“It’s not nice in Israel right now,” she told me, this middle age, bordering old age Israeli, Ashkenazi woman (judging from the Eastern European last name she had on her credit card). She then chuckled to herself, and I’m not sure what exactly she meant by that chuckle. Was she chuckling at the fact that compared to Gaza, Israel is looking pretty damn nice to live in? The ineffectiveness of the Palestinian missiles? The multitudes of Palestinians who have died from Israel’s attacks? Or because when faced by the sheer horror of the atrocities her country was committing against largely innocent civilians and children, the only thing she could manage to do was laugh?
I didn’t press her. I couldn’t. I was at work. For those who know me, and follow the blog, I would at a world famous Aquarium, which is about as specific as I can be on a public forum. And we normally get a few Israeli visitors each day, a family or two. But since Operation Protective Edge began earlier in July, we have seen a significant increase in Israeli, mostly Ashkenazi (again, going off last name/skin tone) visitors.
After determining how many tickets to purchase, while doing the actually transaction, I always ask visitors where they’re from. One of the perks of being a cashier is you get a chance to meet people from all over the world. When people tell me there from Israel, instead of trying to engage them in a discussion about the apartheid in Palestine, as I’d do otherwise, I simply say, “Nice.” It’s polite, inoffensive, nothing that can get me fired from a job I most definitely need, without giving them the satisfaction of receiving the typical American exotification, or even approval. It was to this curt response that the Israeli woman told me “It’s not that nice in Israel right now.”
I don’t know if there is a workers holiday in Israel right now which accounts for the influx of Israelis. There has been a unusually large number of folks from Denmark lately as well, as well as the Hamburg, Cologne, and Munich regions of German, due to worker holidays.
Regardless of whether they are escaping Israel or had this holiday planned out, I think this highlights an important part of the occupation. Not to suggest that all Israelis are of high economic means, but there are significantly fewer restrictions, explicit and implicit, on Israelis than Palestinians when it comes to travel. Even within the state(s), there are many roads that are restricted to Israelis only, on which Palestinians cannot travel. Then there are the check points, which can take hours to get through.
Then, there’s the de facto Israeli policy that effectively bans movement between Gaza and the West Bank, and from either location into Israel (more so the case for Gaza–Israel is a bit more lenient with travel from the West Bank). This means most Palestinian travelers must go through Egypt or Jordan to go almost anywhere, even if it is just the other side of Palestine.
This doesn’t even begin to cover the myriad other issues Palestinians face when traveling, like the inordinate costs, which given the few well-paying job prospects can be daunting and unattainable, or the fact that a Palestinian Authority travel visa is in many places not acceptable as either a travel document or proof of citizenship (in the US for example, it is a valid travel document, but not a valid proof of citizenship).
This gets to one of the issues of any occupation. One side can escape the violence. One side can’t. If the average Israeli wanted to, they could escape the violence, even if just by driving a few miles away on an Israeli only road to a part of Israel which Gazan rockets can’t reach. For Palestinians, those whose land has been occupied for nearly half a century, where hospitals are bombed and tens of people are killed every day by sophisticated drone and missile technology, they cannot escape. They cannot run away and hide. It doesn’t matter if they are young kids playing on a beach or asleep in your home. If you are a Palestinian Gazan, almost by default, your chance of moving out is almost non-existent. That means Israel can always find you, or target you. That means that unlike your occupiers, you cannot be safe.
“It’s not that nice in Israel right now.” Yes, ma’am, but at least you could escape.