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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.

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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.

Visit A Soldier’s Mother.

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Paula R. Stern is CEO of WritePoint Ltd., a leading technical writing company in Israel. Her personal blog, A Soldier's Mother, has been running since 2007. She lives in Maale Adumim with her husband and children, a dog, too many birds, and a desire to write.

3 COMMENTS

  1. 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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