Wednesday, January 22, 2014

New Perspectives on the Way to Jericho

The other day, in order to get from Jerusalem in Jericho, Emily, Megan, and I had a cab called from the hotel we were staying. Because it was Friday, we were having some trouble finding a cab, but the hotel receptionist found us someone who would drive us (and it appeared worked at least some as a cabbie, even if his car was not a cab). So we climbed into his nondescript 1990-something toyota corolla and headed for Jericho.

Our driver knew little English, and spent most of the first 15 minutes of the drive alternating between phone calls on the two cell phones he had (one personal, I think, and the other work related). But as the drive continued, I was shocked by what I experienced as his passenger.

For one, our driver was nervous and possibly a bit scared. Every time we passed by a police officer on the side of the road, or came near the entrance to a settlement, he visibly tensed and slowed down to well under the speed limit. At one point, as we passed a traffic camera, he pointed over at it and mimicked a camera's shutter sound, letting me know why he had slowed down so much. I tried to ask if he was worried about the speed limit or something else, but the language barrier prevented much of a conversation.

When we reached Vered Jericho (yes, a settlement, which we unfortunately didn't know when we booked the hostel) he pulled up to the gate as an armed guard came out to the car. Our driver quickly started explaining the situation as best he could, and even called our hostel owner on the phone (which he passed to the guard) to shed some light on the situation. The guard took our driver's ID (which I assumed to be Jerusalemite) and examined it thoroughly before handing it back. When he looked over at me in the passenger seat, he said, “United States?” When I said “Yes,” he said, “California?” I've gotten a lot of folks assuming I'm from California when I tell them I'm from the United States (apparently I fit the beach bum vibe), so I laughed, and said, “No, but close.” Instead of waiting for me to even provide my passport as he'd asked, he laughed and after a bit more conversation with our driver, opened up the gate and let us through.

Finally, when our driver pulled up at the hostel, he had to stay and wait for the hostel owner to provide proof that he had in fact brought us to the hostel. After receiving a couple business cards to show to the armed guard, our cabbie left us to return to Jerusalem.

The whole experience made my skin crawl. When we'd booked the hostel, we didn't know it was on a settlement. After we found out, we'd decided that we'd stay one night there, cancel the second night, and make a new plan, but we also were curious as to what it might be like to stay in a hostel on a settlement. The way our driver was fearful on the road, the way he was treated with suspicion at the settlement gate in a position we put him wasn't right. And our treatment as Americans, given more freedom in our cab driver's country than he was--it makes you wonder what kind of democracy this really is.

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