That photo is a somewhat idyllic shot of my new home and place of learning; Hebrew U in Jerusalem. On the surface it is a lovely campus built on a mountainside. They have been nice to me here so far, even making me a "visiting research fellow" and granting my leftist ass near total access to the campus and its resources. I am living in the dorms, which is already more of a multicultural hodgepodge than all of the city of Kingston put together. Israelis, Japanese, Chinese, me...and the Israelis feature Druze, Christian and Jew. On a day to day basis I hear a minimum of three languages, and usually none of them are English unless I venture out and try to speak with someone.
My new Druze friend, a medical student, has been really great. He's helped me get internet access, found a way to top up my sketchy Israeli mobile phone and is letting me use his kitchen supplies. He calls me "neighbor" in Arabic, and it seems a genuine term of endearment. The others on my floor have been nice enough as well, but few have been as all out kind he has.
Now onto the bizarre, although I guess from an Israeli standpoint, this is the normal. Guns are everywhere, as are soldiers. So you think to yourselves now, Shepso, stop being so bloody obvious, of course there are?! Yeah, it's true, that is the normal here. The other normal is checkpoints. In the course of my work, I have learned quite a bit on the hyper-securitization of the Israeli state, the near panoptic, biopolitical wet dream for those in power, who use the technology and infrastructure at their disposal to surveil those who have been made other in this society. What I wasn't expecting was the extent to which those inside the state have also been made a part of this architecture. To leave my dorm, I go through a gate. To get onto main campus, I go through a gate, a metal detector and a bag search, every time. Even if it's the same guard who saw me earlier in the day, I go through the process all over again. Headphones out, iPhone turned off, bag passed to armed guard, walk through metal detector, just to get to class in the morning. It's the same to catch a bus to go to Tel Aviv.
This is not to belittle the experience of the Palestinians, whose daily experience is much more than the minor inconvenience of having my bag searched. To quote a good friend and colleague, I am "not actually being made subject to it in the same ways that, say, a Palestinian would." My Jewishness, Canadianness, and Hebrew U student ID shields me from many of the daily humiliations of the checkpoints, though not necessarily the daily grind. There is clearly a difference between the institutional security checks and the actual military checkpoints that are in place throughout the country. I spoke to my mom about this, and she said something like "what do you expect? you know the reasons behind it," and I do, but that doesn't mean I am going to agree. Certainly I am going to find it unsettling and obviously take a position that is critical of such an architecture of control.
Last night I wandered into my new friend's dorm room. He had a couple buddies over, they were playing some soccer game on the PS3, drinking some beers and smoking Argilee (hookah). We talked for a little while. He asked me why I would come all this way to do research and I told him I study the education system and how it pertains to conflict. He laughed and said something like "which one? Here everyone is in conflict. Jews and Arabs, Arabs and Arabs, Arabs and the Arabs not in Israel, Jews and Christians, Arabs and Christians. Sometimes everything works, but everywhere is conflict." I found it odd that he never once used the word Palestinian in his explanation of his world, but didn't want to press. He laughed again as he offered me a pull of the rich, fruit flavored tobacco (which I politely declined) and said, "at least I know you'll be a good neighbor."
Welcome to the middle east...
I discovered to my great joy that my subscription to NHL game-center still works over here and watched the condensed version of last night's game. The 10 minutes was all I needed to see. It was awful. I think the actual number of chances the Oilers had could have been counted on one hand, and throughout the 10 minute version of the game, I think I saw 22 seconds of sustained Oiler pressure vs. a constant, near swarming Blues attack. This was after talking up hockey to my new neighbors and telling them how its a fast paced, back and forth game they'll love. We have a plan to get each other into our respective sports and perhaps even our respective clubs by the time I leave this place. If the Oilers continue to play like that, count me out; my new Druze friend doesn't need his first exposure to be during this streak of ineptitude, let alone this season. Ah the joys of fandom.
Post Script-On behalf of the rest of the FFT, I want to wish our comrade and friend BCB a speedy recovery from his injuries sustained at the hands of another brutal regime, this one actually from our own back yard. Be well brother.