Rabbibrian's Blog

A Voice for Justice and Peace in Israel/Palestine

Humiliation and Human Dignity: On the bus from Hebron to Bethlehem

Posted by rabbibrian on January 15, 2010

Bethlehem Street Poster of Abu Mazen celebrating 45 years of Fateh

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.

View from Bus in East Jerusalem

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.


13 Responses to “Humiliation and Human Dignity: On the bus from Hebron to Bethlehem”

  1. Y. Ben-David said

    The stringent security exists for one reason….that after Israel withdrew from the Palestinian cities as a consequence of the Oslo Agreements, the Palestinians, with the direct aid and encouragement of the Palestinian Authority, began a bloody campaign of suicide bombings that killed or wounded THOUSANDS of Israelis (some of them Arabs). You completely ignore this fact when mentioning the security restrictions. You present them as some sort of “racial discrimation” or “apartheid”. This is why the large majority of Israelis have lost faith in the so-called “peace process”.

  2. Keren Batiyov said

    Dear Rabbi Brian,
    Thank you so much for your witness and your compassion. I couldn’t stop the tears as I read your words – I remember so well witnessing similar instances the times I have been in the West Bank – and how it broke my heart each time. I couldn’t help recalling Jean Amery’s writings on dignity being the very essence of life and the will to live. Thank you for both being a witness and for demonstrating that Judaism is not Israel.

  3. louis frankenthaler said

    Thank you Brian… I fear that Judaism, even the kind of Judaism you represent… the Judaism of humanism of God and being godly in acting like human beings ever engaged in ‘doing to others as we would have done to ourselves’ and not ‘doing that which is hateful to ourselves’ to others, has become irrelevant and unimportant in Israel-Palestine…

    Instead Israel is run by and full of tough Jews… punishing the Palestinians for what was done to us by others…It is society for whom humiliating is a manner of political action…It is the Israeli way of action… I think that we can draw on Simone de Beauvoir and from her work in “Ethics of Ambiguity.” She was gravely affected by her realization of her complicity in the horrendous war that the French waged in Algeria. That war, filled with torture, oppression, repression, humiliation, cannot be far from our (Israelis) minds when we think of the Occupation and the things you describe in your trip back from Hebron…I past below an excerpt from a paper of mine…

    • louis frankenthaler said

    • louis frankenthaler said

      [In essence the oppressor is he (I intentionally, at this point, do not use ‘he/she’ because I accept the prominence of men in the oppressor class) who refuses to reject or repudiate his privilege (Beauvoir, 35) in this sense the tyrant is one who rejects change and is complacent in his privileged position even justifying in a variety of ways, refusing to undergo transformation (“conversion” according to Beauvoir (35)) and thus may be subject to the violent reaction of the oppressed (Beauvoir, 35). She indicates the intransigence of the oppressor/privileged, who goes so far so as to “present himself as the defender of certain values” which are essentially the values of oppression (Beauvoir, 33) that anchor oppression in its place supported by a hegemony of the ruling classes, capitalism, gender oppression, racism, militarism, etc. in which the natural way of being is sought to be preserved by the oppressor.]

  4. David Frankfurter said

    In re: Y. ben-David’s post above. Even when security measures are warranted, they have to be performed with efficiency and respect. When justified security measures turn into license to humiliate and gratuitously delay, as they have repeatedly at the checkpoints, then they have shifted from their justified intent. I respectfully suggest that Mr. Ben David keep the difference in mind. After all, we live in a culture where people complain loudly EVERY time airport security routines approach any form of discrimination.

  5. It is very encouraging to see the Human face of Jews since we only see the ugly one through occupation. Thanks Rabbi Waltz for reminding us again and again that there are still the Good Samaritans among us keeping the light of Hope and trust in humanity at the end of the tunnel. God Bless you and i feel previliged to have crossed your path. The path of wisdom and courage.

    • rabbibrian said

      Thank you, Professor Dajani, for your kind words and for your important work. It is a blessing to join together to uphold the teachings of our respective religious traditions that uphold respect, human dignity, justice and human rights.

  6. Rabbi Brian, I am so proud of the work you are doing. You hit on a very important point. The Israel government knows that resistance will be considerably lessened once the average Palestinian loses his/her sense of humiliation. Beat a dog down often enough, and they will do almost anything you request, not out of respect or love, but out of fear and a sense of futility.

  7. Rabbi Brian,
    Salaams it’s Mehnaz again. I just thought Nidal’s story is an important one, i am on the board for the Arava Institute which is located in Southern Israel, Ketura. We some muslims and mostly Jews here in the US and Israel are trying to tackle ecological issues —our goal and motto “Nature Has No Borders” We admit jordanians, palestinians, Israelis, JewsihAmerican, Arabs to learn through the environment peace.
    Please spread the word.

    • rabbibrian said

      I know of the work of the Arava Institute as my colleague and friend, Rabbi Michael Cohen, works there. It is a wonderful program.

  8. Rabbi Mordechai Liebling said

    Thank you Brian for putting a human face on what happens under occupation. It is through hearing these kinds of stories about the daily realities of life under occupation that we come to understand it more deeply.

    The ones who rob others of their dignity inevitably lose their own.


  9. […] Read the full article and comments at Rabbi Brian’s Blog […]

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