Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

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ISRAEL: Friendly interrogations

October 17, 2007 |  7:53 am

“Where are you from? What do you do? Oh really? Well, what do you write about?”

The young woman smiled and paused while making my cappuccino. “I guess, as a journalist, you must be more used to asking questions than answering them.”

“Actually, since I’ve come to Israel, it feels like I’m constantly answering people’s questions,” I said.

“Yes we’re very curious,” she said, “and very suspicious.”

Truer words were perhaps never spoken. Since arriving in Israel three weeks ago, every day seems to involve at least one extended Q&A session with soldiers, police officers or inquisitive civilians — especially in West Jerusalem, where Arabs seldom venture.

Sometimes aggressive, sometimes just curious, the questions all seem to tiptoe around two major points: What ARE you, and most importantly, are you a threat?

While meeting friends at a downtown restaurant last week, I walked past a parked Israeli army jeep. One of the soldiers looked me up and down and waved me over with a finger for another quick session.
I told him I am an American, then when I told him my name, his eyes lit up with an “a-HA” look as if he’d caught me in a lie.

It went on for another 10 minutes or so, with the soldier receiving a well-practiced summary of my life story and professional profile. Having concluded that I wasn’t Palestinian, he started smiling and practicing his decent Arabic on me.

All in all, it was both a little galling and weirdly friendly. The soldier seemed pleasantly oblivious to the fact that my car was parked illegally on the sidewalk right next to his jeep with a parking ticket under the windshield wiper.

— Ashraf Khalil in Jerusalem