15 October 2009

"Security" everywhere

You can’t go anywhere in Israel without being searched – your bag, your car, your body. Security guards lurk everywhere – coffee shops, shopping malls, schools, buses, businesses. Their metal detecting machines are ready to slide down your body ever so slowly, revealing those hidden secrets in the folds of your dress.

I try to avoid shopping malls as much as possible. But today I had an errand – Ziyad’s phone was dead and the cell-phone company’s service center is located in the Haifa shopping mall. So I had no choice.

We passed the first security guard – he was sitting on a chair, looking decidedly bored. He thought we were not worth a second glance. A young woman behind the wheel with an unshaved man sitting next to her. Ziyad’s unshaven beard has become his unequivocal stamp: his statement to the world. Not that he needs it, with his dark complexion he undoubtedly looks the part. Now if he were driving, the security guard wouldn’t let us pass so easily. But I guess he only saw me, it was already getting dark, and it was probably the end of his shift and all he wanted was to get the hell out of there – out of his security guard role for the day.

The second security guard stopped us. He opened the back door, making small talk. The “good evening how are you” is meant to identify the distinctive Arabic accent. We had some papers strewn on the back seat, and the guard asked if they were business papers. He then asked me to open the trunk of the car. And that’s where it all began. For some reason, I couldn’t open the trunk. Ziyad came out of the car, tried to open it, but still it wouldn’t budge. Ziyad’s irritation began to surface as he talked to me in Arabic. The guard studied us, still calm. But when Ziyad told him “the trunk won’t open, what’s the problem just let us go,” he began showing signs of distress. He got on his communication radio and reported to a more senior guard “come quickly, there’s a man here who won’t open the trunk for inspection.” I knew that was what Ziyad needed to hear to lose control. “Why did you lie?! Can’t you see I’m trying to open the trunk?! What do you want me to do, it won’t open!!” They exchanged some words, all the while ignoring me. I said to the guard, “listen, friend, the car is mine; I’m responsible for opening the trunk, so you deal with me. And you, Ziyad, get in the car and be quiet.” Ziyad shot me a dark look, telling me “get inside the car and shut up!”

Then another guard appeared, the one summoned. He was calm, I could even see a trace of a smile on his face. “What’s the problem?” “The problem is that your guard here is a liar. The trunk won’t open, and he says that I refuse to open it for inspection.” I tried to make myself visible again, “the car is mine, I’m responsible for it being opened for inspection. The trunk won’t open.” “Shut up,” Ziyad shot at me, this time with a wicked smile. “See how he talks to her? She is so polite, and look how he is behaving,” the first guard tells the second guard. The second guard smiled at me and asked to see my ID card. I handed him my driver’s license instead. “Have a good day,” and he let us go.

Looking back at the incident, I see at least three levels of interaction:
(1) The most obvious one is the “security” issue. Ziyad looks the “terrorist” part: his heavily-accented Hebrew, his agitated mood, unshaven beard and dark skin. He fits the profile security guards are trained to immediately identify. An all too familiar scenario must have run through the guard’s mind: Ziyad was using a “clean-looking” woman as a distraction; the bomb was hidden in the trunk. At a certain point I could see the flash of horror in the guard’s eyes – the bomb would go off, killing us all on the spot. A scenario he got drilled about during his training period, but he never actually imagined he would have to cope with it in real life. Until this moment, it was just theoretical matter he had to study in order to get his gun.
(2) The second level has to do with the politics of identities and ethnicities. The security guard was an Ethiopian immigrant. Ethiopians have been placed by Israeli society at the bottom of the social ladder, even below Arabs. So this was a contest between the two men, each making an effort to make himself look superior by crushing the other into that low inferiority.
(3) The raw, primitive form of male dominance. Each of them tried to prove that he is the “man” and has the final word. I don’t need to go into this – it’s the same old battle of men since the beginning of history.

I’m sure this list is incomplete, and upon deeper examination, additional layers can be revealed. But this was my own personal-political experience, yet again proving that the personal is indeed political.


  1. I have learned to respect the fact that people are just doing their job. Whatever levels of political, ethnic or gender rivalry, in this case I think You Khulud were just letting the guards get on with their job; Ziyad is an imamture boy who needs to learn some manners.

  2. thank you Anna for your comment. Of course he was just doing his job, I was not blaming the guard for anything. It is the madness of the militarization of society that has made him a victim of its own fear. I can't even imagine the fear he must have experienced.
    As for the second issue - I do believe these subtleties do play out in various life-situations. Israeli society is clearly divided into social classes, and the tensions between them can be seen in the most mundane instances.

  3. my dear,

    your eloquent narration is an added value to this significant, though, common event in the lives of second class citizens in this democracy.I endlessly find myself silencing my Arabic music once nearing a check point at shopping malls. Sometimes I want to challenge myself and the guard and keep it as loud as possinle. But as I scroll down the road, I chicken out, attempting to rationalize my choice with ridiculous excuses such as: I do not wish to hassle with him right now, or I dont have time for this shit.
    Perhaps next time I go to the shopping mall, I will keep the loud arabic music playing and see how nice the guard is :)

    I enjoyed reading your piece and await more...


    16 October 2009 09:25

  4. Thanks Ghadir for contributing to the discussion. I am happy that this post has made you think about such events. It is so sad that these "second class citizen" behaviors have become so normalized in our lives that we don't even think about them. We automatically turn the Arabic music down (or even off) because we don't have the time to hassle with the security, or we are just not in the mood. We do it without giving it another thought.

  5. Khulud (I don't think you know me, but I, too, am connected to Haifa and once, a while back, to Isha L'Isha),

    I really enjoyed reading your post. Finding the meaning in the seemingly "little" things we experience in our daily lives (in a complex area of the world). Now that I know about your blog, I'll be visiting again. Saw it posted on Patricia's FB.

  6. Hi Becky,
    Thanks. I was a bit undone by this experience, because these thoughts were actually running in my mind as the scene was unfolding. It really helps to put it into words, helps me understand all the complexities.

  7. yeeeee well this is unbearable israel. i can tell you that my ex lover from germany considering moving to haifa from berlin to be with me,decided she can't because of the wall (after struggling to abolish the one in berlin) and all the "security" checkups everywhere. also as an ashkenaz woman sometimes when "security" let me pass so quickly i get upset and ask them why? is it because i am white? woman? jewish? bla bla to raise their conscience. but i know i am foolish. i have these moments i can't control my anger. bravo khulud. thanx

  8. I get mad because they suspect me, you get mad because they don't suspect you... there's no way out if it I guess. You know, when I was traveling last month, the lack of security was the thing I enjoyed the most.

  9. Khulud - First off, thank you for stopping by my blog. Second, I doubt I have anything intelligent to add to the conversation - I was only in the Palestinian world for a brief time about 18 months ago. However, when I was there, completely ignorant of the situation before I went, I was so sad by the cycle of reciprical suspicion and fear that existed over there. :(

  10. I think it was hilarious


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