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July 8, 2015 / 21 Tammuz, 5775
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Security and the Belt

At the door to the building, I put my purse and a bag on the guard's table...but he wasn't looking at them. He was looking at me...and down at the belt.
belt and guard

When the surgeon first explained what he was going to do during my recent operation, my first thought was, “Pins? You’re going to put pins in my shoulder? Am I going to set off the metal detectors???”

The thought of having to deal with this just about broke me…and then the doctor smiled and said no, the pins weren’t made of metal and would actually, disintegrate in about six months.

I would have to wear an “immobilizer” belt made by an Israeli company named Uriel. I bought the belt and brought it on the day of the operation and woke up wearing it and except for showering, I’ve been wearing it ever since.

At the beginning, night and day, I had to wear it as you see in the picture. Arm firmly secured to my body – top and bottom. After several weeks, I “graduated” to having to keep the upper arm band in place, but the lower arm can be released.

This morning, for the first time since the operation, my husband dropped me off for a few hours to see what’s happening here at the office. I’m not officially back to work yet, but I needed to get out and because he had a meeting in Tel Aviv – he could drive me in and take me home later. I can barely handle car rides; I wasn’t up to trying buses and trains.

I work in the center of Jerusalem. It’s a beautiful city, made especially more beautiful now that the work on the light rail has finished. The city is full of people – shopping, eating, walking. And the people are as varied as the shops – Israelis, new immigrants, Arabs, tourists…

Within a 10 minute walk from my building in any direction, you can find at least a dozen plaques dedicated to victims of terror attacks. Here in the heart of Jerusalem, Palestinians terrorists have set off dozens of bombs. It is a reality that slips to the back of our minds, but never goes away. Day to day, we function normally, think of other things, regular, ordinary.

As I walked past the sidewalk and open plaza heading into the building, a guard was approaching a microwave oven. Someone had left it on a bench. They are trained to see the un-ordinary and this qualified. They have seconds to figure out what probably happened, what it is, and if it poses a threat. What probably happened is that someone who lives nearby had a microwave. Maybe they took it to be fixed at one of the stores and heard the price and thought – for that I can buy a new one. Who knows?

But you can’t trust the guess, you have to check. The guard carefully opened it and looked inside. To call a bomb squad would shut down the center of Jerusalem for an hour or more, disrupt the end of rush hour, halt all train service throughout the city. If he’d seen enough to suspect, he would have called it.

He should have called the bomb squad but he took that chance. He looked at it, around it…and then slowly opened it and looked inside. I kept walking, praying I wouldn’t hear (or feel) a boom. I didn’t turn around. Perhaps someone came running, “that’s mine, that’s mine. I’m sorry, I went to get a newspaper.” Perhaps it was any number of other things. It wasn’t a bomb…that I would have heard. It can slip way back into your head, but it never goes away.

At the door to the building, I put my purse and a bag on the guard’s table…but he wasn’t looking at them. He was looking at me…and down at the belt.

“What’s the belt?” he asked and for the first time it clicked.

No, it isn’t filled with explosives and I’m not committing suicide. But you don’t joke with security – that’s the first rule. They need to know what is happening, to decide quickly if I pose a threat.

I don’t fit profile. I’m not a young man and I’m clearly not Palestinian. If he heard my accent, he’s hear the English in it. Most people don’t come live in Israel to blow something up. Add it all up – the look of me said one thing, the belt hinted at something else.

Add to that, I was dressed “strangely”. My shoulder doesn’t tolerate cold – I’m wearing a lose fitting black shawl…on a bright, sunny, warm day because otherwise my shoulder can hurt deep inside. A shawl or a large coat can hide so much…and I have a strange belt.

The fact that my arm is braced to my body was hidden by the shawl…all he could see is loose-fitted clothing and a strange looking belt around my torso.

Not enough to confirm – but enough to ask. Enough to stand out. Enough to hesitate. Not enough to raise the alarm. It was all there in his eyes. I don’t fit profile…but it’s possible…anything is possible and you don’t bet with people’s lives. “What’s the belt?”

“I had shoulder surgery,” I explained quickly. “I had a tear in my shoulder and…” In that same instance, I knew what he was thinking, wondering. And as I spoke, desperate to make it clear, I realized I was already wasting my time – my voice is American despite being here 20 years. My Russian/Polish ancestors have given me skin that is shades lighter than my brothers and sisters who moved here from Arab lands and lighter than the skin color of some of my cousins who have sometimes come to blow themselves up. It isn’t racism; it is reality. It is profiling but it saves time and lives.

My explanation makes sense because it is truth and it puts back in order the image he sees before him – a belt for medical reasons…yes, that’s what it looks like. She was sick…or hurt, and so she wears a shawl for warmth, even on an impossibly warm, sunny, beautiful day, in the center of Jerusalem.

“Refuah shalyma,” he answered with a smile. It is a traditional Jewish response to someone who is hurt or sick – you should have a complete recovery.

I thanked him and walked slowly to my office. It bothered me that I had put that question, that hesitation in his mind. Was he facing a suicide bomber that broke profile? I know, I can imagine, the parts of his brain fighting each other – she looks one way, but has the belt…she’s wearing a shawl…ah, American accent, Jewish, speaks Hebrew, an explanation…no threat.

It never occurred to me that the belt would be questioned and in a while, I’ll be glad it was. But I’ll be happier when I can take it off completely and blend back into the obvious.

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3 Responses to “Security and the Belt”

  1. Rina Gray says:

    In Israel it's better be safe, than sorry.

  2. Tzirël Shâffreñ says:

    A dose of reality. The world worries about how the poor Palestinians have to go through checkpoints and how dehumanizing it is and how it makes movement so very difficult. But somehow the world conveniently forgets that we, too, have to go through checkpoints and guards everywhere because of the ever present threat of suicide bombers targeting civilians. They made their beds by constantly attacking us (read the history of the region). But we, too, have to pay the price. It's akin to civilians having to put up window bars and alarms and motion sensors and have civilian patrols because of increased crime, and the criminals complaining that they are being profiled and inconvenienced.

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