Humiliation and Human Dignity: On the bus from Hebron to Bethlehem
Posted by rabbibrian on January 15, 2010
Earlier this week, I wrote about my trip to Hebron. To return to Jerusalem, I took a shared taxi to Bethlehem and then a Palestinian bus from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. Those Palestinians who have Jerusalem residency identity card travel directly to Jerusalem, while those who don’t, make their way on a much longer and indirect route. A Jerusalem resident identity card is a treasured item as Israel does all it can to deprive as many Palestinians of Jerusalem residency, one of the many ways of “dealing” with the “demographic threat.” Over the last two years Israel has revoked this right from many thousands of Palestinians, many times more than in the preceeding years.
I got on the small bus which seats about 25 people and find a seat near the back. Behind me are two young women and a young man in their 20’s who are speaking in English. The bus stops at the checkpoint into Jerusalem and a soldier instructs the bus driver to pull over for inspection. Everyone has to get of the bus for a document inspection. I asked the young people behind me if this is standard procedure and they explain that it is for all Palestinian buses.
Once we are all off the bus, all except a woman with an infant and an older person, we stand in a line. A soldier checks our documents one by one and we board the bus again, everyone except the young man who was sitting behind me. The soldier asks him about his card and then tells him to go to four other soldiers who are standing in a circle chatting. One of the soldiers seems is icharge. The two young women and I are watching the encounter through the bus window. The bus driver, who thinks everyone is back on board, starts to move forward, leaving him behind and we shout that we are missing one passenger. He stops the bus and we wait.
I notice how the soldiers are just standing around as if it was a game, asking the Palestinian young man questions. They are clearly the ones with power and their affect makes that clear.
A few minutes later the soldiers tell him to board the bus and he sheepishly boards the bus again. I ask him why they stopped him. He is a young Palestinian man, who has just returned from the United States , his identity card is in poor shape. He can’t get a new one for 6 months as they want to make sure that he is going to stay. Probably just another way to make it difficult for Palestinians to retain their residency rights.
I ask him how he deals emotionally with the encounter. Doesn’t it bother you? “No,” he says, “it is what I expect, I am used to it.”
We begin a conversation. His name is Nidal and he grew up in Jerusalem and went to study in the U.S. at Earlham. He comments, “I really miss Earlham.” I bet he misses Earlham. Imagine the difference for him between being on a campus like Earlham in the U.S. as opposed to travelling in the Occupied West Bank through checkpoints. He majored in geology and is now working with the Palestinian Authority on water issues. He is such a great young man, smart and committed to using his skills to fight for justice for his people. He is wearing a very nice colorful shirt and he looks like any young college graduate back home. He reminds me of my son at that age.
I ask one of the young women, who he is travelling with, what she is doing in Palestine. Her parents are Palestinians who emigrated to the States in the 70’s. She is a student of political economics at the University of California in Berkeley. She is here doing a project for school interviewing Palestinians on the West Bank about the obstacles they face in pursuing educational opportunities. She tells me that her grandparents brought her to Palestine when she was a teenager and ever since then she has known that she wants to be involved in issues of justice related to Palestinians. I find these young people so inspiring.
After some time of silence, Nidal turns to me and says: “I guess it is sad that I no longer feel humiliation when I am humiliated.” Yes, I say, it is indeed sad. Tragic, in fact.
Human dignity is one of the most important values of human life. I think to myself of the centrality of the value of K’vod Habriot/Human Dignity in Judaism. Human Dignity is so important that it trumps other religious duties. And, one of Israel’s Basic Laws is the Law of Human Dignity and Liberty, but that is another story.
I get off the bus in Jerusalem having just learned another lesson in my ongoing education about what it means to be a Palestinian under Occupation. I am sure I will learn much more over the coming months.