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September journey part 11: Day of arrest ends

Staying on the move in Israel and the Palestinian Territories through a month of trial. Well, trying to, but being held in custody. Start here if you wish to see how the trouble began.

Sitting in the back of the Palestinian police’s pick up van as we rattled up hill on the gravel path, sandwiched between Tine and a huge, armed, officer, I think about this story by O Henry. You know it, the one with the petty thief who decides to leave the world of crime and then gets arrested for loitering. This is what happened to Tine and I. We got arrested for loitering.

The last photo I could take appeared at the end of the previous post. From here on the camera had to be hidden. If the policemen asked to see the pictures, they would find out that we have been to downtown Dura and to Hebron H1, which are distinctly Area A.

Since we were caught on the borderline between zones we agree in German to pretend that we have entered the area through a western checkpoint, intending to take an innocent walk in the countryside, and got lost in the hills. I am thankful for any opportunity to use the German word “Spazieren”. It’s just so pretty, but the thought of lying to the police and then getting caught lying does make me a tad shaky.

What makes me shakier is the notion that these policemen are now supposed to hand us over to the Israelis. If the Israelis prove that we have crossed the lines into Area A, we are in going to be Spazierening in serious Scheisse. Even Tine, who isn’t Israeli, would pay a price: she still needs to go through the infamous security check at Ben Gurion airport on the way out.

“Yuval,” an officer in the front seat is reading my name from my Israeli ID card. “You’ve heard of the September 20th UN vote?”.

“I did.”

“And are you for it or against it.”

“I’m for it.”

“Then you belong to the family of peace.”

“I do.” There’s a relaxing development for ya. I look around the car, the atmosphere actually isn’t bad at all.

We are taken to the Dura police sattion and served tea. The room is adored with photos of Arafat and Abbas and the windows graced with wonderful violet drapes. Tine comments on them, I translate her compliment to the officer in command. He seems to think that it was my compliment and that I’m one of those not perfectly manly westerners he’s heard of.

Perhaps partially in order to break this impression I ask whether I could text-message my girlfriend, who is in the US for work. This prompts questions about the nature of my relationship with Tine. The concept of male-female friendship is to a great extent unfamiliar in the Arab world. I do my best to familiarize them with it.

This, by the way, is what Tine produced later, from memory. In real time, while waiting at the station among the very idle-looking officers, having them pass her passport back and forth and take notes in an alphabet she can’t read, her doodles came out somewhat more jittery.

Ruthie texts back. She’s wonderfully cool about getting news of my arrest while being across an ocean, and asks whether she should call someone. I tell her there’s no need to at this point, but the next text message to arrive is from Yadin Elam, a lawyer who specializes in legal victims of the occupation. I tell him I’ll update.

We spend about 90 minutes at the station. The tea is followed by a terrible candy bar and then by black coffee with cardammon. The officers are consistently pleasant and I work my Arabic like never before to try and win their hearts, hoping they would simply drop us off by the road and let us be.

No such luck, once the report is filed we are ushered into the pickup truck and driven to Hebron. On the way we take the memory cards out of our cameras and hide them, to try and prevent the Israelis from looking through them.

The sun is setting as we entered the Hebron DCO: the Palestinian police’s facility for contact with the Israelis. It is a much grungier place than the Dura police station: a big old building that reeks of old-school bureaucracy.

Here, on the top floor, we wait some more. Outside the window was a city I may never see again. Depending on the implications of the event, going back into Area A may be extremely unwise for me.

Damn it. All major cities in the West Bank are Area A. What will be of my journey?

The people at the command are wearing soldier uniforms and armed with machine guns, but even they were very friendly. We are served more coffee. I feel sorry for drawing Tine into an adventure that involves both an arrest and caffeine poisoning, but she calms me and says she’s okay.

More time passes. Since no one took away my phone or seems to care that I use it, I post a status on Facebook, telling about the arrest, complimenting the Palestinian police for its hospitality and criticizing the terrible candy bar.

This status update spins into motion an interference. Or Heller, the same Channel 10 military correspondent who sent me the photo of Guy Zohar’s resignation which kicked off my record of the day, calls the IDF spokesman. The IDF spokesman lets the Hebron command know that the son of a previous IDF spokesman (my dad) is under arrest in Hebron. He asks for Tine and I to recieve a mild treatment once in Israeli hands, but also delivers a punch – texing my dad the entire story.

My mom and dad, Like Ruthie, are sojourning in New York. I get a second message from the big apple asking whether I’m okay. Darn it.

An hour or so later, we’re back on the road, traveling to the hilltop headquarter of the Israelis. The gates open and we move in, traveling in a Palestinian vehicle into an Israeli military base. Stepping out I first sense the coming of autumn. Rami, The officer who receives us, explains that we are 1019 meters above sea level, atop the country’s fourth highest mountain.

The fact that Rami talks about the weather and elevation puts us at ease. Indeed, he got orders to be good with us. He does give us a brief investigation and asks us to wait for the arrival of Israeli police from the settlement of Qiryat Arba. Meanwhile, we get the Israelis’ coffee. I expect it to fall below the Palestinian standard, but Rami is Druze, a native Arabic speaker with deep roots in the lands of cooked coffee. His stuff, served in paper cups, is excellent.

When the police fail to arrive, Rami drives us to meet them in by the junction at the entrance to Qiryat Arba, the policeman wants to take me into for review at the station, but Rami talks him out of it. We are released. Seconds later a settler stops his car for us and offers a lift to Jerusalem.

We finish the day over a beer and some tapas in Jerusalem’s Mahne Yehuda market.

“And we thought climbing the minaret in Dura would be the most exciting event of the day,” Tine says, amused.

“Yeah,” say I, “Jesus, I’m tired.”

It’s too early to be tired, because another challenge awaits me. My dad wrote me an email. I read it on the bus to TelvAviv:

.

My dear son,

Grandpa Shmulik, whom we both loved and whose wisdom we both respected, taught us that doing something dumb, even if it works a thousand times, remains doing something dumb.

What you did today was a horrible thing, the act of an irresponsible man who has no common sense. The area of Hebron is swarming with Hamas operatives, who constantly plot to kidnap Israelis and kill them, with no feelings or compassion.An Israeli who goes there despite that is someone who knows no responsibility and cares not whether he lives or dies. There’s no other way to say it.

Can you imagine a single American, even one with the best intentions, who would go to the Taliban’s headquarters in Afghanistan? There’s no humour in such matters. It ends badly.

Today you were lucky. We were very worried when we heard that you are there and that the army is trying to evacuate you, what an effort it was, how many high ranking officers are involved, and what for? For such a pointless, dangerous adventure. I shudder at the thought that this could have easily ended otherwise, and we never would have forgiven ourselves, for not having somehow prevented your hasty deed.

Son, you deserve every possible condemnation for what you have done.

Your father who loves you more than anything.

On stepping onto the humid Tel Aviv street I formulate a response and key it into my phone:

.

Dad, I understand your worry, but have one correction to make. The Hebron area isn’t swarming with anything. The people there are enormously sweet, from strangers we met to the Palestinian officers who arrested us (and no there was no need to evacuate us, they transferred us to the Israelis according to all the agreements.) This is in fact the reason I go there, to prove that it’s not swarming, just like Israel isn’t swarming, just like nowhere is swarming. If you will, tolerance was another bit of Grandpa Shmulik’s wisdom.

I’m sorry that Or Heller alerted the IDF Spokesman. We would have done perfectly well without that, plus-minus a few hours of waiting and coffee poisoning. Your son is not someone who leaps off the roof. Your son is someone who understands that this is in fact the first floor balcony, and tells others about it.

I wasted my favors today, So I can’t return to the Palestinian cities anytime soon, so you can relax. Enjoy New York and beware of all its perils.

With love, from the city of Tel Aviv, unscathed,

Yuval.

Click here for the first post of the day’s adventure.

Click here for the second post of the day’s adventure

Click here for more of the september journey

Thanks for reading and taking part in the adventure. If any of you would like to pitch in for my travel and food, please do so using the “donate” button at the top of this page. Please be sure and specify that you are contributing to Yuval’s September Journey. I’m deeply grateful to those who already donated. Thank you so much! This trip would have been impossible if not for you.

Note added on September 26th: Tine made it through the airport no problem (Read on and you’ll find out I wasn’t as lucky), so I can give her full credit now, she’s the brilliant Tine Fetz.

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    COMMENTS

    1. directrob

      nice drawings, nice text I liked it a lot … I guess you know your schiesse is written with “ei”… Your version sounds so serious 😉

      Reply to Comment
    2. Thanks for correcting my “Scheisse”. It’s the kind of word one rarely sees written, and yet it’s such an important word.

      Reply to Comment
    3. I enjoyed reading every part of this journey so far, thank you!
      but you shouldn’t completely avoid entering Palestinian cities! You still have a lot to see and a lot of good people to meet!

      Reply to Comment
    4. weinstein henry

      WANTED: Christine’s website and/or blog links.
      “She’s one the most brillant illustrators and photographers I’ve ever heard”, and you keep it for yourself, Macho Sabra Guitar Man?!
      Maybe I should call your Dad to ask him his opinion about this…
      Nice T-Shirt, Christine, by the way (see September journey part 9).

      Reply to Comment
    5. I’ll give her all the due credit once she has safely and comfortably gone through the airport. Be sure to check back a few weeks from now.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Sam

      “The concept of male-female friendship is to a great extent unfamiliar in the Arab world. I do my best to familiarize them with it.”
      .
      Oh, come on.. I enjoyed the text but was irked by this sentence. I realize it was probably said humorously (at least, I hope it was), but I never find such generalizations funny.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Piotr Berman

      Besides “spazieren” and “sch…” we could learn word “koneksia” although the concept was illustrated very nicely.

      Reply to Comment
    8. But it’s true, Sam. I lived in Jaffa for three years and my neighbors found it difficult to accept that girls who visited me were just friends. I got myself quite a reputation in the neighborhood.
      .
      There are always exceptions, of course, but this is a cultural phnomenon, just as male friends in western society don’t tend to walk arm in arm, while in the Arab world and Turkey I see that all thew time.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Sam

      Well, what you’re doing is exactly generalizing – taking your experience, saying “but it’s true” and projecting it unto the Arab society as a whole.
      .
      I’m not denying that in some circles it is as you say, but by all means there are many circles in which it is not like that – not only “exceptions”.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Ben Israel

      Sam-
      It sounds like you are saying “it’s just gotta be that almost everyone in the world is like me….those who aren’t are a tiny minority”.
      Arab/Muslim society is VERY conservative. I am sure you have heard about the all-too-common “family honor killings” in the Arab countries. They simply don’t look upon male-female relationships the way Westerners do.

      Reply to Comment
    11. SAM

      Spare me, I’m Arab myself. Of course, in the media you would hear about the family honor killings. Male-female friendships just don’t amount to as eyecatching a headline.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Hebron is the most conservative area in Palestine; but in Ramallah, which is more open, I have lots of male and female friends who socialize platonically. Amongst the middle class this is the norm, actually. Same for Cairo: Go into any cafe or restaurant in the city and you’ll see groups of men and women in their 20s and 30s, unmarried and socializing platonically – including veiled women. In Amman, too.

      There’s no blanket rule for the whole Arab world, obviously. Nobody would compare the social mores governing male-female socializing in Riyadh with Beirut, to take the most extreme example.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Ben Israel

      I don’t believe secular, Western values are the norm in the Arab/Muslim world. The best example I can think of is Turkey, in which the “Kemalist” secular, quasi-Western philosophy ruled for decades. However, there was a conservative hinterland that represented the majority of the population and which resisted these values and under Erdogan, they have come finally come to power. Recall the attempt that was made by this government to make adultery against the law. I would think Yuval’s experience in Yafo, which has been a neighbor of Tel Aviv for decades would be instructive.

      Reply to Comment
    14. SAM

      ??!! And my 24 years of life are not instructive ??
      .
      Whatever, hang on to your misconceptions if it makes you feel good..

      Reply to Comment
    15. Sylvia

      I have been enjoying your fascinating tour.
      .
      Perhaps it would be helpful to translate for those who don’t live in our region codes such as Area A, Area B, etc.
      It is also important not to make the error – common in the Israeli media to conflate Arab with Muslim. To many people in this region, it means the same thing or they do it out of political correctness, but it sounds awkward to the outside world.
      .
      Keep up the good work I hope a well-paying assignment will come your way soon.

      Reply to Comment
    16. Ben-Israel, I did not make any reference to ‘Western’ values, whatever they are.

      I simply pointed out that you are generalizing. The Arab world is very diverse. In Beirut girls wear tight tank tops and shorts; and in Riyadh they wear abayas. In the Levant, men and women who are relatively traditional – women veiled, men praying the requisite five times per day – do indeed socialize, before and after marriage, in platonic mixed groups and couples. That is simply a fact that you can witness in Damascus, Amman, Cairo, Alexandria and many other Middle Eastern cities and towns.

      Also, veiled women in the Levant hold hands and express affection with their boyfriends or husbands in public – which is something Orthodox Jewish men and women will never do.

      Reply to Comment
    17. Deïr Yassin

      Thank you, Lisa. Not to talk about Tunis or Casa.
      Concerning Yuval’s reputation as a Don Juan in Jaffa: there’s a big difference between receiving someone of the opposite sex in the private sphere when you live alone – and Yuval is not wrong about that – and socializing in the public sphere.

      Reply to Comment
    18. Robert Soran-Schwarz (@_No1)

      1.
      The best thing about the infamous Ben-Gurion “checkpoints” to freedom [ 🙂 ]: you’ll ALWAYS pass them safely and land in a flight.
      Out want they you always, except you’re a former nuclear spy.
      2. “Spatz, wir spazieren”. “Spatz” is a “Vogel” often known as “motek”, “love” or just – routinely – wife (if you’re monogamous).
      A nice, typical German over-precision: “Spatz, gehen wir spazieren” = (My Small)darling, (let’s) go walking”
      3. Why “in Gottes Namen” didn’t you try the chance of getting dropped off by the road by telling the Palestinian policemen between two cups of cardammoned coffee in all confidence “You know, let us go, we are trustworthy: Christ-Tine is German, and my father was a simple, nice IDF spokeperson”? Hmmm …, I tried once something not so different – but without Israeli references – in a communist country, before they all disappeared. It made a great, yet to be written story, a standup comedy…

      I specially enjoyed the one key sentence from your inner-familiar thoughts exchange, coming from your father:
      “Son , (…), the area of Hebron is swarming with Hamas operatives, who constantly plot to kidnap Israelis and kill them, with no feelings or compassion”
      Why?
      a). I visualized the “swarming Hamas operatives” in the wild Hebron area:
      b). Secondly, I just excluded all Fatah and PLO (Hamas is not in PLO) operatives who probably swarm only inside of Gaza, because they fear the overweight of Hamas (and, who knows, Kahanists?) in the Hebron area 🙂 ;
      c). I learned that the Hamas mind is from an other planet: They always plot to first kidnap, and first afterwards to kill Israelis. I knew that they are insane! Me, I would just kill and let the kidnapping out of the process…
      Well, it’s a difference of mentality. I was born in the West, and live in Germany: therefore I was sentenced to being “effective and efficient”. Should I have been Scheherezade, I would have told the stories, from A to Z, during a weekend, and would have spent the remaining 999 days (and nights) with the swarm of strong, good looking Eunuchs in the harem. Hoping that the caliph didn’t cut off their tongues …

      Let me jump to a question I otherwise would forget:
      Rami, “the officer who receives us, explains that we are 1019 meters above sea level, atop the country’s fourth highest mountain.”
      Which country was he talking about? 🙂

      Not just to be cocky: MahAne Yehuda, for those who look up in google maps.
      Thanks for the instructive, nice, illustrated acount(s). Kind regards to Tine, to you, and to your present and future family members (I’m an optimist…)

      Reply to Comment
    19. Robert Soran-Schwarz (@_No1)

      Platonic boy-girl friendships (four eyes relationship, not as part of a platonically “swinging” group) in Palestinian milieus are rather unusual, despite Sam’s protest :-).
      The same applies to 95% of the Muslim Levant geography (the remaining 5% are larger cities …).
      What’s fine in Beirut’s mundane areas or in the better places in Cairo/Alexandria, or in Haifa is not the rule or accepted social behavior in the Bekaa Valley, El-Arish, Hebron …
      You’ll find everywhere (100% of the geography) same-sex friends holding hands, hug, and kiss in public, but there is very limited touching between men and women, especially in public …

      Lisa, let’s compare apple with apple: a veiled woman is not automatically an “orthodox” Muslim, often – see for example Cairo – she is just a normal girl/young woman with a veil …
      and a kippa doesn’t mean that one avoids singles’ bars or same-sex swinger bars 🙂

      The correct comparison, between orthodox/haredi pairs and orthodox/Islamic pairs would show that both pairs avoid exactly the same gender related behavior
      Regards

      Reply to Comment
    20. Thanks Deir Yassin, I think this makes the point more specific and helpful. I accept Lisa’s point that the Middle East is diverse, and of course friendships come in all shapes and sizes also in muslim countries. I do not deny that I am inflicted with my own misjudgements and prejudices.
      .
      Still, I did sense that some kind of a rule persisted in both Jaffa and Dura (which are very different and distinct in atmosphere) and hoped to deduct from that some lesson about the society at large.
      .
      As for your question, Sylvia: The West Bank is split into three forms of territory according to agreements signed in the 90s as part of what wassupposed to be a transitory situation.
      .
      Area A, which includes most Palestinian city centers and several chunks of the countryside, is meant to be entirely Palestinian-controlled. Area B is under joint control and Area C is fully Israeli controlled despite being beyond the green line.
      .
      Over the years a disintegration of the cooperation systems rendered these definisions looser. The IDF ventures into Area A cities such as Nablus on a regular basis, but the ban forbidding Israelis from entering these cities remains.
      .
      when thinking of the palestinian authority, one must bear in mind that it does not control the entire west bank, but rather a chain of scattered Area A islands. In order to move from one island to the rest, as in from Ramallah to Nablus, one must pass through a region designated as Area c, where the IDF is free to set up a checkpoint.
      .
      The exception to this system is Hebron, which is devided between H2 (treated as an Area C) and H1 (treated as an Area A) The following map may prove helpful in understanding all this.
      .
      http://www.bicom.org.uk/context/maps/modern-day-israel/west-bank

      Reply to Comment
    21. rpasion in albuquerque nm

      been and will follow your sept journeys; i love this post! and the response letter to your dad.

      Reply to Comment
    22. Daniel Davis

      Yuval, I totally agree with you that Hebron is a pleasant place to visit. I was there in 2008 with a Canadian friend, entering the Beit-Lehem checkpoint with my US passport. I must say I felt so much more safe and at home on the Palestinian side of the city, being offered coffee and food everywhere and getting positive and friendly responses when I hesitantly told them I’m Israeli and live in Jerusalem. It was only when I reached the Jewish part of Hebron that I felt I was in danger. They were hostile, suspicious and sending their kids to follow us in the streets. I learned so much from that day and it only strengthened me belief that the reality seen in the media if very far from what is really going on. People are people, everywhere.

      Reply to Comment
    23. Robert Soran-Schwarz (@_No1)

      I forgot something, Yuval 🙂
      A remarkable sentence from a former spokesperson, it’s not critical of your father, but of the professional mentality that takes over spokespersons in general
      Your father wrote (or maybe is it your translation from Hebrew only?? Than it would be fine, more or less):
      “Your father who loves you more than anything.”

      And this is it … instead of the expected

      “Your father who loves you more than anybody.”

      My father was – among others – a governmental spokesperson, too …. 🙂

      Reply to Comment
    24. Hi Robert, If you re-read my comment you’ll see that I specified Hebron was particularly conservative, and that the Middle East is a diverse place.

      And I certainly agree that a veil does not imply religiosity. Women veil for lots of different reasons – including family pressure, identity politics and cultural mores.

      Reply to Comment
    25. Ben Israel

      Daniel Davis-
      “People are people everywhere”. IF that is so, why are there wars and conflicts?

      Reply to Comment
    26. Dimi

      Ben, because people are people everywhere 😉

      Reply to Comment
    27. sh

      Spazieren is an institution with the Palestinians too: They call it sarha, according to an original, instructive (did you know, for instance, that almond trees never grow in the wild and are thus always a sign that an area was inhabited?) and beautifully written book by Raha Shehadeh called Palestinian Walks.

      Reply to Comment
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