Sarah Tuttle-Singer
A Mermaid in Jerusalem

“You want me to save your democracy? We Jerusalemites never really had one here”

Courtesy Shadi H.

Shadi’s police shift partner Yossi is Jewish. He used to be all about the Bibi, but not anymore.

During their last shift, he asked Shadi why more Arabs are not involved in what’s happening in Israel and going to protest alongside the Israelis who have taken to the streets . “It’s going to affect the Arabs,” he told Shadi. “And there will be no more democracy!”

“Yossi, brother — for you it’s a democracy… for me it never was. How could it be when my cousin Is afraid to marry someone she loves because that someone happens to be from the West Bank — and she is afraid of giving up her residency in Jerusalem to build a life with him behind the wall on the wrong side of the checkpoint! How is it democracy when Jerusalemites need to send electricity and water and Arnona bills from 5 years ago to prove we live in Jerusalem just so we can register our kids in the system when they’re born!

Is it democracy when we might get attested for waving a Palestinian flag? Is it democracy when soldiers come into our houses in the middle of the night because one of our donkey cousins posted something violent on Tiktok, what democracy when we are kicked out of our homes because Jews from Brooklyn say the property was once owned by a Jew so it’s theirs now and they’re taking over, what democracy when an autistic kid gets shot by soldiers on his way to school — once in the back and then again while lying on the ground.

He took a breath.

“Democracy,” Shadi sighed. “What does that even mean, Yossi? Freedom? Security? That your voice matters? That your home is safe? I always loved Pizza Hut when I was a kid, and I remember when we called once for a delivery, they said ‘sorry we don’t send to your area because it is an Arab neighborhood,’ but we pay Arnona and all the same taxes the Jews pay, and still, we live in a dangerous slum because the municipality doesn’t give a fk about us, and the bumps in our roads are never fixed , and there’s garbage lining the streets and the rents and prices are way too high, and everyone is on drugs just to get through the day … and so my family decided to move to Beit Jalla in Area C, but they cut off our medical insurance, and my dad needed heart surgery or he would die, so we had to pay without insurance, and went into debt, and then had to to pay for the rents in Jerusalem again so we can get back our medical insurance in case this happened again – GD FORBID – and not to lose our ID cards… but our Jewish neighbors in Area C just across the hill never have to face this, and when my father asked the judge in the court why we can’t live there and why are the settlements allowed and why do the Jews get to keep their insurance and he loses his? She told him to shut his mouth or she will kick him out of the room . Democracy. What democracy. My father – haram, shame – he forgot we live in a racist country, and the judge is the jailer . Democracy. Really.

Our houses have been stolen from us by the law of absentee, but we never really left – I still have a key. Yes if we lived in Syria we could have faced death in an instant, but in here we are dying so slowly, and we feel the government is leaving us to poison ourselves with drugs and hopelessness.

I had to fight for nearly ten years to become a citizen – when all I wanted to do was be part of this country and serve in the police to help people , but I was rejected over and over until I sued the Ministry of Interior. Democracy. What democracy, when the government disenfranchises us and is afraid that if we actually vote we might take back Jerusalem – at least in city hall -but that’ll never happen because they’ve made us so damn tired hardly anyone in my family shows up to vote because we don’t believe in change, or even hope, and left or right is all the same to us – all racist at the end of the day , they all want us out.“

Shadi took a deep breath.

“If I want to demonstrate I would demonstrate against the corruption of the left and the right that is destroying this country and rotting it from the inside and ruining the chance of the younger generation from having a future in this country and building a truly shared society by not changing the educational system to teach the children to love each other. Everyone sticks to their tribe – that isn’t a democracy. That’s living in the desert in tents fighting with sticks over the same water well and grazing area for our different goats!

I would demonstrate against the violence in my own community, and the sad, true fact is that most Jews don’t care when we shoot each other — and some may be happy when we do.

I would demonstrate against the crazy prices and taxes and the lack of houses and the fact my wife and I have to work crazy hours — she works three jobs now!!! – just for the chance to maybe save to buy a shoebox in a rundown neighborhood, let alone a real house with a garden for our son to play in. It’s so basic to want a house – and for me and so many others like me – Arabs and Jews! – it’s only a desperate dream that makes us exhausted.
What democracy?

A country is still occupying another people after more than half a century! a country that has lost its morals! A country that rose from the ashes after the worst fires of destruction in the Holocaust, but does not recognize the Armenian genocide, let alone the injustices of the Occupation and the miserable treatment of Jerusalemites who have been living here in the holy city for centuries, yet are made to feel as wanted as vermin. Democracy? It’s hypocrisy!

And yet I know the High Court is the last half-decent thing standing between us and the abyss, an alcoholic mother that we run to to save us from the bullies… but, Yossi, I am tired. You’re asking me to save your democracy? We Jerusalemites never really had one in the first place. You’re worried you’re going to lose your rights? We Jerusalemites never really had those rights to begin with.”

Yossi patted his arm “I’m sorry, brother. But you’re still serving in the police.”

Shadi shrugged. “Yeah well… I guess I still have some hope left that it can be better, that maybe I can be part of making it better. Anyway I should shut up now, before speaking the truth becomes illegal and I lose my job”

About the Author
Sarah Tuttle-Singer is the 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, and she now lives in Jerusalem with her 3 kids where she climbs roofs, explores cisterns, opens secret doors, talks to strangers, and writes stories about people — especially taxi drivers. 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 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.