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No fires or inciting politicians can destroy our shared society

The wildfire that struck Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salam left our Jewish-Arab village more resilient than ever before. We invite Israel’s politicians to learn from us on how to heal our society’s wounds.

Our country has been up in flames this past week. Hundreds of fires have broken out in various areas resulting in tens of thousands of people being evacuated from their homes. The first fire started last Tuesday at Neve Shalom-Wahat al Salam, a unique community between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv where Jews and Arabs live together in equality, which struggled to quell the flames and bring peace to the region. My husband and two children and I were evacuated from with 300 others, fearing of our lives and the destruction of our homes.

It was frightening for all of us. However what was even more frightening was the reaction of some of the countries journalists and politicians who used the opportunity to ignite and inflame hatred, claiming that arson was the cause of the wildfires. Israel’s Education Minister Naftali Bennett posted an unfortunate and irresponsible Facebook status, in which he wrote that “The only ones capable of setting the land on fire are people to whom it does not belong.” Rather than unifying and reassuring Israeli citizens — if only slightly — Bennett incited against an entire public and inflamed the public atmosphere.

Following the elections in the United States, the world has become a dangerous place, as sparks have begun to fly in all directions, igniting hatred and fear. We have seen this over the past decade in Europe with new immigrants, and we now see it in the U.S., as white supremacists begin to cheer on Trump’s victory as a victory for the ‘white race,’ while graffiting swastikas on walls.

The fire at Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salam was clearly an unfortunate accident, as was the one in the neighboring town of Nataf. One reporter, an expert in arson, deemed the fire an “inspiration” to other supposed pyromaniacs, giving second and third-rate politicians carte blanche to do what they are best at: incite. But perhaps the journalist was right; since the fire in my community was an inspiration. We made it through the freezing night together in the fields below our homes, where we realized that our community can teach this country’s leadership a thing or two about humane behavior in times of crisis.

Cohesion and unity in the face of fire is not so surprising in our community – the first and only Jewish-Arab...

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As Arab women become statistics, their killers walk free

Sana al-Zana was murdered and buried in the desert late last year. The media didn’t report it, the police did little to nothing, and the killer is still walking free.

I recently discovered that us Arab women are a skillful bunch: it turns out that in Israel of 2016, an Arab woman can put an end to her life, bury herself in the middle of the desert, get rid of the evidence, return to her family as a lifeless body, and be buried once again — without anyone raising suspicions over the cause of death. Along the way she is also able to ensure that everyone returns to a life of normalcy: the police, the attorney’s office, the forensic institute, the family, the village.

This story began this past summer when I published a Facebook status on the murder of Amana Yasin, who was pregnant at the time she was stabbed to death and the fifth Arab woman to be murdered in 2016. While mourning her death along with other Facebook users, something surprising happened. A woman I do not know sent me the following message: “You are mistaken, Samah. My neighbor was murdered several months ago, and she is not included in your statistics.”

The anonymous neighbor told me that a young Bedouin woman, Zana al-Sana, from the village Lakiya in the Negev Desert, disappeared for a period of time. It was announced in the village that al-Sana died and received a modest burial. Everybody knew, however, she was killed by her family. People came to the mourner’s tent and knew she was murdered, yet nobody talked about it. The story was not repeated in the media, and indeed al-Sana’s death did not become a statistic.

Using her name alone, without a date or any leads, I began searching for documentation of a similar case in the south. There was simply no mention of al-Sana anywhere. I told the story to +972’s Haggai Matar and asked for help in speaking to the police and the state attorney. The story sounded completely insane: how come no one knew to tell me what actually happened?

After speaking to the police I found out that al-Sana did indeed disappear last December. The police searched for her and arrested her brother after they heard he had threatened her. Shortly after his arrest, al-Sana’s family members found her body half-buried in the desert, not...

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No one is lifting a finger to protect Arab women

Before she was murdered by her ex-husband, Huda Abu Sarir was betrayed by the rest us. She was murdered because we raise men unstable men alongside strong, steadfast women.

I drove into the tiny, empty Jaffa alleyway on my way to the home of Huda Abu Sarari, an Arab woman who was murdered by her ex-husband a week earlier. I had a long list of questions and dilemmas following a discussion I held earlier that day with activists from Jaffa: should we demonstrate against our society or against the establishment, which oppresses us? Is this the pure struggle of Palestinian women, or does our common fate tie us to others? Should we invite political parties? Should we speak about violence generally, or only gender violence?

I sat and pondered these questions, yet I could barely speak a word and couldn’t hold back my tears. The women told me the hard truth about Huda; listening to them I realized that my dilemmas were nothing compared to her life, which was cut short last week. Here, around the table set up to prepare Huda for her burial, one can find all the answers. Soon, the white sheet will cover her body, and the truth will be buried in the wet sands of the sea, which she loved so much.

‘Like a monster’

Huda Abu Sarari was forced into an engagement at 14 years old — only her mother managed, after much difficulty and pain — to delay the wedding until she was 14. At 19 she was already a mother. Tell me: was this not a murder? The death of a dream? The end of her future? The killing of a blossoming, strong woman?

These walls and the small courtyard have witnessed many screaming matches, they have been struck many times. Here and there they have seen blood. “This is how we were raised, sit aside and shut up,” Eness, Huda’s only sister, said as tears streamed down her face. Men are born with power and total control, as if it were an inseparable part of their being.

Huda divorced after much suffering, returned to her family’s home and dreamt of turning over a new leaf — one that would allow her to study, work, and simply live. But a divorced woman is treated like a monster, a ticking bomb. She is erased. “As if she weren’t a human being,” says her aunt....

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Palestinian culture is flourishing — thanks to Miri Regev

Each attempt to silence Palestinian artists only makes our voices grow louder. It’s time to admit that Miri Regev is the best thing to happen to Palestinian culture since Israel’s founding. Period.

I generally do not tend to write about the Mizrahi struggle and what kind of effect Regev is having on it. But in my eyes she is undoing the hard work of Mizrahi activists and functioning mostly as Netanyahu’s emissary, who uses her to spread hatred and fear in the backyards of Israeli society, where the Mizrahi struggle began. Regev does the job well — she removes the burden of racism and oppression from Netanyahu, while making sure to keep the Mizrahi struggle at bay.

Far be it from me, as a Palestinian citizen who shares this country with Arab Jews (or Jewish Arabs), to judge what Regev does vis-a-vis the Mizrahi struggle. Only time will determine its fate once the Regev era is over. But when taking into consideration the outcome of Regev’s stint as culture minister in Israel, I am convinced as a Palestinian that things have never been better.

The Palestinian national poet, Mahmoud Darwish, would never have received all of this exposure, since never has there been such widespread public discussion of his poetry. And this is probably the opportunity to break it to the culture minister that Darwish has been dead for eight years. So no, Mrs. Regev, there is no way to force him to change the words to his poems and threaten to cut him off from state funds.

When was the last time a Palestinian actor was not ashamed of winning an Israeli prize? When was the last time a Mizrahi poet from Lod performed on stage alongside a Palestinian rapper from Lod? Can you remember the last time a Palestinian actress dedicated her Ophir Prize (the Israeli equivalent of an Oscar) to the women living in the 36 unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev Desert?

This puts Regev in a tough spot, to the point that she tried to pressure Haifa’s municipality to cancel Palestinian rapper Tamer Nafar’s performance at an Arab-Jewish music festival.

The territorial war over the public’s consciousness began long ago. After our military defeat came nearly 20 years of military rule. The 70s brought about the end of the Shin Bet’s shadowy rule, the control over our education, and the aggressive attempt at Israelizing us. Only in...

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Israelis will pay the price for shunning Palestine's Shimon Peres

One day Mahmoud Abbas, who suppresses his own people to protect Israelis, will also pass away. That’s when the Palestinian pressure cooker will explode.

Arabs and Jews in Israel, Palestine, and the Arab world at large, I promise you that next time Shimon Peres dies, Joint List head Ayman Odeh and the rest of the Joint List will attend the funeral. Okay? Next.

But until then, let’s shed some light on the man who actually attended the funeral, the man who will, sometime soon, pass away himself. Let’s talk about Mahmoud Abbas, who came to pay his final respects, grieved with the Israelis, stretched out his hand in peace — without reciprocation.

Why is everybody placing the blame on Ayman Odeh for burning the bridges that no one seems to be building besides himself? How can Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan write about the “true face” of the man who is, more than anybody, responsible for coexistence in Israel — and all while asking as many Israelis to “share” his post, so that everyone knows who the real Ayman Odeh is.

Last week I wrote about the remnants of the Zionist Left, which feels frustrated with Palestinian citizens of Israel, they who missed a golden opportunity to rebuild ties between the two nations while standing around Peres’ coffin. Truthfully the Zionist Left has stopped surprising us long ago, and today really understands what it really wants. Does it want a unity government? Is it in favor of a final-status agreement? Do they support or oppose settlements?

Until the Left grows a spine, I want to understand why the Israeli Right doesn’t take out all its anger on its leaders. Why don’t they settle the score with Sara and Benjamin Netanyahu, who stood at the funeral and embraced the leaders of the world — smiling from ear to ear as if they were welcoming guests to their son’s wedding — when the following day the government approved a plan to build alternative housing for residents of the unauthorized outpost of Amona, whom are due to be evacuated by the end of the year? Why did the world forgive the Right for driving a stake through Peres’ so-called vision of peace without noticing Abbas, who was turned into a refugee and grew up to succeed Yasser Arafat, is still trying to push for peace?

This man, who manages to suppress any...

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Now that Peres is gone, it's time the Zionist Left did some soul searching

Instead of condemning Arab MKs for boycotting Peres’ funeral, Zionist Left parties should ask themselves why Palestinian citizens don’t trust them.

Why are so many Jews in Israel disappointed and angered by the Joint List’s decision to not attend Shimon Peres’ funeral? What is the source of the endless bitterness and incitement on the Internet? How dare military correspondent Roni Daniel condescendingly reprimand Joint List head Ayman Odeh, accusing him of missing an opportunity “to be a human being,” as if he were God’s emissary on earth. After all if Odeh and the Joint List had attended the funeral, no one would have thought to ascribe even a modicum of respect, humanity, or leadership to their decision.

I believe that all the criticism against Arab elected officials stems from the internal frustrations of Israel’s Jewish citizens. After all, they were the ones to bury Peres — along with his vision and hope to which he so stubbornly clung.

I want to remind the readers that Palestinians were not responsible for the murder of Peres’ partner, Yitzhak Rabin. I want to remind you that Israeli Jews stopped Peres from having any political influence in his party, the Knesset, the government, and among his people. Not the Palestinians.

Just before Yom Kippur, I invite Israel’s Jewish population to do some soul searching. Instead of crying over the “dove of peace” that passed away at the age of 93, the Jewish people must do some national self reflection and ask themselves how the current leadership came into power. Which sins did you commit that led to the most embarrassing, racist, violent government to take power, and all at your expense? How did you get rid of every single politician or public persona who spoke of a different future — those who talked about the ability to end the occupation, and maybe even achieve peace.

Scapegoating Arab MKs

As a Palestinian it is clear to me that Peres’ dream was meant for his people and the state he helped build on the ashes of my village and my history. The list of his crimes against the Palestinians is long, and believe me when I say that I understand your national pain, anger, and mourning — I even appreciate what Peres did for the Jews throughout his life, and especially what he tried to do during his last years. I hope that the Palestinian leader to come will care...

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Netanyahu at the UN: Frozen bodies, blatant lies, and imaginary children

Netanyahu didn’t need the Mufti or a bomb diagram at this year’s UN General Assembly. Just a few kind words about a Palestinian victim of Jewish terror, branding Israel as an economic powerhouse, and kissing up to the Americans. 

Netanyahu UN wide

1. Stealing the president’s lines

“Ahmed was the victim of a horrible terrorist act perpetrated by Jews… No words can bring comfort to this boy or to his family. Still, as I stood by his bedside I told his uncle, ‘This is not our people. This is not our way’.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu, during his speech Thursday at the United Nations General Assembly, decided to talk about the murderous attack on the Dawabshe family. But as luck would have it, I, too, was there during Netanyahu’s highly-publicized visit to the hospital — Ahmed’s uncle wasn’t even present. He happened to be at a different hospital when Netanyahu arrived, next to Ahmed’s father who succumbed to his wounds a few days later.

The person who was with Ahmed — the only member of the Dawabshe family who survived — was the doctor from Duma who got on a helicopter so he could be at the child’s side. The doctor refused to stand alongside Netanyahu during his visit to urgent care, and asked that Netanyahu not be photographed with Ahmed, who suffered burns over his entire body.

The conversation between us and Netanyahu took place in the adjacent room, and since I was there I can say that the words “This is not our people. This is not our way” were never uttered. So what did Netanyahu say? We will catch the perpetrators, we will punish them, we will compensate you. And he promised: we will rebuild the house and take care of the family. I remember that the doctor wanted to ensure that Netanyahu knew how important it was to catch those who burned the family, and more importantly: that those who did it aren’t labeled “insane” in court.

By the way, the person who actually did refer to “our people” was President Reuven Rivlin, who arrived a few minutes later. But why split hairs? The truth is less important when...

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Israel's '50 most influential women' — not a single Arab

Israel’s leading economic paper couldn’t find a single Arab to put on their list of Israel’s most influential women.

Last week the Israeli magazine Lady Globes (put out by business daily Globes) published its list of Israel’s 50 most influential women for 2016. Although it remains unclear what it takes for a woman to make the list — not to mention who came up with the criteria — I decided to use the list to analyze Israeli society from the eyes of a Palestinian. I wanted to learn who these women are, and why they are so influential.

The list includes truly impressive women, who at first glance seem to come from the world of business, economics, finance, banking, etc. For a moment I thought Globes was looking for women with money, but the list also includes Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home), and a few spots after her is Culture Minister Miri Regev.

I continued thumbing through the pages and found President of Israel’s Supreme Court Miriam Naor, as well as a number of high-ranking members of various government ministries. The vast majority of the women on the list, however, were completely unknown to me. For a moment I felt as if I had failed a general knowledge test when I understood that I did not recognize at least 50 percent of the names. But thanks to some friends I realized I was not alone, and that there is good reason for my ignorance — I am an Arab woman, and this list isn’t intended for me. After all, what are the chances an Arab woman, enlightened though she may be, will read Lady Globes?

Good Jewish women

So, dear editors of Lady Globes, next time before you include MK Shelly Yachimovich (Zionist Union) in your list of Israel’s most influential women — despite the fact that most of the struggles she has spearheaded have not really succeeded — perhaps you should pick up the phone and call MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Joint List), the first Arab woman to head the Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality, and who has a positive influence on many aspects of women’s lives here, be they Arab or Jewish.

I suggest you also meet Attorney Mariam Kabha, the highest-ranking Arab woman in public service, who was appointed national commissioner for equal employment opportunities within the Economy Ministry. Perhaps you should weigh looking through the list...

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No, there is nothing 'Israeli' about Jordan's gold medal olympian

A number of Israeli websites preferred to forget the fact that Palestinian-Jordanian olympian Ahmad Abu Ghosh’s family comes from a village conquered by Zionist forces in 1948.

How much nonsense can go into a single news item? The answer is, unfortunately, a lot. Nothing has angered me recently quite like an article published by the news site Virtual Jerusalem with the following headline: “Palestinian with Israeli Roots Wins Jordan’s First-Ever Olympic Medal.”

That Palestinian olympian is Ahmad Abu Ghosh, 20, who was born in the Al-Nasser refugee camp to a Palestinian family from the village of Abu Ghosh (which according to the article is “known for its hummus restaurants and convenient location on the main road connecting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv”). According to the article, Abu Ghosh has Israeli roots because his family comes from a village conquered by Israel in the 1948 War.

Furthermore the article claims that the village is located in an area that launched “attacks that killed hundreds of Jews” during the war, and thus the villagers were threatened with expulsion. But following public pressure and protest by leftist and rightist Israelis, the residents were allowed to return to their homes (thank you very much!) This is how the village, which collaborated with the Zionist forcers, turned into a culinary powerhouse and an island of coexistence between Jews and Arabs (how many Jews actually live there?)

What this and a number of other articles fail to mention is that a large number of families from Abu Ghosh became refugees in 1948, lost all their property, and lived in refugee camps in Jordan. Ahmad Abu Ghosh’s family left the village by choice and followed their family members to a Palestinian camp. Not exactly “immigration” in the traditional sense of the word, and not something that represents a strong connection to Israeli identity.

If Israel wants a gold medal so badly, take it and give back Ahmad his Jordanian identity. Better to continue being a Palestinian refugee with Jordanian citizenship than an Israeli who is unaware of his roots and denies his Israeli identity, no?

Now with the end of the Olympics, and in the wake of Israel’s tepid successes there, the Jewish state should start considering a new route if it wants to get the gold. Here are two options:

The first is to force olympic champions to make aliyah from the United States, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Britain,...

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The Tunisian star who filled Palestinians with hope — for one night

For one night, Tunisian megastar Saber Rebaï brought Palestinians in the West Bank just a modicum of normalcy.

Rawabi, Arabic for “hills,” is a sleek name for a Palestinian city that was recently built between Jerusalem and Ramallah. Surrounded by settlements on all sides, the place looks like a standard Israeli bedroom community and has been dubbed “the future of Palestine.”

Yes, this is what they call virtually the sole real estate project promoted by the Palestinian Authority, with the support of moneyed investors like the Palestinian-American businessman Bashar Masri. According to the project’s publications, it is meant to bolster the Palestinian middle class and encourage young families to leave the densely populated cities and villages, buy a modern apartment and live and work in an environment where they can benefit from health services, public transportation, culture and leisure. Some 40,000 Palestinians are expected to move to the city in the near future.

As always, this rather pretentious enterprise has received a fair share of criticism, including over Israel’s involvement in it. Israel actually controls the land on which Rawabi was built, and was the main supplier of the city’s building blocks. As we have come to learn, businessmen are less prone to let a national conflict get in their way, especially when their profits are at stake.

 To boycott or not to boycott?

Why am I telling you all this? Because I went to Rawabi on Friday with my partner and son to attend a concert by Tunisian superstar Saber Rebaï, who has occupied the top of the Arab pops for more than two decades. He is a judge on the Arab version of the talent show “The Voice,” and his music has been the soundtrack for lovebirds across the Arab world. And now that he’s in Palestine, is skipping his concert even an option?

Very few Arab artists set foot in the West Bank or do the impossible and perform for a Palestinian audience inside Israel. Every year, there are a couple of exceptionally brave signers, bands or poets who come here, and every year they are welcomed by a heated debate in the press: is going through Israeli immigration tantamount to normalization and putting up with the occupation? Will the singer’s entourage make it through the checkpoints in the first place?

This ubiquitous moral dilemma is not inconsequential when so many artists prefer to avoid it and vote with their feet. On the other...

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Meet Palestine's animal rights activists

An invitation to visit the site slated for Palestine’s first vegan cafeteria led me to discover the buzzing, if incipient, world of animal rights activism in the West Bank.

I have a confession to make: I, how shall I put this, don’t like animals. Whether it’s the annoying dog wagging his tail next to me on the street or the cute spoiled cat seeking an embrace, they just don’t do it for me.

I tried to learn the code of acceptable conduct among pets’ adoptive families, though I always managed to fail by offending someone. Most of the time I extracted myself from the embarrassment through joking, “C’mon I’m an Arab, you know, for us a dog is a dog, and family is family.” I’m also neither a vegetarian nor a vegan, but don’t really like meat and can get along very well without it for several days.

I was approached by a group of young Palestinian women attempting to open the first vegan cafeteria in Palestine at Al Quds University in Abu Dis, Jerusalem. They’re seeking public aid to realize their dream of helping animals survive in Palestine, educating youth about animal rights, and supporting disadvantaged students at the university. The goal is to employ single mothers from Abu Dis to cook with Palestinian ingredients from Palestinian farmers, without any Israeli products.

Parting Waze

This is too good to be true, I said to myself. Why would anyone care about Palestinian animal rights when Palestinian people see their rights violated on a daily basis?

I decided to see for myself, and took Waze along with me to the Al Quds campus. After an hour on hilly roads the app declared confidently: “You’ve reached your destination.” I got out of the car and found myself facing a particularly tall fence. That’s no university!

I approached a teenage passerby and asked: “Where is the university?”

“The Hebrew University?” He asked.

“No, not the Hebrew University. Al Quds. Waze says it’s here.”

He laughed out loud. “Yes, it’s here, just behind this fence. Do you have a helicopter? If you go down this road you’ll reach a settlement, but the road is blocked. You’ll have to go back up through Abu Tor, then go down the Maaleh Adumim-Jericho road to Eizariya, and then back to the university. What, you’re not from here?”

I pretended to understand his directions and set off...

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A year since the Duma murders: Navigating justice and pain

A year after losing his parents and baby brother, six-year-old Ahmad Dawabshe returns to Duma for the first time. At court hearings for the accused murderers, settler youths taunt the remaining family members. A journey through an unimaginably painful year.

“I know you spent a lot of time with the Dawabshe family in the hospital,” said the activist who called me last week. “I need your help.” It’s been a long time since I visited them, I told her.

Sunday marks one year since the tragic arson attack, and the images started flashing through my head: how I found myself heading to the ICU that cursed Friday alongside what remained of the Dawabshe family.

There was the military helicopter that landed at the hospital carrying Riham, the mother who was fighting for her life, little Ahmad, and Muhammad, the terrified young doctor who accompanied them.

There were the widely covered visits by Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Rivlin, members of Knesset and UN representatives.

There was the death of Sa’d, the father, after nine days in the hospital, and the soul-crushing period leading to the Riham’s final breaths, when she joined her husband and baby Ali.

There was the cemetery with the three fresh graves, one next to the other.

The images of Ahmad’s first smile in a room full of people and their tears flashed before my eyes. I remembered the endless surgeries and the amazing medical staff that treated him. And so many more images from that nightmarish mental album.

I suddenly remembered that I did not make it to Ahmad’s sixth birthday party. In an apologetic tone that didn’t even convince myself, I started to explain to the activist, a young woman from Ramle, how these days I was following Ahmad’s progress from afar.

She tried to ease the torments of my conscience: “Ahmad will be okay, inshallah, but we have a different problem — the settlers.”

“What about them?”

“They show up every time there’s a court hearing [in the murder trial] and the [Dawabshe] family is forced to face them all by themselves,” she explained. “The grandfather, Abu Hassan, and the uncle up against the settlers who shout at and ridicule the family, agitate them, make gestures toward them.”

She asked me to help organize some sort of solidarity rally to support the family outside the courthouse. If enough people show up, she hoped, those...

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A Jew, an Arab and a smartphone meet on a train in Jerusalem

A disturbing story of violence and racism on the light rail in Jerusalem, and how the cellphone in your pocket can deliver justice. 

On the surface of things you could write it off as just another case of anti-Arab racism, wrapped neatly in Jewish Israelis’ all-too-common racist fears of Palestinians. Just another incident among many on public transportation in Israel, just one of many that have taken place on the light rail in Jerusalem. But this was something else.

I’ve heard no small number of stories of Palestinians being harassed and attacked in public in recent weeks. There was the young Jewish woman who documented the security check Arabs are forced to undergo in Be’er Sheva. There was the photo of Jews looking entertained as they watched security forces humiliate a Palestinian construction worker.

Then there was the case of Hanan Zaid Kilany, an art student at Bezalel Academy on her way from Mount Scopus to the city’s Central Bus Station, where she planned on catching a bus to visit her sister in Lydd. In a conversation we had last week, Hanan told me how she was in a light rail car, speaking with a friend on the phone in Arabic, when a woman with an overdeveloped sense of security decided there was a terrorist on the train. The woman got the attention of a border policewoman who happened to be among the passengers, and the two decided to save everyone from Hanan, who had the gall to continue speaking in Arabic.

The policewoman asked Hanan to step off the train and to get off the phone. “I didn’t do anything,” Hanan told her in Hebrew, “there is nothing on me.” She continued to chat with her friend on the phone. At that point the border policewoman became angry, and tried to save whatever was left of her dignity. “Get off now and don’t make a fool of yourself,” she ordered Hanan, who says she was unfazed and refused. “I will get off at the stop where I need to get off. If you insist, you can inspect my bag at the next stop. I’m rushing to catch a bus,” she said, and returned to her phone call.

At this point a crowd began to gather. A Jewish woman began filming, while a few others tried to defend the young Arab woman who was refusing to follow the script. “Bleeding hearts! What if she had a bomb? What...

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