Throwing Stones

You never really think that these things happen in real life.

Throwing stones is a euphemism for greater angst, or something that happens in far away villages to people engaged in an active struggle.

But I guess that is where I am.

It certainly doesn’t happen to innocent passers-by, mere spectators on the sidelines. Then again, who’s to know?

I was walking up the stairs the other day and passed “a group of Arab youths” (as the New York Times would put it). They yelled something at me in Hebrew – all I could get was “slicha” (excuse me, more or less). Accustomed to living in strange cities, I have trained myself to ignore unsolicited commentary from sidewalks. But they didn’t desist. The ringleader repeated himself several times, and I diligently kept walking. Gosh, can’t they tell I don’t understand them? I don’t want to talk? Get into a shouting match?

Partly I ignored them because I didn’t know what they were saying, and partly because you have a sense, you know, when things aren’t quite right. They could have been asking me an innocent question, but more likely they were in the habit of yelling offensive or harassing comments.

So I kept walking, up the stairs and around the corner. Luckily for them, this meant they could still see me. A pebble skittered across my feet. I turned, and gave them a death look. The withering glare of the (wronged) goddess. In retrospect I should have said something – in English, or even better, in Arabic. But what would that have accomplished? It would not have magically released their anger – it would have meant only that I exchanged a few words with some renegade teenagers intent on thinking what they want to think.

They, like everyone else here, assumed I was Israeli. Assumed I could speak Hebrew, assumed I am the enemy. Maybe I am the enemy.

Shopkeepers and people on the street invariably first address me in Hebrew. Do I come off as that Jewish? Or do I just not look Arab? Not American? (I guess there’s no such thing as looking American, and neither is there such a thing as looking Jewish, even Arab.) When I try to speak to them in Arabic, they are confused. Where am I from? Why do I speak Arabic? Or they act aloof and offended.

Discussing this phenomenon with a friend brought this insight to light: they take me for Israeli and so when I speak Arabic, they take offense. They presume I am some sort of “leftist Israeli”, striving for political correctness and ethnic justice. Still a part of the Zionist Jewish State of Israel. So no wonder. I am perceived as the enemy.

And the perception is all that counts. I can hardly walk into a shop and, every time, announce that I am American and speak Arabic and English and please do not address me in Hebrew because I have no idea what you’re saying. I have to accept it, this bizarre twisted situation. I am forced to speak English even when I prefer not to because it would not be acceptable for someone like me – who looks like me and talks like me – to speak Arabic.

I understand this. My presence here, on the face of it, looks like yetanotherAmericanJew HERE TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE! Maybe. Probably. I’m not asking for acceptance, or neutrality, or for anger to immediately dissipate because gosh another one is here to change the world. I know that’s not my role.

I just want to not be looked at as something I’m not. I’m not Israeli. I’m not Arab. I’m Jewish but I’m not Zionist. Speak to me in English if you’d like, but please, please do not assume anything about me – about my heritage, my culture, my politics.

Then again, are not we all guilty of these misdeeds?

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