I get the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs and a few months back they published this amazing story by Awatef Sheikh (a former aide to a Palestinian member of the Knesset). It wasn't online when the magazine showed up, but now it is. (You should all subscribe to the Washington Report). It begins with an incident as related by a Jewish Israeli mother, Karni Eldad, in an article in Haaretz. These are just excerpts:
The Jewish Israeli mother posted her ad at a café on Mount Scopus adjacent to her neighborhood, the French Hill. Both are located in East Jerusalem, occupied since the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed by Israel in violation of international law. [Karni] Eldad was fortunate: a woman called to express interest in the job. She described the caller as an intelligent and amazing person, a mother with two children, thus giving her credentials as an experienced babysitter.
But there was a problem: the caller’s name was Suha and she lived in Isaweyeh, a Palestinian slum-like neighborhood in East Jerusalem, just a few hundred yards away from Eldad’s pleasant, well-maintained neighborhood. Eldad rejected Suha and told her and Haaretz readers why: Grappling with her conscience, Eldad confessed she was “afraid to employ an Arab woman.”
“I tried to imagine an Arab caregiver for my son,” Eldad wrote. “No problem. She sounded delightful.....But what if...” she went on to reflect. “What if she duplicates the key and gives it to her cousin who will steal the car/computer/wallet/gun? Or what if she really is an honest and nice person and innocently tells a relative in Taibeh (or for the sake of argument, in Ramallah) that she’s looking after a cute baby? Will that person kidnap him? Or extort money from us? Or worse? And what if none of this, but I always have the feeling that maybe, maybe yes?”
The author explained what she described as her “moral dilemma”: she succumbed to her fears and wondered whether this means she is racist. She questioned what has changed; her parents had had an Arab cleaner when she was young....
I was in Jerusalem recently and ran into the pseudonymous Suha, an old acquaintance from university. Her actual name is Aswan; she is a Palestinian citizen of Israel, originally from Nazareth, a single mother of two children. She is doing her Ph.D. in philosophy at the Hebrew University, has a master’s degree in educational anthropology, a diploma in management of not-for-profit community centers, and is a former manager of one. She is a qualified group facilitator with experience in facilitating conflict resolution discussion groups of Jewish and Palestinian participants, and is qualified in mediation and trust-building practices. Aswan lives with her two children at the Hebrew University’s Student Village in the French Hill—not in Isaweyeh, as Eldad stated in her article.
Why, then, did Eldad specify Isaweyeh? Because in order to justify her “moral dilemma,” Eldad required the typical image of a Palestinian—the sneaky, untrustworthy one...
Aswan explained to me that she tried to convince Eldad to meet, but failed. “Do you want to meet, and then you can see there is nothing to be afraid of?” she suggested. Eldad declined. Aswan then suggested meeting to discuss Eldad’s fears, regardless of the job. Attempting to end the conversation, Eldad said: “I couldn’t hire you even if I wanted to. My dad is a member of the Knesset and, according to the law, his children can’t hire an Arab babysitter for security reasons.”
While there are more than 20 laws in Israel which discriminate against Palestinian citizens, none forbid Jewish MKs from hiring Palestinian citizens as babysitters—at least, not yet.
Aswan is not alone in this experience (nor, sadly, is Eldad in her views)....
When I asked Aswan how her experience with Eldad affected her as a citizen, she replied: “We face racism and Israeli supremacy on a daily basis, in the smallest details of our daily lives. But this was hard to deal with: I was rejected as a human—but I refuse to see myself as a victim. On the contrary, Eldad is the victim.”