Mya Guarnieri confronts discrimination, identity politics — and the occupation — as she searches for an apartment in Bethlehem. Read her previous post, ‘Reflections on one state from the West Bank.’
Not knowing much about my background, the elderly landlord who doesn’t rent to Jews called and asked me to come sign a lease. Despite my reservations, I agreed.
The landlord ushered me in and we sat on a couch on her large, enclosed balcony.
“First, I must ask you,” she began. “What is your religion?”
“I don’t see how that’s really relevant.” While I understand that she and her family have suffered greatly since 1948, I don’t think that every Jew should be held responsible for that suffering.
“What is your religion?” she insisted.
“I’m secular,” I said. This is mostly true. I make a nod to Shabbat by cooking and having a big meal on Friday evenings with loved ones and by lighting candles when I get around to it — sometimes that’s sundown, sometimes it’s at 10pm. I try not to work on Saturdays. My holiday observance is similar.
She nodded. “Because, me, I’m Catholic.”
“That’s nice,” I smiled.
It seemed that the subject was closed. But my soon-to-be landlord went on, asking personal questions about my partner: How often will he visit? Will he stay over? How many days a week? What is his work? Where did he grow up? Where does he live now? What village does his family come from? What is his family name? What is his first name?
“Mohammad,” I answered.
“They’re all named Mohammad nowadays,” she said derisively, rolling her eyes.
It hit me—this woman doesn’t like anyone who isn’t Christian. I was uncomfortable. But, I reasoned with myself, I was there to lease an apartment. Her feelings about Jews and Muslims are her business.
Against my better judgment, I signed the lease.
But I remained troubled. Not by my landlord’s attitudes but by my own dishonesty. And—I asked my partner, who appreciates the Jewish holidays—what happens when Chanukah comes? Will we light candles in secret, staying away from the windows as we do so? Will we hide the hannukiah during the day in case the landlord comes in to the apartment while we’re gone? What about my Hebrew books? Will I put them on the bookshelf? Turn them around, spines in? What if the landlord snoops and finds my Israeli passport?...Read More