To the Arab woman whom we humiliated at my child’s kindergarten today

"To the children of Tel Aviv-Yafo, Good Luck!"

To the Arab woman whom we humiliated at my child’s kindergarten today
by Sarah Knopman
12 October 2015

It wasn’t anything personal, you have to understand.

The tension has been so high over the past week you could cut it with a knife. (Pardon the pun.) But you no doubt must be feeling it yourself as well, over in Jaffa where you live, which has seen tensions spill over to rowdy street demonstrations. The upsurge in ugly violence, acts of hatred and terror attacks in recent days is a tragedy for all of us – we’re all feeling it. I know you must be following the news too. Today, I guess it took its toll and you found yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It wasn’t anything personal, you have to understand.

You see, it was only on Wednesday that a teenage Palestinian woman stabbed an Israeli man in the old city of Jerusalem. And it was Thursday that the young, female soldier and four other civilians were stabbed right near the Azrielli towers in Tel Aviv. And then on Friday, a woman from Nazareth tried to stab a security guard in Afulah. And then there were those two horrible attacks in Jerusalem on Saturday. And the equally disturbing and abhorrent attacks against random Arabs who were set upon by Jewish extremists. And then this morning, a woman detonated an explosive in her car at a checkpoint after screaming Allahu Akhbar . There was another bomb found in her car. She was on her way to Jerusalem. Dear God, are we back to that? There have been others, as you know, and the situation doesn’t appear to be easing up. Some of the terrorists have been university students, others have been mothers. Yet we don’t know a whole lot about these terrorists.

All we know is that they were Muslim. And they hate us. And we are shaken and extra alert.

This area in North Tel Aviv, as you may have noticed this morning on your first time there, is full of building sites and projects under construction. In other words, the area is full of Arab workers.

There’s no security guard at the kindergarten, adding to the mounting stress and anxiety levels of the parents.

We’re told to be vigilant. We’re told to keep our eyes open, keep our wits about us, report anyone suspicious, and stay safe. Everyone was just trying to do their job.

Are you beginning to understand the setting in which you entered this morning – unannounced and unaware?

It wasn’t anything personal, you have to understand.

You stuck out like a sore thumb. You arrived traditionally dressed, covered by your hijab. You arrived during peak drop-off time, when the teacher is at the entrance greeting anxious parents and nervous children. No one was expecting you. The teacher asked who you were, then promptly told you that you were in the wrong place, and she tried to close the door. But you tried to ask her one more question, and she wasn’t listening, so you tried to open the door. And in the space of a few blurry seconds, those seconds when time stands still, and desperation clung idly to both sides of that glass door, the mothers who were with their kids standing by, saw what they believed to be an altercation, what they believed to be a stand-off between you and the teacher. Given the atmosphere of the current situation, a state of total panic ensued among the parents and their children. There were shouts. The police were called. This fracas, this skirmish, this irrevocable blowup of a misunderstanding, which has probably affected you more deeply than we’ll ever know, resulted in you scuttling away, humiliated.

Parents and children were left confused by what had happened. The parents’ WhatsApp group was on fire with a live feed of utter chaos. An “Arab woman” had tried to forcefully penetrate our children’s kindergarten!

But it’s what happened next, that you really don’t deserve.

Probably relieved to have gotten away from the frantic parents of my child’s kindergarten, you finally found your way to the right kindergarten, up the road, where you were supposed to have showed up originally. You were only about 100 metres away. So close, yet so, so far.

You were followed by police and security, who checked your identification papers. This no doubt added to your humiliation. Despite confirming who you said you were – an official Teacher’s Assistant working for the municipality sent to replace one of the permanent staff members for the day – you were sent home at the demands of the wary parents of that kindergarten, who claimed they were uncomfortable with the fact that they did not know you.

We don’t know you, it’s true, and perhaps we never will. Especially not after today.

I can’t even imagine how you must feel following this experience, or what you must have reported back to your family and friends about us. I wonder what you posted on your Facebook status today.

For what it’s worth, please know that I am saddened by this sorry state of affairs. There is an overwhelming sense of hysteria, paranoia and suspicion in the air. It’s not your fault. You’ve committed no crime by being Muslim. I’m not sure whose fault all of this is, but I guess that’s not what matters. We’d rather feel guilty about being overly cautious, than regretful for being remiss. In times of war, panic is the worst enemy and decency is the first victim.

These are not easy times. Please, forgive us. Come back another day, perhaps once the dust has settled a bit, and we can once again see eye to eye without the glare of clouded emotion.

It wasn’t anything personal, you have to understand.

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