Yesterday, I learned a good lesson.
I was in Hebron with other members of the All that’s Left Collective, in order to continue work on Cinema Hebron with our local Palestinian partners at Youth Against Settlements. All went well and everything was calm. The army didn’t take an interest in us, and the police didn’t prevent us from entering the old factory turned cinema. We moved a few rocks, drank some coffee, and discussed how to transform the space into a working theater.
I felt pretty relaxed by the time I got in the car to go back to Tel Aviv. It was my first time driving there, and I was so focused on getting down the steep hill from Tel Rumeida that I did something blindly, without thinking. I pick up a Jewish-Israeli hitch-hiker on Shuhada steet*. To some, this may seem horrific and to others, so acceptable that it’s not worth mentioning. But within the first moments, I knew that I made a political statement, and one I did not agree with.
In the moment in which I slowed my car, I forgot about how the occupation controls the 30,000 Palestinians living under direct and constant military rule due to the Jewish settlement in the H2 area of Hebron.
Having spent three years in the Israeli north where hitch-hiking is an incredibly common and accepted practice, I have made a point to pick people up and give them rides when I can. I have always felt grateful for the people who gave me rides in the past.
But Hebron isn’t the Israeli north. Rather, it’s a city full of checkpoints and soldiers guarding them. And I picked up the hitch-hiker at the bus stop on a street that is open to Jews but completely closed to Palestinians.
And the moment she entered the car, I realized that I regretted stopping my car. We had a lot of quiet moments during those seven minutes together (not spent in heaven), and I tried to rationalize and understand what made me so uncomfortable. After all, I don’t blame settlers for settlements, at least, not exclusively. We as Israelis, regardless of our political affiliation and regardless of where we live physically are all responsible for settlements and for the government that keeps and expands them. Hebron is also a holy place for the Jewish people, and in principle, I am not against Jews living in and being close to a place that is holy to us.
But I am against the settlement in Hebron, since the presence of 700 Jewish residents restrict the movement of the 30,000 people living in H2. I oppose the settlement because it aids and upholds the military (and arguably, civilian) occupation of Palestine.
I immediately realized how awful it would look if one our Palestinian partners saw me with a Jewish Settler from Hebron. Would they still trust me? I also changed the way I acted, not giving my usual waves to Palestinians on the street. I don’t travel to Hebron to show solidarity with settlers there. And even small acts, like giving someone a ride, can be ones of solidarity. In a place like Hebron, everything is political.
I thought of something my friend and fellow activist, Oriel Eisner, wrote of our arrest in Hebron during our first day building the Cinema:
The internal disruption makes me more aware of my privilege and the tensions around choosing to enter into a space of resistance. In having been put, ever so briefly, under the control of the forces of the Occupation, I can now tangibly feel the distance between my daily life and life under occupation. I therefore can also feel the freedom of choice I have when entering into spaces of resistance; a freedom my Palestinian partners do not have. This visceral awareness brings a strange mix of responsibility and guilt.
There have been many moments this past year where I aided in resisting. But when I picked up a Jewish-Israeli settler, I used that freedom of choice given to me as a Jewish-Israeli to comply, even if in the smallest of ways, to the occupation of Hebron. I took advantage of that freedom that Palestinians in H2 do not have.
Why am I sharing this?
I have to admit that I regretted my decision. It may be a (very) small incident, but as I was invited by Palestinian partners to work with them in resisting the occupation, inadvertently supporting it felt wrong, and perhaps like a betrayal of their trust.
Even so, over the past year, I have spent more time in the West Bank than I have during the first eight years that I lived here. I often feel that there’s a lot of pressure within the activist community to be the best possible ally. And for most of this year, the idea of doing something wrong genuinely paralyzed me.
I’m trying to remind myself that being an ally will mean having moments of doing it imperfectly. I often make mistakes or do something considered rude to another culture—and then I learn not to do that anymore. And while I would love to be the perfect ally, I know I’m going to mess up. I would rather be an imperfect activist who learns from these moments than to not be one at all. Writing down these moments helps me to learn from them and to process them.
I am learning to be more sensitive and understanding. I am becoming increasingly aware of the many ways I am privileged and how that affects my perspectives and actions. I am learning how to take a step back and to follow the lead of those oppressed by the privileges I enjoy.
While this was by no means a huge deal in the grand scheme of things, I feel that this act was misaligned enough with my beliefs that I am now creating a new policy for myself for picking up hitch-hikers. I am trying to remember that moments like these are also learning opportunities that teach me how be more aware of the nuances and understanding required when engaging with communities other than my own.
Yesterday, I gave a settler in Hebron a ride, and that taught me not give rides to settlers in Hebron.
*EDIT 7/9/2016: I realize after having some in person and virtual conversations that I need to clarify something. I do not think being a settler makes you immoral, nor do I think I am more moral for not being a settler. This is an extremely complex place, and there are many reasons for an individual living on either side of the green line and in the country at all. It is more important for me to reflect on my own choices and how they affect others and my perspective (for example, I live in a lower-income area of Tel Aviv and am essentially a gentrifier. I studied in a building built on the remnants of a Palestinian village. I made Aliyah while Palestinians do not have the right to return).
Hence, I changed the original sentence ‘I picked up a settler’ to ‘I pick up a Jewish-Israeli hitch-hiker on Shuhada steet’. Their residence was not what was important to me, but rather the specifics of that space on Shuhada Street which is closed to Palestinians and open to Jewish, and within the space of H2 in general.
(Picture: Creative Commons/ Mark Goble)