On this beautiful and sunny day, a group of us were going on a tour of various areas, including East Jerusalem, with an acquaintance as our tour guide. As the tour wound down, I realized we were entering Sheikh Jarrah. Noting what I’d seen the day before and the demonstration 3 days before, I thought to myself "Wow Sheikh Jarrah finally seems calm." The group I was with stopped to talk to the Palestinians in a makeshift tent sitting on the al-Kurd family’s property. Within the same property is Nabeel al-Kurd’s actual house, recently taken over by Israeli settlers using a court order. The juxtaposition of the al-Kurd family’s tent next to their own house stolen from them really affected me.
The security guard hired to protect the house for the settlers was, ironically enough, a Palestinian hired by an Israeli security firm. When my English colleague realized this, she began calling him a dog (and many other things) in Arabic (speaking loud enough for him to hear). I began to uneasily suggest to her that this maybe wasn’t so helpful, but then one of the Palestinian women spoke up. "He is here because he also has to feed his family," she said with a tone of understanding that left me in disbelief. She seemed sure he didn’t want to do this. One or two others echoed her sentiments. There were a million things I wanted to say to him as well, but if these Palestinians could hold their tongues, who were we to berate him?
As I sat down with them, the families offered me Arabic coffee (can’t turn that down!) and I sat, listening to their stories. I had thought to tell them this was all written up already and that our tour required that I leave soon, but I knew it was important for them to feel heard, so to the dismay of our tour guide, I took my pen and paper and wrote and wrote and wrote. I won’t include that here because those stories are readily available here and here, among other places.
As we began wrapping things up and I thanked them, I heard a commotion outside of the tent. I stepped out to find that the Israeli settlers had come to enter the al-Kurd home. I was dismayed by the ease with which they walked past the family’s make-shift home (a tent) and directly into the house that Nabeel al-Kurd built himself for his family. They seemed completely unaffected by the situation, with baby stroller in tow, and one male settler even exchanging words with the Palestinians and staring into their tent (again, unaffected).
As I walked back out toward the gate entering the al-Kurd property, I watched as a shouting match between Palestinians and the same male settler ensued (he had parked his car immediately in front of the gate and was preparing to step into it). I listened as he shouted in Arabic (he must’ve been Mizrahi), "Shut up you faggot." Turning to look I realized the comment was aimed at a Palestinian boy who didn’t look older than 9 or 10. Somewhat shocked, I responded in Arabic to the settler "Aren’t you ashamed? How can you speak like that, he’s a little boy." His response (again, in Arabic) was "Didn’t you hear what he said to me?!" I switched to English at this point (not sure why) and looking him directly in the face asked "You’re an adult, he’s a child. You don’t see the difference?"
To my surprise he began shouting "WHERE ARE YOU FROM?" to me. "FROM WHERE?" he repeated and continued "WHY ARE YOU IN MY COUNTRY?" For some reason my English had struck a nerve.
I responded by asking "Your country?"
"YES, MY COUNTRY!" he barked.
Once again, surprised by the audacity, I asked "This is your country?"
"YES! What are you doing in MY country?" he continued shouting. My general policy while observing everything that was happening was not to at any time behave in a provocative fashion, as I knew most likely any of these Israelis’ anger would be taken out on the Palestinians, but I wasn’t able to hold my tongue. "This would not be your country without my tax dollars," I said and then continued telling he and his friend not to worry, as we are working very hard to ensure they stop benefiting from our tax dollars.
I backed off as the verbal battle raged on between this audacious settler and the Palestinians around him. Moments later, he got into his car. I thought he was going to drive off. I was wrong… He backed his car up a bit, and then drove directly into the crowd I was standing in along with many others, slamming on the brakes just short of hitting us, and then stepping back out of the car to laugh at us and argue again. Apparently he found it humorous that the 60+ year old women, small children, and others had been scared by his driving directly at them. After a bit more shouting and arguing, he got back into his car and began to leave. As he and another began to drive off, a boy around 11 or 12 somehow scratched their car. Again, the same man, now the driver, jumped back out and ran aggressively toward the area the child had run away to. To be honest, I found myself judging yet another Palestinian child, thinking to myself "Why did he do that? He knows how dirty this guy is…" But a quick glance at what was likely his family’s or neighbor’s family’s home now taken over by these Israeli settlers answered my question.
My English colleague stood and remained between the settler and the group of children with their mothers, which included the child responsible for scratching the car. I was not close enough to hear their exchange. As we walked away and he calmed down, he got on the phone to call police. As we began to leave with our tour guide, my colleague whispered to me what he had said to her. "WHAT?!!!!?" I responded. "Yeah, he said ‘You wanna f**k? I have condoms in the car.’," she repeated to me.
As we began to drive off, our tour guide had another exchange with the same guy and he proceeded to spit into the car onto our guide. Our guide jumped out, furiously asking "WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?! WHY SPIT IN MY FACE??" At this point I jumped out and helped pull our tour guide away.
After the tour, an exchange with my English colleague reminded me of some of the exchanges I’ve had with proud Palestinians.
"Are you ok?" I asked her. "I imagine it’s not pleasant to have someone say something like that to you…"
"I’m fine," she responded. I didn’t believe her…
"I can’t imagine you’re not bothered by what he said. It was a really demeaning comment," I persisted.
At that point I saw her demeanor change a bit as she let go and admitted she was bothered and offended, all the while disgusted. We talked about it for a moment and then put another unbelievable experience behind us as we headed to a restaurant. I was cognizant of the fact that while we could leave Sheikh Jarrah and its problems behind us, this was their daily life. I thought back to the comment about the treacherous security guard by one of the older women, "… he also has to feed his family…" and sat blown away thinking of the inner strength these Palestinians must have.
Andrew Kadi is a human rights activist and a member of Adalah-NY: the Coalition for Justice in the Middle East who has written for the Guardian’s Comment is Free, Electronic Intifada, and other publications.