Guest blog by Ariel Katz
I’m returning to Be’er Sheva from Tel Aviv. I’ve been to the August 11 demonstration for equality to protest the controversial nation-state law in Tel Aviv. It’s late, so I hop in the front seat of the next cab in line. The driver, who looks about 30, has bluish eyes and a crew cut. When I tell the him the address, a man hears me through the open window and asks if we are going to Ramot. The driver invites him to hop in the back seat. He and the driver have some friendly banter and I wonder if they know each other.
The man has a strong Arabic accent and though he may be a Jewish immigrant from an Arab country, I think he’s a Palestinian citizen of Israel. He starts to complain about the people on the train, and that they were loud and unruly. “It’s a matter of culture,” he says, and I wonder what culture he’s referring to.
The driver points out that I sound American. I too have a strong accent when speaking Hebrew. To find out more about the backseat man’s culture, I mention that I was at the demonstration for equality.
The driver turns to me in anger. “Why? We have equality here. That demonstration was against the nation-state law. Are you against that?” The back seat man says he doesn’t support the law. “Why not?” asks the driver, and I get the information I was looking for. “Because I’m Arab,” the man says.
“But you have equality here. Where do you work?” The driver asks.
“At the supermarket.”
“You have jobs, you have access to the same services. You see, there is equality here in Israel. The law doesn’t change that.”
“From your experience there is equality in Israel,” I say to the driver. “But there are experiences that you haven’t had, that Arabs have had, so they have more information about the inequality. It’s hard to see that when you’re the majority.”
“Like what?” He wants to know.
We’ve arrived at my house but he doesn’t stop the car. When he turns around, I ask what he’s doing. “I’m taking the other guy home first.”
I ponder my situation for a moment to assess my personal safety. The driver is clearly distressed. If I insist he let me off here, there’s a good chance he’ll comply. But if this man is dangerous and I get out, then the Palestinian is at risk. And if the driver is dangerous, who is he more likely to harm, a female American Jew or a Palestinian man?
My conscience and my curiosity allow him to drive off with me still in the car.
The Palestinian lives the next street over, and it’s a quick and silent trip. The driver brings me back and tells me he’s Beitar football supporter. Beitar fans are known for their hatred of Arabs, anti-Arab chants and racist slogans. He says it as if it’s a bit of a dirty secret, in a ‘between you and me’ kind of voice. He doesn’t want any Arabs or Muslims living in Israel. He also doesn’t like Jews going to the West Bank to
live next to ‘them’ he said. I appreciate he’s consistent.
He asks me who was at the demonstration. Surely it was only Arabs, he says. I explain it was a mix, probably mostly Jews.
He heard on the news that they were waving the Palestinian flag in the demonstration. The Yediot Aharonot headlines said in huge letters, “The Palestinian flag in the heart of Tel Aviv.” The headline was successful in activating his nervous system. The use of the word ‘heart’ was particularly effective.
“The flag is a symbol of someone’s identity. The flag itself doesn’t carry a message about harming the Jews, nor did those people carrying it. They were peacefully asking for equality.”
“This neighbourhood is 30% Arab now,” he informs me.
I ask him if he personally has ever had a bad experience with an Arab.
“The ones in this area are educated. They are doctors and professionals,” he explains.
“Yes, they want to work and raise families and be healthy, like us. They don’t want to hurt us.”
“And what do you do for work? He asks.
“I’m a psychotherapist.”
“How much do you charge?”
“55 pounds an hour.”
“I have panic attacks. Do you work with that?”
“Yes. It’s scary.”
I’m referring to everything. To his panic attacks, to the terrorist attacks, to seeing flags and not knowing what is the meaning for the flag waver, to me being alone with him in his taxi.
By driving me safely home he’s proved my point. “It’s scary for all of us, but the truth is the majority of Arabs and Jews are just typical people trying to live their lives in peace.”