In Jerusalem, even the dentist lets you know who’s in charge

Israel/Palestine
on 22 Comments

A lot of people hate going to the dentist because it hurts. I hate going to the dentist in Jerusalem because it hurts, but not in my mouth. It hurts my sense of belonging.

We go to an Israeli dental clinic.

IMG_8163Many Palestinians in Jerusalem go to Israeli dental clinics. Why shouldn’t they? Palestinians who have residency in Jerusalem are entitled to Israeli health insurance. It’s one of the few benefits they got when Israel illegally annexed Jerusalem.

Nearly all the approximately 300,000 Palestinians living in East Jerusalem are “residents.” They were born in Jerusalem (like their parents, and their parents’ parents) but despite Israel’s annexation, they are not citizens of Israel. They have no voice in the Israeli elections that determine their fate. Not that they necessarily want to vote in the Israeli elections. But I digress.

Last time I took my children to the Israeli dental clinic, the receptionist waved us to the x-ray room and a technician hurried my middle daughter into the big faux-leather chair.

“Wait! Why does she need an x-ray?” I intervened.

The woman had straight blond hair and a pink hair extension that matched her pinkish lipstick. She looked at me with a totally unreadable look on her face.

“She’s having her teeth cleaned. She doesn’t need an x-ray,” I repeated in English. My middle daughter was looking uncomfortable in the chair, embarrassed. The other two had backed into the waiting area and were pretending not to know me.

The technician shouted to the receptionist and there was soon a small congregation of Israeli women around me, all speaking Russian. They were trying to figure out what my problem was.

The dentist herself came out from her room in the back carrying my daughter’s dental records. I could understand her Hebrew despite her heavy Russian accent, “If you want to see the dentist, you have to have an x-ray,” she proclaimed, as if it were a law of nature.

I tried to explain in my few words of Hebrew: “Teeth cleaning. Last time we came, the hygienist wrote in the file that we needed to come back.” I tapped the file in her hand. It would all be clear if she would just read the dental record.

But she didn’t. The dentist turned on her heel and walked through the reception area talking loudly. “This lady wants me to write in the file that her daughter got an x-ray but she doesn’t want her daughter to have the x-ray!”

I was livid, frustrated, powerless.

“She doesn’t need an x-ray!” I raised my voice, following her to her office.

“I decide!” she countered.

By then, all my children were ready to crawl into the medicine cabinet with shame.

And I made it worse.

I approached a Palestinian woman sitting with her children in the waiting room. I asked her in Arabic if she knew enough Hebrew to explain to “those crazy people” (yes, I was angry) that my daughter needed her teeth cleaned, not an x-ray. She didn’t look too happy to be associated with me in any way, but she stood up to help.

Then the door to the hygienist’s room opened and she stepped out, interested in all the commotion. I ran to her. Her long bouncy curls had changed colors since our last visit.

“Do you remember me?” I asked in English.

“Of course!” She smiled at my children and I felt a wave of relief. She is the reason why we go to that clinic. She makes flossing and mouthwash and fluoride fun.

“Can you please tell them I want you to clean my daughter’s teeth? I told them you wrote it on her dental record, but they don’t understand.”

A few minutes later, my middle daughter was reclining in the hygienist’s chair having her teeth cleaned.

“Apparently the person who scheduled your appointment at your last visit thought you wanted to see the dentist,” she said as she worked. “And everyone who sees the dentist for the first time needs an x-ray.”

“You provide services in Hebrew and in Russian,” I said. “Why not in Arabic? Isn’t Arabic also an official language of Israel?

There was a pause and the hygienist looked at me, humanity shining in her eyes. She didn’t respond to me, but she spoke to my daughter. I think she said: “Spit.”

This post first appeared on Nora Lester Murad’s blog. Thanks to Peter Belmont

About Nora Lester Murad

Writer of fiction and commentary about Palestine. Blogs at The View from My Window in Palestine at www.noralestermurad.com.

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22 Responses

  1. Cliff
    February 17, 2013, 1:29 pm

    It seems like every day an enemy of the State of Israel, who is subject to Israeli rule is on the verge of being lynched.

    Even going to the dentist is a big production and you have to deal with haters looking to instigate a fight or push you around.

  2. Pamela Olson
    February 17, 2013, 3:01 pm

    It’s the “little” things, you know? Death by nine thousand cuts. Per day. I really don’t know how Palestinians on either side of the Green Line survive psychologically. They are made of stronger stuff than I am.

    Or maybe it’s because they know deep in their hearts that they belong, and this, too, shall pass. Inshallah.

    • Citizen
      February 18, 2013, 4:21 am

      @ Pamela Olson
      I feel the same thing. BTW, congrats on your new book publication!

  3. John Douglas
    February 17, 2013, 3:33 pm

    Thank you Ms. Murad for this story. The focus of these issues is rarely on the very specifics of the occupatioin. It’s about “the region”, or vile American politicians, or whether Iran is a threat. But the specifics, the minute to minute, is where the suffering is to be found. Pamela Olson is so correct, it’s hard to imagine the courage it must take to live in those minute to minutes. I believe that the story is getting out and as it does the courage and the dignity of the Palestinian people will move to its center. How then will the Israelis appear in comparison?

  4. David Doppler
    February 17, 2013, 3:46 pm

    On the other hand, how many American dentists routinely provide unnecessary x-rays? And how awkward is it anywhere to resist their efforts?

  5. Newclench
    February 17, 2013, 4:53 pm

    I think you captured an everyday slice of Israel that affects almost everyone. This kind of bureaucratic insanity reminds me of so much… dealing with the army, police, mas hachnasa, bituach leumi, driver’s licence people, interior ministry for getting a passport, and all the rest of it. It’s hard if you don’t share a language, and (no question) worse if you are Arab seeking service in places that assume ‘Jewish’ is the norm. Glad your child got what she came for.

    • Avi_G.
      February 18, 2013, 12:12 am

      Dear same-old-same-oldclench-charles,

      You’re intentionally confusing bureaucracy with discrimination.

      This paragraph should have clued you in:

      But she didn’t. The dentist turned on her heel and walked through the reception area talking loudly. “This lady wants me to write in the file that her daughter got an x-ray but she doesn’t want her daughter to have the x-ray!”

      Those corrupt Arabs. They think they can waltz in here and ask me to satisfy their unethical and corrupt ways of cheating the system. Well, I’m not an Arab; I have integrity.

      Or if that’s not clear enough for you, I’ll spell it out so you will understand: The dentist was acting on her own prejudices instead of pausing for a moment and attempting to understand what the concerned mother was trying to communicate to her.

      It’s no different than crossing the street because a black man walking toward made eye contact with you, while you wouldn’t cross the street if a white man made similar eye contact.

      That should be clear enough.

      driver’s licence people

      Yeah. It’s called the licensing office, Misrad Ha-Rishuy.

      • Newclench
        February 18, 2013, 10:27 am

        I didn’t deny the discrimination. I mentioned it. In your eagerness to “sew a kit” for me you repeatedly fail at basic reading comprehension.
        How about this: find a way to stop pretending to read my mind, and in return, you’ll not look silly for making shit up.

      • Avi_G.
        February 18, 2013, 2:28 pm

        I’ll simply remind readers of the following opening sentence in your post:

        I think you captured an everyday slice of Israel that affects almost everyone.

        And you don’t acknowledge the discrimination until the very end:

        It’s hard if you don’t share a language, and (no question) worse if you are Arab seeking service in places that assume ‘Jewish’ is the norm.

        If that’s not a whitewash, I don’t know what is.

        P.S. — A word of advise, you might want to drop the persecution act. I wasn’t “eager” to do anything to you. You’re not that special, you know.

  6. Citizen
    February 18, 2013, 4:25 am

    If the girl had been there before, then she must have had an x-ray since all new dental patients have to have one, yet the file didn’t reflect that? Clerical error? Corrected so she then got her teeth cleaned?

  7. OlegR
    February 18, 2013, 7:24 am

    I would also ask why the writer does not speak Hebrew , since it’s the first official language in the state.

    • NickJOCW
      February 18, 2013, 1:13 pm

      There are two official languages in Israel, Hebrew and Arabic. There is no qualitative distinction between the patient’s unfamiliarity with one and the dentist’s with the other.

      • Woody Tanaka
        February 18, 2013, 3:22 pm

        “There is no qualitative distinction between the patient’s unfamiliarity with one and the dentist’s with the other.”

        I disagree. I think that someone who has opened their doors to provide medical care to the public has an obligation to be conversent in the language of the people they’re serving. The fact that they didn’t employ a native Arab speaker demonstrates yet again the disgusting casual bigotry among the israelis.

    • Woody Tanaka
      February 18, 2013, 2:13 pm

      “I would also ask why the writer does not speak Hebrew”

      Why should she have to speak the occupier’s tongue? Besides, the answer is most likely because the racists in charge of the state do not spend sufficient funds on Arab schools.

    • Avi_G.
      February 18, 2013, 2:30 pm

      Since it’s the official language of the state and all, why don’t you ask the millions of Israeli Jews “Why don’ you speak a word of Arabic?”

      I’d love to hear their responses.

  8. OlegR
    February 18, 2013, 7:27 am

    /Nearly all the approximately 300,000 Palestinians living in East Jerusalem are “residents.” They were born in Jerusalem (like their parents, and their parents’ parents) but despite Israel’s annexation, they are not citizens of Israel./

    Permanent residents are permitted, if they wish and meet certain conditions, to receive Israeli citizenship. These conditions include swearing allegiance to the State, proving that they are not citizens of any other country, and showing some knowledge of Hebrew. For political reasons, most of the residents do not request Israeli citizenship.

    So if the writer wants to participate as full citizen in the Israeli democracy all she has to do is apply.
    You can’t eat the cake and leave it full

    • yrn
      February 18, 2013, 1:06 pm

      Reminds me on the Israeli Palestinian citizens, who scream discrimination, but are not willing to take part in Civil service in their Palestinian villages or towns.
      In one hand they get fool rights as anyone else who dose his duties to the country, but on the other hands they are not willing to contribute even to their society.

      That’s eating the cake and leave it full.

      • Avi_G.
        February 18, 2013, 4:57 pm

        Reminds me on the Israeli Palestinian citizens, who scream discrimination, but are not willing to take part in Civil service in their Palestinian villages or towns.

        Are you prepared to support that specious assertion with a credible source?

        It’s quite a rancid statement to make when you write, “Reminds me [...]” As though it’s common knowledge and you’re a credible and qualified authority on the Other in Israel, the segment of society about which Israeli Jews know little to nothing.

        Spare us the nonsense.

    • Avi_G.
      February 18, 2013, 2:37 pm

      Permanent residents are permitted, if they wish and meet certain conditions, to receive Israeli citizenship.

      And in doing so they will be affirming Israel’s illegal occupation of their city, the illegal annexation of their city and lose all rights in privileges afforded to them as former citizens of Jordan to travel to neighboring Arab states, the same states that Israel refuses to make peace with.

      Yet you go on to do the Hasbara two-step like clench above:

      For political reasons, most of the residents do not request Israeli citizenship.

      Nice.

      and showing some knowledge of Hebrew.

      So you acknowledge that Arabic is one of the official languages of the state, and yet it is not required for one to become a citizen.

      You can’t eat the cake and leave it full

      You said it, Olga.

  9. NickJOCW
    February 18, 2013, 8:13 am

    That behaviour is not particularly Israeli. In this case it may well have been exacerbated by racism but X-rays are dentists’ perks. They are charged at a disproportionate rate which is presumed to include the expertise required to examine them and dentists factor such profits into their budget. Most people are cowed or bamboozled into it and, as the lady says, dentists will often not even accept a patient until these costs are incurred. One thing I discovered, although I don’t know whether it’s also true in Israel, is that technically the resulting image belongs to the patient and, while it might be provocative for a Palestinian to do so from a Jewish dentist, one is fully entitled to demand the image and take it away with one. This pisses them off no end which may provide a degree of consolation.

  10. pabelmont
    February 18, 2013, 9:26 am

    Great story, Nora. Glad it appears in MondoWeiss.

    It — and some comments above — point out what it is like to live in a place where there is not only official and societal discrimination (so that, often but not always, there is little sympathy for Palestinians), bureaucracy not only of the Israeli variety but some brought by transplanted Russians, and, fianally, the icing on the cake, conflict springing from lack of a common language.

    It appears that there is one constant here, kids’ embarrassment at their parents!

  11. belewlaw
    February 18, 2013, 11:01 am

    This is more about communication, control and respect than it is about dentistry.

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