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After getting back into Jerusalem from our weekend at the Tent of Nations (see the preceding post), Scott and I decided on some delicious Arabic-style chicken and rice. In the Palestinian shuk outside of Damascus Gate, there is a restaurant with amazingly cheap and tasty food.

We sat down and were in the midst of devouring our food when something happened nearby. That sounds really imprecise, but then reread the preceding while keeping in mind that I am in Jerusalem, the most sought-after piece of real estate for most of history, thus “happened” refers to a BIG problem arose. There were, as per usual, something like 7 Palestinian folks who illegally parked their cars in front of the restaurant, and were visiting people in the shuk (for example, one of them was the uncle of the guy who was our waiter in the cafe). This time, some Israeli police officers decided to ticket them as they were impeding pedestrian traffic and were in violation of the law.

What happened next was very quick, and quite frightening actually. The shorter of the two cops started antagonizing one of the car owners while starting to write the ticket, and the gentleman shoved the cop, really hard. Instantly, three Palestinian men held the cop back, and four Palestinians held the car owner back, preventing any sort of fight (that’s correct, Palestinian men actively protected the safety of an Israeli police officer who was hassling one of their countrymen – this is an impossibility if you believe the reports of the mainstream media, but when was the last time they presented anything accurately?). At the same moment, the taller cop bolted from the scene, with his shoved- and shorter- compatriot running soon thereafter. They wanted to avoid causing a fight, it seemed…

…at least for 3 minutes, which is about how long it took for a police van with 6 IDF soldiers to arrive and assemble near the cars and Palestinians. The cops came over and started to argue with the Palestinian drivers, who were with maybe 10 of their friends. Something then happened, which I can honestly tell you signals the first time I have felt genuine fear while I have been in Israel. That small group of Palestinians (lets put them at 20 originally) was INSTANTLY a a crowd of 60 or more Palestinian men, arrayed against 6 IDF soldiers and the original 2 police officers joined by 2 more cops who were nearby. I have seen this sort of thing happen in movies, where it is shot so that a crowd seems to come from nowhere, but my seat at the table was oriented towards the altercation, and I honestly don’t understand where those people came from. It was a quiet evening and the shuk was starting to close, and suddenly, Palestinian guys came from a place I don’t fully understand (the crowd literally materialized before my eyes, without any clear point of origin for individuals joining the crowd). They seemed to be peaceful, but showing their support for the drivers (getting a ticket is a bit stressful, so when 6 fully-armed Israeli soldiers have drawn weapons, I can imagine that support is desirable). I wasn’t afraid of the crowd for myself (many Palestinian people are very nice folks, just like many people in Israel and everywhere else), but for the Israelis and Palestinians involved. I would have photographs of this, but Scott correctly advised me against it – this sort of situation is one that is guaranteed to end with the police confiscating any cameras they saw, and I don’t have the money to purchase a new one.

Thank God that cooler heads prevailed, and the Palestinian drivers admitted that they were in the wrong and thus accepted the tickets (although from the looks of it, several of them got ticketed for failing to cooperate with the police as well). I just wanted to post this anecdote as a reminder to everyone that as great as Israel/Palestine can be, there is an undercurrent of resentment on both sides, which can easily find an outlet in the most seemingly mundane situations (people get ticketed every day, as it turns out).

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