or send the car for a check for explosives, stare with hostility at the occupants, all the while chewing gum with their mouths open, talking on their cellphone and giggling.

3. Back to the heart of the enclave. Why in blazes do the fine stores in Ramallah (I haven’t checked other cities) sell products from the settlement of Tekoa? I brought this up with a salesman. I said: “The settlement of Tekoa is stealing water and land from the neighboring villages.” He answered: “The Palestinians steal too, and I have customers who ask for these products.” Is it simply impossible to live without the mushrooms from Tekoa or the endives that are worth their weight in gold? And how is it that the BDS and local anti-normalization activists, who are so good at scaring the municipality of Ramallah such that it cancels the screening of a Lebanese film, skip over the mushrooms from Tekoa? How is it that the Palestinian Agriculture Ministry, which from time to time comes to the markets and confiscates products from the settlements, misses these prestige stores? Because their customers are from the elite classes?

4. And another thing I wonder about: Why must Palestinian men show their manhood by driving fast with their blinding bright headlights on, right in the middle of a narrow road, and not move aside for an oncoming vehicle? It’s clear. They know that the oncoming driver will move to the shoulder at the last minute praying that he or she won’t end up down in the wadi. The occupation is clearly to blame. Israel plans, built and builds separate roads in the West Bank so the Palestinians will be diverted from the wide roads (that gobble up private and public land), and Gush Etzion will be a neighborhood of Jerusalem on the south and Beit-El on the north. All the drivers – especially taxi drivers – have to make up for lost time and the length of the road by speeding, and to hell with fatal accidents. But why in God’s name in the middle of the road, and why blind the oncoming traffic at night?

5. We’ll end with the settlers. I heard a rumor that some settlers see a shared future with the Palestinians. There are those who are continuing the path of the late rabbi from Tekoa, Menachem Froman, and there’s a group that supports two states in one homeland. So until the wolf lies down with the lamb, why, in addition to their messianic visions, don’t they establish a surveillance and action group of their own, deploying between the violent outposts that are multiplying like Tekoa mushrooms on the shelves in Ramallah, and act as a human shield between the hilltop pogromchiks and the Palestinian farmers and shepherds?

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