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Confessions of a so-called leftist

The Palestinian laborers working next door brought an end to Mya Guarnieri’s privacy. But while familiarity quickly replaced resentment, it also highlighted the vast distance between her and her temporary neighbors

I have to admit that, at first, I resented the Palestinian workers next door.

Not because they were Palestinian but because I no longer had any privacy. A writer and freelance journalist, I work at home. Most of the time, I wear my pajamas to work. Sometimes I wear a Santa Claus hat, a reminder to relax and not take myself—or my writing—too seriously. Sometimes my characters make me laugh out loud; sometimes they make me cry. And so I do that, openly, at my computer.

When I’m not at my desk, I’m watering and talking to my plants. I’m waving to my neighbors’ tabby cat. I’m doing jumping jacks. I’m dancing. I’m singing badly in English and worse in Hebrew. I’m eating with my hands.

But the shiputz, or renovation, next door brought all that to an end.

I opened my windows one morning only to find that my neighbors and their striped cat were gone, replaced by about a dozen workers. A man in a green baseball cap—who I’d later realize was the foreman—offered me a heavily-accented “boker tov” [good morning]. I mentally thanked God that I was dressed. I waved, boker tov-ed him back, and made my morning coffee with a straight face.

Aware that these men could peek into my apartment whenever they liked, I became conscious of my dress and movements. My home turned from the private sphere to the public.

It’s an old rule of social psychology that familiarity breeds liking. And that’s how it went with the workers and me. I made peace with my lack of privacy and they became a little less formal in time, too.

Oddly, none of us ever bothered exchanging names.

Before long, however, a “mah nishma” was welded onto the end of that daily “boker tov.” Later, that short exchange turned into a brief conversation about the weather. The workers took a liking to my plants and, eventually, we began to discuss those—what each one was, which were growing well, which needed more or less water.

“It’s always been my dream to have a big garden,” a worker confessed, in accented Hebrew, from the scaffolding one afternoon.

I should add that I don’t have a garden. I live on the third floor and my plants are all in industrial-sized tin cans, discards from the shuk. But, in that moment, I felt the tremendous gap between us. It was more than the distance between the two buildings. It was inequalities in education and the allocation of state resources. It was the National Priority map that favors illegal settlers over Palestinian citizens of Israel. It was the occupation. It was martial law, which was imposed on Arab citizens from 1949-1966. It was 1948.

It was the garden that, despite my blue-collar background and writers’ wages, would be easier for me to attain.

One day, when it was warm, a worker jokingly asked me if I wouldn’t mind throwing him something to drink. I smiled and laughed. But, on the inside, I felt that inequality resonate again. Why did we speak Hebrew? Why had I still not bothered to learn more than a handful of Arabic? Why had I been so intent on being friendly? Isn’t that fetishizing, another manifestation of seeing someone as an “other”?

I felt guilty.

And then, one morning—even though the scaffolding was still there and the renovation wasn’t finished—the workers were gone.

***

I had more privacy than ever. But I wasn’t in the mood to put on my Santa cap. It was too quiet. I missed the foreman’s salaam alaikum (he’d switched from boker tov a few months before). I missed that sense of security that comes from knowing that there is always someone to say hello to.

As I headed out for a walk that morning, I found myself noticing construction sites. People were working. Still, I wondered if it was a Muslim or Christian holiday. I passed a building that was being renovated by Palestinian men and decided it probably wasn’t.

Maybe the workers next door were from the West Bank. Maybe they had permits and the checkpoints were closed today.

Or maybe they were undocumented and had been busted? After all, there are thousands of undocumented workers who make into Israel every day. (So much for the army’s claim that the separation barrier is there for security—if a terrorist really wanted to get in, he or she could. In fact, a state comptroller’s report found that most suicide bombers entered Israel via checkpoints, passing right under the army’s collective nose.)

When I got home, I searched the news to see if the West Bank was indeed closed. It wasn’t.

Are they on strike? I wondered.

I got my answer a few hours later. I didn’t see the foreman, but I heard him downstairs, shouting in Hebrew. I leaned out my window and saw him on the phone. “…and we won’t start working again a moment before,” he said.

I was angry then at the employers who think that they don’t have to pay their workers—whether Palestinian or foreign. I was upset with the foreman who had allowed his men to work, standing on scaffolding, without helmets or safety equipment of any kind.

But, most of all, I was mad at myself for never having gotten those men’s names.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Noor

      Thank you for posting this article .. touching ..

      Reply to Comment
    2. Right Wing Zionist

      “Why had I been so intent on being friendly? Isn’t that fetishizing, another manifestation of seeing someone as an “other”?”(MYA)
      We will never have peace with the Arabs as long as this apologist attitude persists.

      Funnily enough, it is us right wingers who see the Arab peoples as equals, not as some inferior victims. We don’t patronise them, we are willing to treat them with respect if they treat US with respect. Vice versa, we will disrespect them if they disrespect us, which is the case at the moment. Yes, they are the ‘OTHER’ to us and we are the ‘OTHER’ to them. That’s just reality. No use pretending otherwise. Anything else is dishonest and dishonesty will not bring peace.

      Yes, we committed and commit wrongs and YES THEY committed and commit wrongs. We need to be honest about it and we need them to be honest about it. However, if we self flagellate and pretend that THEY did/do no wrong we can’t expect them to correct THEIR wrongs and it seems that without us expecting THEM to do so, they are NOT willing to correct THEIR wrongs because their so called leftists are either not really leftists (in the same sense as the Israeli left who are extremely self critical) or they are just too weak and afraid.

      Reply to Comment
    3. max

      @RWZ, a comment I fully endorse!

      Reply to Comment
    4. Right Wing Zionist

      @MAX
      Thank you. I am glad to see others here who are down to earth and sensible.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Palestinian

      Thank you Mya for your lovely article , people like you are the reason why I cant say ” All Israelis are ……”

      Reply to Comment
    6. Ben Israel

      Add my compliments to RWZ. This just proves that, in the end, it will only be the “Right-wing/Orthodox/Judea-Samaria settler”-types who will reach a modus vivendi with the Arabs. The traditional Israeli Left’s pseudo-humanist universalism (“I love all of humanity as long as I don’t have to see them or have any contact with them) is alien to the Arabs/Muslims of the Middle East and is even threatening to their traditional values. We of the religious/traditionalist/Right are much closer in values to them and as RWZ says we can meet as equals while never forgetting our differences nor pretending they don’t exist.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Deïr Yassin

      @ Ben Israel
      If you could stick to talking for youself, i.e. right-wing pro-settlers, and stop pretending to know who and what the Palestinians like.
      If you think that in the choice between your kind of Israelis and people like Mya, any Palestinian would choose your kind, you’re living in self-delusion. So once again: just stick to doing sociological analysis of your own folks. By the way, we’ve heard it all before: the Afrikaaner settlers in Apartheid South Africa, the French settlers in Algeria, they all pretended to KNOW the Natives more than the ‘liberal urban lefties’. We know how these stories ended …..
      As far, three Palestinians – I think Noor might be Palestinian 🙂 who contradict your analysis.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Ben Israel

      I stand by what I said. The Israeli political Left will NEVER be able to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians. They have had multiple opportunities until now and they have failed, miserably.
      I never said the Palestinians “like” any sort of Israelis, my kind or any other. Why should they? We are engaged in a bitter, existentialist struggle. However, a modus-vivendi will be reached some time in the future when it is realized that Israel is not going to go under, something people are not sure of yet. Whatever you may claim, I know for sure that Arab/Muslim society is very conservative and the values the Israeli Left trumpets, i.e. secularist, materialist, consumerist society are strongly opposed by this Arab/Muslim society. I know this because I, as a religious Jew, oppose it as well. Why do you think Islamist political movements are in the ascendancy in the Arab/Muslim world? Israeli Leftist culture is, in effect a missionary “religion” bent on changing the societies it encounters in order to recruit new “secular, materialist” consumers. Traditional Judaism is not a missionary religion. The Arab side will always be suspicious of the motives of our side, but traditionalist Jews make it clearer what it is they really want (basically, to be left alone) and there is no desire to change the Muslims religions or values. That is why it will be the “Right” that finally will be able to make a modus-vivendi.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Right Wing Zionist

      @Ben Israel
      The mistake that Deir Yassin makes is that she thinks that we yearn to be liked. She obviously did not read my post in which I said that we will respect them if they respect us and disrespect them if they disrespect us etc. As far as we are concerned, we are equals and we will give as good as we get and then some. So Ben, I absolutely agree with you that the Israeli right is more likely to reach a modus vivendi in which we will accept each other’s existence and will live in peace along side each other. The word “like” does not come into it. They don’t have to like us and we don’t have to like them. No pretence.
      Having said that, I do believe that in time, long after the passing of the likes of Deir Yassin and me, we will become more neighbourly with each other.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Right Wing Zionist

      @BEN ISRAEL
      It needs to be said that Deir Yassin seems to be the equivalent, I say equivalent NOT the same as our leftists. Like they, she spouts utopian slogans. Her version is the vision of a secular democratic state of Palestine in which Jews and Arabs live together. In the same breath she lets us understand, without any ambiguity that we we are not her flavour, whether we are left wing Zionists or right wing Zionists. She just does not like Zionists, period. And what does that mean? She does not accept the idea of self determination for the Jewish people. And despite her utopian slogans about ‘living together’ and ‘democratic’ etc, what she really advocates is turning the clock back and making Jews live under the rule of Arabs with their heel on our throat. Her real vision is supremacist. The vision of an Arab supremacist.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Right Wing Zionist

      @MODERATOR
      Why was my post deleted? How was this post offensive? Don’t you believe in free speech?

      Your comment is awaiting initial confirmation
      @Ben Israel
      The mistake that Deir Yassin makes is that she thinks that we yearn to be liked. She obviously did not read my post in which I said that we will respect them if they respect us and disrespect them if they disrespect us etc. As far as we are concerned, we are equals and we will give as good as we get and then some. So Ben, I absolutely agree with you that the Israeli right is more likely to reach a modus vivendi in which we will accept each other’s existence and will live in peace along side each other. The word “like” does not come into it. They don’t have to like us and we don’t have to like them. No pretence.
      Having said that, I do believe that in time, long after the passing of the likes of Deir Yassin and me, we will become more neighbourly with each other.

      Reply to Comment
    12. “and then some”

      The problem with the institutionalization of “and then some” is that it becomes not so much of a response, as a self-fulfilling exageration, an aggression.

      There is a difference between being confidently secure (risk averse, even defensive) and being offensive (which is risk multiplying, rather than risk averse).

      I am not indifferent to my neighbor. I invite.

      Making indifference or a predisposition of distrust to my neighbor into my norm, is a way to violate Torah, general ethics, and creates risk rather than ameliorates risk.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Right Wing Zionist

      @RICHARD WITTY
      “The problem with the institutionalization of “and then some” is that it becomes not so much of a response, as a self-fulfilling exageration, an aggression”(RICHRD WITTY)
      You know, you might be right. But then again there are even greater problems with the alternative/s.
      If THEY dish something nasty out (you do know what I mean – I am sure), then it is difficult to dish the exact same nasty thing back to them. On the other hand, experience tells us that if we under respond, THEY just escalate THEIR nasty things. But if we over respond, often that stops them on their track.
      Personally, I would prefer no nastiness by either party. But it seems that they claim that we are nasty, whatever we do or don’t do. They say “The Occupation” is nasty but they are not willing to reach a compromise that would end “The Occupation”. I am not just inventing this, I know what Barak offered in 2000/2001 and we got the Intifada and Durban for it. I also know what Ehud Olmert offered in 2008, at least he didn’t get an Intifada for his troubles. He just got deafening silence and greater intransigence, for his troubles.

      Reply to Comment
    14. The Office of the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran

      Left, right, makes no which never mind. Fascism is fascism. This is what we stand for.

      Reply to Comment