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The Arab cop’s morning in Jerusalem

'This is city is crazy,' Shadi tells Yossi, his partner, a Jewish cop. 'We fight and kill each other, but really, we're all the same'

I have this friend. His name is Shadi.

He was born and raised in Jerusalem.

He’s an Arab.

And he’s a cop.

A few years ago, he was spending his day off in the Muslim Quarter — around the corner from where he grew up, just east of Damascus Gate. He was eating knafeh, when he got a call about a possible terrorist in the Old City. Some guy speaking Arabic and wearing a gun was spotted nearby, and so Shadi spent the afternoon running around the Old City looking for the suspect.

In the end, it turns out that Shadi was the man with the gun speaking Arabic, and some Jewish guy had seen him eating knafeh and got spooked and called the police.

And so that’s how Shadi spent the  afternoon running around in circles chasing himself through the Old City.

It’s funny in some ways, and heartbreaking in others — because that’s Jerusalem, where fear and distrust swirl in the air.  Fear and distrust as thick as the scent of cardamom and saffron and rose water from the hookah pipes. As thick as the bitter “mud” at the bottom of a cup of coffee. As thick as the blood that has run through our streets.

It took Shadi a long time to become a cop. He first had to get past the stigma in his own community — but he’s the kind of guy who doesn’t care what other people think. Then he had to get past the stigma in the Jewish community.

“You know,” he told me, “even though I love my country and I’m willing to give my life for my country, the government still suspects that I’m just an Arab terrorist.”

But, again: Shadi’s the kind of guy who doesn’t care what other people think, and he proved himself worthy of his badge, worthy of his station, worthy of Jerusalem, in a series of interviews, extensive background checks, and aptitude tests, and became a cop.

And yet, he still gets stopped by the police from time to time when he’s off duty and just hanging out in the city. He could just be sitting there by the Davidka light rail station  drinking cafe hafukh from Aroma and eating a chocolate croissant, and a cop might come up to him and ask for his ID.

“I love it,” he says, although his voice is dark and bitter like the mud at the bottom of a cup of coffee when he speaks. “They see an Arab just eating a pastry and waiting for the train — me! — and they assume I’m a terrorist and when they ask for my ID, I pull out my police card, and they get all embarrassed. It’s funny. But not really.”

(I think sometimes Shadi does care what people think — or at least, he gets tired of acting like it’s all okay.)

He also has to be careful when he’s in uniform. “Some of the guys I went to school with would call me a traitor,” he tells me. “So, when I make an arrest and the guys are Arab, I try to keep a low profile. Actually, COVID has been helpful, because I can wear a mask.”

Shadi laughs again — dark and bitter. And — again — I think sometimes he does care what people think, or at least, he gets tired of acting like it’s all okay.

Shadi’s partner is Jewish. His name is Yossi. Yossi grew up just West of the Old City — only a five minute walk from where Shadi grew up, but in an entirely different universe.

Shadi and Yossi are the same age, and they played in the same streets in the Old City when their parents took them there, and probably passed each other growing up, but never saw each other.

But Jerusalem has her own rhythms and reasons, and both became cops and they work late nights together on far side of the city — I’m not allowed to say where — and they drink coffee together from paper cups when their shift ends.

Last week, during an especially, long, cold, dark night shift, they detained three Arab guys who were smoking weed. Young. Tight jeans, black jackets, hair puffed up and the top, and close shaved at the sides. They smelled like the men’s cologne section at Superpharm exploded on them.

Shadi stood back, and Yossi did the talking.

“You’re only detaining us because we’re Arab!” the guys said. “You’re only detaining us because you’re racist and you hate Arabs!”

“No, we’re detaining you because you’re smoking weed and that’s against the law,” Yossi replied.

Shadi was quiet. He thought back to all the times he’s been stopped by the light rail, or the bus station, or just walking down the street. He knows this is different, but it’s hard not to think about it.

An icy wind blew past, and he shivered.

Later on that long, cold, dark night Shadi and Yossi detained three Jewish guys who were smoking weed. Young. Tight jeans, black jackets, hair puffed up on the top and close shaved at the sides. They smelled like the men’s cologne section at Superpharm exploded on them.

“Does it sound like I’m repeating myself?” Shadi asks me when he tells the story. “I am. They looked the same. Only difference was their names. Shlomo, Moshe, and Matan instead of Suleiman, Muhammad, and Marwan. Know what I’m saying? And it was the same shit, you know? Except I did the talking this time, and as soon as I detained them, know what they said to me?”

“What?” I ask.

“They said, I swear, ‘You’re only detaining us because we’re Jews!'” Shadi laughs. “They actually said ‘You’re only detaining us because you’re racist and you hate Jews!'”

Later on that night over coffee as their shift ended, Shadi and Yossi talked about these two groups of guys, each breaking the same law, and each moaning about it.

“This is city is crazy,” Shadi told Yossi. “We are fighting and killing each other, but really, we’re all the same. It’s like we say in Arabic, ‘the pot has found its lid.’”

Yossi laughed as the sky began to soften and the stars faded along with the last dregs of coffee from the bottom of their matching paper cups. “Good morning, Shadi,” he said. “Good morning.”

About the Author
Sarah Tuttle-Singer, author of Jerusalem Drawn and Quartered and the New Media Editor at Times of Israel, She was raised in Venice Beach, California on Yiddish lullabies and Civil Rights anthems. She now lives in Israel with her two kids where she climbs roofs, explores cisterns, opens secret doors and talks to strangers, and writes stories about people. Sarah also speaks before audiences left, right, and center through the Jewish Speakers Bureau, asking them to wrestle with important questions while celebrating their willingness to do so. She also loves whisky and tacos and chocolate chip cookies and old maps and foreign coins and discovering new ideas from different perspectives. Sarah is a work in progress.
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