Games People Play

Over the months I’ve come up with a silly game that I sometimes play in my head at dinners, parties, or events in Cambridge: As soon as I mention that I’d like to move to Israel, 90 percent of people have their eyes glace over for a moment. Then I know that one of these five words will fly my way within the next 15 seconds: “Gaza – Occupation – Human rights abuses – doing to the Palestinians what the Nazis did to Jews – Zionism is racism”. So I always make a little bet with myself in my head during those 15 seconds: “Will she be a Gaza-girl?”, “Is this guy be an occupation dude?”, “Human rights or the Holocaust comparison – which is it going to be with him?”. I am getting better at predicting, especially because – since I am not part of the J-Club – people speak much more openly with me, leading to such charming questions like “Can you hear the children of Gaza scream in Tel Aviv?”. I thought it was just a silly and fun game with annoying people.

But now I am sitting across from T. over a cup of coffee in Tel Aviv and I can feel that she is trying to feel out and gauge, if I could be someone thinking and talking like those people that I play my little party game with. What if she thinks that I am a Gaza-girl?

Not for the first time I realize with a little shock that I look and live ominously like those party game people: white, educated, middle class, Christian, don’t really speak Hebrew or Arabic, have only taken a glimpse at the country itself, if at all, and generally have no clue at all about much. I have never had to do so much trust building with every single person that I meet like I have to do here. Between my blond hair, fair skin, and the way I often come across, as maybe a little docile, definitely sweet, and harmless/very average, I am so used to people telling me everything immediately, trusting me instantly, and often getting even a little too close too soon. It’s been my superpower and career secret to make people tell me things that they actually don’t want to reveal. So this general suspicion and defensiveness is a really new experience for me. A totally captivating and intriguing one.

T., my contact today, like so many others before her, is sitting on the other side of the table so self-justifying about herself, her organization, her city, her country, and so cautious, and suspicious of me, it’s palpable. She would like to tell me about the great things that her organization does, I can totally feel it. She wants to be proud, and from all I have read about her, she should be. Instead she apologizes a lot: for the traffic, for the coffee, for the bad Israeli service. But really I think that she is cautiously trying to feel out just how much of a fake-friendly foreigner phony I am. The Happy-Go-Lucky person in me has learnt some standard icebreaker phrases by now, that work well: ‘No, I don’t think Hamas are freedom fighters that are bombing in self-defense.’ ‘Yes, BDS people are crazy.’ ‘No, my family did not do terrible things during the Holocaust and now I’m making amends for them.’ ‘Yes, it’s perfectly alright to assert one’s borders, if one has a military and is attacked all the time.’ And most of all: ‘Yes, you are living in a really great country that has a ton to offer and can make big things happen. So big, that people from my country would be in awe about them, like about the free Wi-Fi on trains that actually works.’ It’s fine, most of the time, to sort of develop a new interview technique like this. Any professional meeting in Israel ever is ¾ of the time about identity for me and only in the last five minutes about professional work. But sometimes, especially when I am not feeling so hot about myself, I wonder how much hurt a people both on a personal and on a collective level experienced to become so suspicious of me, or rather of people like me. And most of all I wonder how different I look through the eyes of someone like T. and if, at the end of the day, she thinks that that is a good or a bad thing after all.

I collect great beginnings. Beginnings of songs, of movies, of great articles and books.

This quote by Buzz Bissinger is the most beautiful beginning in my collection. It also captures perfectly what it feels like for me to research and write newspaper articles about Israelis and Israel. The short notes below describe the experiences behind my published texts. They are the fun, silly, absurd, baffled or sad real beginnings of those stories. They sketch what happens before or after I write the actual piece and send it off to the editor, and they are taken from my diary entries about rummaging up and down that little country and its people for no other reason but pure curiosity. 

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