Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Ikhwan As-Sharmuta

The commemoration of An-Nakbah (see yesterday’s post) has given Arab leaders a renewed opportunity to reaffirm their everlasting support for the Palestinians. Whenever I hear it, I am reminded of a conversation last December with a young taxi driver in Bethlehem .

I’d just arrived from a week in Dubai , the emirate of superlatives. It has the world’s most expensive hotel, communities built on man-made islands, and indoor ski slopes. Earth’s tallest building is being constructed in such a way that if anyone ever builds anything higher they can extend.

The taxis are brand new and spotlessly clean, driven by well-groomed young men in white shirts and dress slacks. It’s when you speak to them that you realize life is more than meets the eye. They work 12 hours a day, seven days a week, sleep on a cot in a crowded apartment or dormitory, and make 400 dollars a month. As much as they can, they send home. But the job market in the Gulf is still a lot better than in Kerala, Kolkuta, or Karachi , so they keep coming.

The taxi waiting after I crossed the checkpoint in Bethlehem was certainly not new, and the driver would not be considered well-dressed. If I’d known the center of town was less than ten-minutes away I would have walked, but tourists are tourists everywhere. The same holds true for taxi drivers, at least in Israel and the West Bank . Both Jewish and Palestinian cabbies talk your ear off about how bad the economy is and how hard it is to make a living. And they both try to get as many shekels as they can for a five-minute ride.

I said to the young man, “I’ve just come from Dubai , where they hire thousands of taxi drivers from India and Pakistan . If they are so concerned about you, why don’t they hire Palestinian taxi drivers?”

His answer was short and to the point. “They don’t care about us,” he said, “They are ‘ikhwan as-sharmuta’ (our brothers from the whore).”


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