Last week in Bethlehem, I tried to help two tourists who had just gotten off the bus from Jerusalem and were poring over a map of the city. It was quite obvious to me that these European girls had never been to Bethlehem before, and so I decided to point them in the right direction.
I approached them and asked if they were searching for the Church of the Nativity. But the girls completely ignored me and continued scrutinising their map. It took me a few seconds to realise that they thought I was a local taxi driver trying to fleece them.
“I’m a tourist like you. I’m also walking to the church,” I said. Again, complete silence. I walked off in disgust.
To some degree, I understand the girls’ behaviour. They had just been accosted by an army of taxi drivers and tour guides, and were feeling insecure in an unfamiliar environment. Also, even Arabs think I’m Arab, so it’s no surprise that these girls thought so too.
But at the very least, they could have replied with a polite but firm “No, thank you”. They didn’t even acknowledge my presence. It was quite a dehumanising experience.
Of course, I can easily brush this experience off. But hundreds of Palestinians experience this everyday. So do thousands of taxi drivers, tour guides, salesmen, advertisers, and beggars around the world. As much as possible, I’ve decided that no matter how annoyed or inconvenienced I am by such people on the streets, I will either accept or reject their offers, but will not ignore them.
A little empathy goes a long way.