Sarah Shapiro

Conversing with Arab Cab Drivers

The saying goes that if you want to get the news, ask a cab driver.

Here in Jerusalem, whenever I get into a taxi and the driver is an Arab, I usually see if it’s possible to start a conversation. One of the things I like to ask is which government he would prefer to live under, the Palestinian Authority or Israel. The answer, without exception, is repeatedly, “Israel.”

I ask why.

One driver replied that the Palestinian leaders are greedy and corrupt. The PA, he said, gets millions of dollars from around the world, but the money doesn’t reach the people, to raise their standard of living.

Another driver, after he’d given the same answer regarding his preference, replied that he lives in Abu Tor, where Jews and Arabs live together. I asked whether he and his brethren suffer there, to which he responded, “No, I  have teudat zehut. [Israeli citizenship.] I get the same benefits that the Jews get. But the Palestinians who don’t have tedudat zehut, they’re suffering. There are two things that Israel does that cause us suffering. One is that there are a lot of stabbings and the police don’t stop the stabbings. If it was Jews, the police would come in to stop it.”

I was confused. “Whose stabbings? Do you mean between Arab and Arab?” He said, yes. “In Gaza?” I asked. And he said yes.

So then I asked, “And so you’re talking about the Israeli Police?”

He said yes.

I then asked what the other thing is that he objects to, and he said that Israel makes it hard for Palestinians to build their homes in Jewish neighborhoods.

I thought to myself, How ironic. But I was scared to say so.  

Once — having flagged down a cab outside Hadassah Hospital, where Arab and Jewish patients appear to be equally represented, and are treated by Arab and Jewish doctors and nurses, who also are equally represented — I asked the Arab driver if he agreed with the idea, which has won wide credence in the US, that Israel is an apartheid state.

He eyed me with what seemed to be wariness in the rear-view mirror, and after a few moments, said, “No.”

The rest of the ride passed by in silence.

About the Author
Sarah Shapiro's newest book is "An Audience of One, and Other Stories" [Mosaica/Feldheim]
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