The dancing cop at Al Manara
On Monday night in New York, Pamela Olson will appear at the New School and read from her memoir of Palestine. Below is the opening of a story, “Deep in Enemy Territory,” that Olson posted on her blog but did not include in Fast Times in Palestine because it did not fit into the larger narrative. The story highlights the apartheid conditions in Hebron, the question of refugees, and the way a Jewish-American lost his fears as he learned to parse Palestinian language in new ways. The first scenes of the story include a delightful description from Ramallah that you will never see in the western discourse, where Palestinian civilization must be caricatured and demonized. –Ed.
A friend from college named Cameron was in Israel visiting family for Passover. He was an adventurous soul, a world traveler and entrepreneur, with curly brown hair, blue eyes, and a slim athletic build. When his family learned I was in the Holy Land, they invited me to their Passover seder — until they realized I lived in Ramallah, at which point they promptly rescinded the invitation.
Cameron was a strong supporter of Israel and hawkish on security issues, but he was embarrassed by his family’s behavior. I told him he could make it up to me by visiting the West Bank for a week and seeing the occupation for himself. To my pleasant surprise he agreed. In order not to upset his family, he told them he was heading to the Sinai for a week.
He arrived in Ramallah just as the Dancing Traffic Cop was beginning his shift in Al Manara. Tall, lanky, and graceful, wearing reflective silver aviator sunglasses, the man didn’t just direct traffic. He made a show of it. Cameron and I watched in amazement as his long arms moved in quick, precise, exaggerated arcs and twirls to match his intricate, impeccable footwork.
Even when he took a break and headed to the coffee stand under the palm trees, he didn’t just walk. He strutted, smiling with his razor-sharp Robocop jaw line, tipping his hat to passers-by as if he were the uncontested king of Al Manara.
Cameron looked at me, demanding an explanation. I could only shrug. I used to wonder, did somebody tell him to direct traffic like that, or was it his own initiative? Had he been a kid like Billy Elliot who wanted to be a dancer but couldn’t because it wasn’t culturally acceptable? If so, why on earth was he dancing in full view of the public, waving and flashing his movie star smile to all who passed by, with apparent unanimous approval?
I didn’t question it anymore. I just enjoyed it.
We walked to Pronto to meet John from Kentucky and a handful of Palestinians and foreigners and chat with them over pizza and beers. I made it a point to take Cameron there so he could see I wasn’t the only crazy person who thought the West Bank could be a lovely place to live.
But the next day he would find out just how hellish it could be.
To read the rest, visit this link.