A Mark and A Message


I’d never felt like an enemy until I visited Ramle.

The city is ancient, and over the past millennia, it has shifted from Jewish to Christian control, then to Muslims, then again to Christian Crusaders, then back to the Muslims, and now it’s under Israeli jurisdiction. Relic mosques and rebuilt cathedrals jut up from the modern landscape, and the Shuk, the open air marketplace, is a flock of vendors and patrons.

a red cotton shemagh, typically seen in the middle east

a red cotton shemagh, typically seen in the middle east

To beat the heat, I wore a cotton shemagh on my neck — an Arab headdress used in the Middle-East to protect from the desert sun. It was a gift from my Israeli friends, but unbeknownst to me, it’s a piece that screams, Palestinian.

As I walked from stall to stall, browsing the displays and asking in broken Hebrew about candies and spices, I realized people were watching me closely. That wasn’t anything new — I’m an obvious foreigner — but the vendors were cold. They glared with crossed arms, reluctant to speak more than a few words, and though they understood English, it made little difference.

Finally, on the steps of a spice shop, a young man stopped me. He gestured at my shemagh and strung me a line of heated questions. He could see my confusion, so he pointed to himself and stated firmly: “Ani yehudi. Ata Palestini.” I am a Jew. You are a Palestinian. I didn’t understand the rest of what he said, but his sentiment was clear, and I knew I’d been marked.

I was not a friend, and not even a customer anymore, but an enemy.

I answered him, “Gam ani. Ani yehudi,” I am also Jewish. The young man’s face lit up. He shook my hand and showed me into the shop, and when I was through browsing, we hugged as if we were brothers. Then I removed my shemagh and left the Shuk feeling very, very uncomfortable.

I am not Palestinian. I’m not Israeli. I’m an activist and an English teacher, but the shemagh on my neck threw those altruistic intentions to the dirt. I see now how deep the roots of the Conflict can run here.

Quite a flux.