In the grocery
a grocery store on Ramban Street in West Jerusalem, a young man stood in line –
unmistakably a Palestinian. He held a loaf of bread, a bottle of Coke and
cottage cheese. I suppose this was a worker, buying food for the day.
Just as his turn came up at the cash register, a man (Jewish) came up with a
basket full of things and stood behind him. The Palestinian who had already
begun to place his few items on the counter for the cashier immediately picked
them up and signaled to the man to overtake him. And so the man did, piling his
purchases on the counter, and the young Palestinian stood behind him, for the
time being. The man paid and turned to go, and the Palestinian's turn had come.
However, just then another man (Jewish) came along and stood behind him. The
Palestinian hurried to give up his turn for him, and the man indeed overtook
him, placed his purchases, paid and left.
The Palestinian managed to place his Coke on the counter and was about to place
the rest of his stuff there, as I approached and stood behind him.
Immediately he picked up his Coke and offered me his turn. I said: You were
ahead of me. He looked at me for another moment, unmoving. I repeated: You were
ahead of me.
He looked at me, as if confirming – I think – that I realized who he was, and
what he was, namely that I realized he was Palestinian. And that I was still
saying this was his turn.
When enough time went by without my stepping back or taking over, he turned,
placed his items on the counter again, paid and hurried out.
I don't suppose the Palestinian let them take him over because he thought they
were more worthy than him. Or because he had internalized the power relations as
representing value relations.
Perhaps he was afraid, because he may have had past experience and learned to
assume that any Jew would deem it natural and right to overtake him, a
Palestinian. And that his chances at survival in such a threatening and
dangerous place are better if he lowers his head and lets the privileged
overtake him in line.
And perhaps the price of justice is just too high. And his job is more important
to him than his rightful demand.
And anyway, most likely he knew that the only justice around here is racist
justice mostly. And that he was of the wrong race.
And I also assume that the man who stood behind him as well as the second man
saw, just as I did, that he was there first, and had already begun his purchase,
and that he had very few items. And they also realized he was a Palestinian,
just as I did.
I don't think they would necessarily have overtaken him had he not offered it,
but rather done so as part of the usual, local cultural misconduct, in spite of
his being Palestinian.
And perhaps these were not even such Jews, overtaken with a sense of supremacy
and would have demanded their priority as the natural order of things.
Most likely they weren't really thinking.
But when he said "please, go ahead" they simply stepped up and overtook him. Not
thanking him. Not wondering or asking why the one standing in front of them in
line with very few items and already placing them on the counter should make way
for those who have more purchases and arrive after him. And it seemed natural to
them, the natural order of things.
They said nothing because, as far as they were concerned, so it seems, nothing
had happened. They saw nothing. The man they had overtaken was not a man who has
a name, or any uniqueness, any singular being, but rather a symbol. He was a
Palestinian. Equally and flatly similar to any other Palestinian. A what, not a
who. Unseen in his specificity. A nothing. Transparent. And they took their turn
in line from someone who is nothing, and their taking was not listed on any kind
At Qalandiya Checkpoint, a few years ago, a father and his little son were
standing awaiting their turn. Then they stepped up, the father's ID was checked
and he was 'allowed' to pass, his little son in front of him. Then a soldier,
unintentionally – I think – rather out of unconnected, chance hurriedness,
bumped into the father from behind.
The father was pushed forward and hit his son who fell to the ground.
The father, knowing he was pushed by a soldier, did not say a word, did not
protest, his facial expression unchanged, he did not look back but silently
picked up his little son, who silently, too, rose to his feet, and they
proceeded on their way, as if nothing had happened, the little son in front, the
The soldier who had bumped the father saw that the father was pushed and the son
fell to the ground. He is not blind. But when he turned to his mates and began
joking with them about this or that, it was not for any special kind of cruelty,
and he didn't seem to have any special intention. He gained no special pleasure
of what had happened, and I am pretty sure he did not mean to push down the
child. When he laughed with his mates it was about their own business and
unconnected with what had just happened.
Occupier and occupied – the occupied knows, sees, but keeps silent, withholding
himself. He walks on, for he has to bear his life. His son, whatever is left. At
that moment crossing the checkpoint was more important than crying out his
injustice. Claiming justice.
The occupier does not see. He looks and does not see. Nothing happened, as far
as he was concerned. A Palestinian who is pushed and makes his son fall to the
ground is nothing.
How easy it is to overtake someone in line as if that someone were transparent.
To push a person as though nothing had taken place. To overtake and push and
murder and dispossess and rob and abuse him.
Suffice it that the victim is one of 'them' and the assailant 'he', one of 'us'.
Suffice it to be accepted.
That which is done by everyone.
And that the other is just a little bit more than an animal, and just a little
bit less than a human being.
Suffice it that the victim is Palestinian.
Translated by Tal Haran