In Jerusalem, Even the Dentist Lets You Know Who’s in Charge

This article was written for PeaceXPeace.

A lot of people hate going to the dentist because it hurts. I hate going to the dentist in Jerusalem because it hurts, but not in my mouth. It hurts my sense of belonging.

We go to an Israeli dental clinic.

IMG_8163Many Palestinians in Jerusalem go to Israeli dental clinics. Why shouldn’t they? Palestinians who have residency in Jerusalem are entitled to Israeli health insurance. It’s one of the few benefits they got when Israel illegally annexed Jerusalem.

Nearly all the approximately 300,000 Palestinians living in East Jerusalem are “residents.” They were born in Jerusalem (like their parents, and their parents’ parents) but despite Israel’s annexation, they are not citizens of Israel. They have no voice in the Israeli elections that determine their fate. Not that they necessarily want to vote in the Israeli elections. But I digress.

Last time I took my children to the Israeli dental clinic, the receptionist waved us to the x-ray room and a technician hurried my middle daughter into the big faux-leather chair.

“Wait! Why does she need an x-ray?” I intervened.

The woman had straight blond hair and a pink hair extension that matched her pinkish lipstick. She looked at me with a totally unreadable look on her face.

“She’s having her teeth cleaned. She doesn’t need an x-ray,” I repeated in English. My middle daughter was looking uncomfortable in the chair, embarrassed. The other two had backed into the waiting area and were pretending not to know me.

The technician shouted to the receptionist and there was soon a small congregation of Israeli women around me, all speaking Russian. They were trying to figure out what my problem was.

The dentist herself came out from her room in the back carrying my daughter’s dental records. I could understand her Hebrew despite her heavy Russian accent, “If you want to see the dentist, you have to have an x-ray,” she proclaimed, as if it were a law of nature.

I tried to explain in my few words of Hebrew: “Teeth cleaning. Last time we came, the hygienist wrote in the file that we needed to come back.” I tapped the file in her hand. It would all be clear if she would just read the dental record.

But she didn’t. The dentist turned on her heel and walked through the reception area talking loudly. “This lady wants me to write in the file that her daughter got an x-ray but she doesn’t want her daughter to have the x-ray!”

I was livid, frustrated, powerless.

“She doesn’t need an x-ray!” I raised my voice, following her to her office.

“I decide!” she countered.

By then, all my children were ready to crawl into the medicine cabinet with shame.

And I made it worse.

I approached a Palestinian woman sitting with her children in the waiting room. I asked her in Arabic if she knew enough Hebrew to explain to “those crazy people” (yes, I was angry) that my daughter needed her teeth cleaned, not an x-ray. She didn’t look too happy to be associated with me in any way, but she stood up to help.

Then the door to the hygienist’s room opened and she stepped out, interested in all the commotion. I ran to her. Her long bouncy curls had changed colors since our last visit.

“Do you remember me?” I asked in English.

“Of course!” She smiled at my children and I felt a wave of relief. She is the reason why we go to that clinic. She makes flossing and mouthwash and fluoride fun.

“Can you please tell them I want you to clean my daughter’s teeth? I told them you wrote it on her dental record, but they don’t understand.”

A few minutes later, my middle daughter was reclining in the hygienist’s chair having her teeth cleaned.

“Apparently the person who scheduled your appointment at your last visit thought you wanted to see the dentist,” she said as she worked. “And everyone who sees the dentist for the first time needs an x-ray.”

“You provide services in Hebrew and in Russian,” I said. “Why not in Arabic? Isn’t Arabic also an official language of Israel?

There was a pause and the hygienist looked at me, humanity shining in her eyes. She didn’t respond to me, but she spoke to my daughter. I think she said: “Spit.”

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18 thoughts on “In Jerusalem, Even the Dentist Lets You Know Who’s in Charge

  1. […] post first appeared on Nora Lester Murad's blog. Thanks to Peter […]

    • Nora Lester Murad says:

      I just got an email from a Mondoweiss reader. It said: “So move to Gaza, I’m sure your Palestinian friends will treat you better and your kids will look great in burqas. FUCKING IDIOT” Just to clarify, he wrote that, not me. So I answered: “Boy are you angry at the suggestion that Israel should treat everyone fairly and with respect and dignity. Why is that?” And I invited him to comment here on my blog so that others can join this thread.

  2. a guest says:

    Regarding the 2 links you put. I agree that the standard of living in east Jerusalem is much lower than in Jewish west Jerusalem. But an honest analysis of the situation will include the following points:

    The Arabs in east Jerusalem up until a year or 2 refused to cooperate with the Israeli autorities or the municipality. Egged buses that were opened in Arab neighborhoods in the past were cancelled because of frequent stone throwing and other harassment from the Arab population, and therefore the separate bus syatem in east Jerusalem. As is written in Nir Hasson’s article, any service that the municipality tried to run in east Jerusalem in the past – such as post office branches, health clinics of Israeli “kupot holim” etc., were met with violence and vandalism. The article in Haaretz talks about change that took place among the Arabs in east Jerusalem who now accept Israeli services in their neighborhoods unlike in the past.
    regarding house demolition – well even Jews in Israel are required to go through legal processes if they want to build a house. In east Jerusalem people build houses when and where they feel like it without permission or going through legal process.
    Most Arabs in east Jerusalem don’t have an Israeli ID because they refused and many still refuse today to have one. After 1967 they declined the ofer of the then mayor of Jerusalem Teddy Kolek to participate in the municipality elections or to get services from the municipality.
    The Arab population in east Jerusalem has been traditionally hostile towards Jews and against the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. Many were and are involved in terror acts against Jews.
    I’ll be risking my life if I stroll in an Arab neighborhood in east Jerusalem and the population knew I was a Jew.
    All this without mentioning the fact that Arabs don’t perform the duties Jews perform (such as serving in the army/national service) and regarding paying taxes – well they are required, but most don’t pay.
    Under these circumstances I think we Israelis are saints that we give the Arabs in east Jerusalem anything at all, when all we get is hostility and the denial of our right to exist.

    • Nora Lester Murad says:

      I’m really saddened by all the misinformation you have, and the conclusions you draw from it. From my OWN experience, Palestinians don’t want the Egged buses because they have their own buses. The Egged company is just competing with Palestinians and undermining their economy. However, there isn’t violence and vandalism against the health clinic (I take my children there all the time) nor the post office. Those are services that are supposed to be provided, and Palestinians use them (though they may complain that there aren’t enough or that the quality isn’t always as good). The point about house demolitions is VERY important! Yes, both Jews and Palestinians must have permits to build, but Jews are issued permits and Palestinians are denied. THAT is why they build illegally. I personally know Palestinians who waited ten or fifteen years and still haven’t gotten a permit. Some people pay bribes to get permits, but not everyone can afford that or agrees to do it. The whole system is corrupt and unfair. Unless you understand that, it appears that Palestinians just have no respect for normal bureaucracy. And I just can’t allow you to say that “Many Palestinians were and are involved in terror acts against Jews” without asking you for some documentation. This is just untrue and it’s terribly harmful for you to spread these absolute lies. It’s also not true that you’d be risking your life if you strolled in my neighborhood. A whole bunch of the distributors that serve the stores all over East Jerusalem are Jewish. They stroll around speaking Hebrew. There are Israelis that come to eat Kunafa and Felafel all the time. Some Palestinians may not like having Israelis drop in when they want something and refuse to come when something is needed (I have many examples), but to say they are risking their lives? Oh my goodness I really don’t think you have any idea what you’re talking about.

      • a guest says:

        1. In the past Egged buses that run in Arab neighborhoods on their way to Pisgat Ze’ev were frequently attacked by stones which made Egged pull out its buses from east Jerusalem. Hell, the Arabs in east Jerusalem still attack Israeli transportation in their neighborhoods today – i.e. the light rail which was hit by stones in Arabs east Jerusalem.

        2. Just and example – from Nir Hasson’s article in Haaretz regarding vandalism:

        “However, on the night before the scheduled festive dedication of the new branch (post office branch), which the mayor was to attend, the site was torched and slogans against normalization and collaboration with the municipality were scrawled on the walls. ”

        3. Regarding the involvement of Arabs from east Jerusalem in terror attacks… wow, the cases are too numerous. A simple google search will do the job. A few examples:

        From the Shabak website:

        http://www.shabak.gov.il/English/EnTerrorData/Reviews/Pages/InvolvementofEastJerusalem.aspx

        I can tell you from memory a few sad cases that stuck in my mind – an old Jewish man who was walking, not far from where I live, in the valley of the cross – in west Jerusalem, where all the surrounding neighborhoods are Jewish, was stabbed to death by an Arab youth who hid in the bushes. The cruelty and the savagery of hiding in the park, waiting for a victim, and then stabbing an 80 year old man to death….
        Another case was of 2 young Jewish men and woman. The man lived in Jerusalem and his girlfriend came to visit him from Haifa. He took her for a walk in a park Israel built near Armon Hanatziv neighborhoods. Arab youth waited for victims there. They stabbed both to death.
        But really, we’re talking about so many examples.

        for exaample:
        http://www.jta.org/news/article/2011/10/23/3089912/jewish-teen-stabbed-in-jerusalem-terror-attack

        4. Regarding how dangerous it is for Jews to stroll in east Jerusalem. Well the stores owners in east Jerusalem have an interest to work with Jewish distributors and maybe even customers, but the general population is highly hostile and violent. So many Jews were stabbed in the old city.
        Again, too many examples. Just a few:

        http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4300490,00.html

        http://www.jpost.com/NationalNews/Article.aspx?id=264439

        http://www.barenakedislam.com/2012/11/19/arab-muslim-youths-set-up-a-jew-stabbling-cell-in-jerusalem/

        I don’t go to Arab areas of east Jerusalem but sometimes I stroll in the old city Jewish, Armenian and Christian quarters (forget about the Muslim quarter!). A few months ago I was sitting near a central area in the Christian quarter and saw a little Arab boy chasing a cat with a stick. I asked him politely not to do that. Seconds after that an Arab man approached me very quickly, stood very close to me, and with fierce anger and hate in his eyes and started to shout at me that we (Israelis) kill people etc. etc. I (a woman a lone) felt threatened and moved a way so I didn’t see him anymore and talked on the phone, suddenly I saw him again rushing at me from the crowd of tourists, again full of hate and violence. approached very close and started shouting again. I swear I thought that he was going to pull out a knife and stab me and I moved quickly away until I saw Israeli soldiers.

        A second episode I remember is on a snowy day a few years ago, near the Jerusalem cinematheque (where there were many cases of Arabs attacking Jews so that guards now stand up near the bridge before screenings), Arab children were throwing snow balls at Jews, including myself. Only there was nothing innocent about it, It was like mini Intifada, with huge balls thrown with force at Jewish family and children, women etc. People asked them to stop but they wouldn’t. At some point I pulled out my cell phone to call the police and they almost attacked me physically that I had to run away. And that was very close to my home then in the German Colony.
        I just don’t risk myself by going to areas that are “hard core” Arab – like the Muslim quarter and other Arab neighborhoods.

      • a guest says:

        a few more examples of what might happen to a Jew who finds himself in an Arab neighborhood in Jerusalem:

        http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4087606,00.html

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRyyyUM1Z8s

        http://www.aijac.org.au/news/article/almost-lynched-in-east-jerusalem-for-being-jewis

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SIWEPQv1FGo

        And the list goes on and on…

        By the way in recent years there were very few incidents of Jews attacking Arabs but there are very few compared to the thousands of incidents of Arabs attacking Jews. Not just in Jerusalem and not just now but throughout the conflict. I argue that there’s something very savage and barbaric in the Arab (Palestinian) society which cause people to act like animals.

        Take for instance the case of 2 non Israeli women tourists who were attacked and stabbed by a gang of Arab youth in a Jerusalem mountain
        nature resort.

        http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4019519,00.html

        What kind of animals do such a thing and how come there are hardly any Jews who commit such crimes, but many incidents of Arabs who do.

      • Nora Lester Murad says:

        I’m sorry it took me so long to answer your comment. Actually, I was trying to think of what to say. I still don’t know what to say. I don’t want to tell you these things are lies because I assume they aren’t (although the video “Arabs Attacking Jews In Jerusalem” was misleading since the Arab kids threw SNOW at the Jews and the story about the attack in Issawiya also described how Palestinians saved the Jew who was attacked). I know there is violence against Jews, so there is no need to deny. I could tell you that there is also violence by Jews against Palestinians, and I could include a whole bunch of links to proof. But what would be the point of that? The bottom line is that you feel scared in Arab neighborhoods. That’s really sad. And it’s a really good reason why there should be peace–so that everyone can walk where they want to – safely and happy.

  3. a guest says:

    And another thing – while Arabic is a second language in Israel, Hebrew is the country’s first language. It just shows you how “Israeli” are the Arabs in east Jerusalem that they don’t even speak the language of the country they live in. If Israel is good enough to live on its stipends (as many Arabs in east Jerusalem do) and get its medical services and other services, then maybe they should learn its language. But it seems to me that east Jerusalem Arabs want to hold the stick in both hands – on the one hand pretend that they are Palestinians and Israel and its language are the occupiers, but on the other hand take everything they can from the country they pretend doesn’t exist and whose language they don’t even speak.

    • Nora Lester Murad says:

      You are right that most Palestinians in Jerusalem are not Israeli at all! Nor can they vote in Israeli elections, though they do pay taxes. Their benefits as residents are extremely limited, but the discrimination against them, including in home demolitions, housing, jobs, education, health is HUGE.

      • a guest says:

        I don’t have time now to respond but you are wrong that their benefits are limited. And by the way I did see “The Great Book Robbery”. Again, I’ll respond later, but in a nutshell, the film is about the books of the most rich Arab families in Jerusalem, hardly representing the fast Arab populations which was poor and uneducated. And the Zionists can in the end of the 19th century and built many things before 1948 which the Arab population also benefitted from.

      • a guest says:

        Sorry for the generalization, but I often hear or read Palestinians say or write lies about what Israel does to them and the rights they don’t get from Israel that it amazes me. Even the more educated and cultured Palestinians seem to have no problem writing lies as if the truth is not out there for everyone to read and know, and it will never come out.
        So as for your statement that – “Palestinians who have residency in Jerusalem are entitled to Israeli health insurance. It’s one of the few benefits they got”.
        As I thought, and as you can easily read everywhere, Arabs living in east Jerusalem and who reject the Israeli citizenship (as did the majority of them after 1967 because they view it as recognizing Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem or even right to exit) still get all social and medical services from the state.
        Meaning – they get “Bituach Leumi” – state stipends if they don’t work, if they have children, money that the state gives old people, they get all the medical services, in short they have the same rights as citizens except to vote for the Knesset or build houses or move around Israel freely.
        Since many Arab have an income that is less than the minimal wage in Israel, many get a supplement to their income by the state. In addition, because of Jewish ultra-orthodox lobby in the kneset, the state gives more and more money for child support, as the number of children in a family is bigger. Since the Arabs in east Jerusalem have larger families than the average Jewish family, they also get a lot of money from the state for that as well.
        In addition, tax collection among east Jerusalem Arabs, as well as Israeli Arabs is much lower that among Israeli Jews. So the bottom line is that east Jerusalem Arabs get much more from the state of Israel than they give back. They are actually a burden in every sense on the state, but still enjoy most of the benefits that Israel gives its citizens.

        According to wikipedia:
        As residents, East Jerusalemites rejecting Israeli citizenship have the right to vote in municipal elections and play a role in the administration of the city. Residents pay taxes, and following a 1988 Israeli Supreme Court ruling, East Jerusalem residents are guaranteed the right to social security benefits and state health care.

        Another thing that you might find an interesting read is Nir Hasson’s article in Haaretz (not axactly a right wing paper and website) titled : “A surprising process of ‘Israelization’ is taking place among Palestinians in East Jerusalem.”

        You can read there just how much money and services the Jerusalem municipality (backed by the state) pours into Arab east Jerusalem.

        In my opinion, Arab east Jerusalem should be given to the Palestinian authority. Let the PA support the Arabs in east Jerusalem’s social and medical needs.
        Oh dear, but if you ask me, that the nightmare of the east Jerusalem Arabs. That good old Israel will cease to be their ruler and they’ll end up with their brothers’ rule which I’m sure will feel much much worse that what they get from “bad” Israel. No more first world Israel. No more clean clinics and hospitals with 1st world treatment, no more money for the poor or child support, welcome to a typical Arab country 3rd world jungle!

        http://www.haaretz.com/weekend/magazine/a-surprising-process-of-israelization-is-taking-place-among-palestinians-in-east-jerusalem.premium-1.490367

  4. a guest says:

    ““You provide services in Hebrew and in Russian,” I said. “Why not in Arabic?”
    Maybe because Israelis who speak Hebrew and Russian are the ones who go to the army/national srevice and whose parents and grandparents built Israel and sacrificed their lives to defend Israel, while the 300,000 Palestinians living in Jerusalem and their parents and grandparents not only do not go to the army/national service but fought the Israeli Jews and want the Jews out of “Palestine” while they still enjoy the Jews high medical services and social stipends provided mainly by the taxes of the Jews who are behind Israel economic power.
    A pole was punlished recently that shows the 80% of young Arab Israelis (with an Israeli ID) refuse the idea of doing national service even in their own Arab communities.
    So there’s obviously a population in Israel which is the salt of the earth of the state and then there are the free riders – i.e. the Arabs.

    • Nora Lester Murad says:

      This is a very interesting perspective. I sincerely thank you for sharing it. I learn so much about the clash of interpretations when people respond as you have to something I write. You see, from my point of view, it is the Israelis who are the free riders. They came to a place where people were living and stole the land, the water, kicked out nearly a million people, stole people’s houses and books, and nearly everything else, and then said they built the country from scratch. Isn’t that free riding?

      • a guest says:

        But before the Jews came British Palestine and the Ottoman city of Jerusalem didn’t have anything modern or working. The Arabs were the residents a land which was never theirs but the Ottomans’ and then the Brits’, a land which was primitive and backward and had nothing modern and functioning before the Zionists came to it and introduced modern medicine, agriculture etc. So you see, the Jews did build everything from scratch – modern medicine, agriculture, education, industry, roads, totally changed the landscape by forrestation of the land etc.

      • Nora Lester Murad says:

        I hope you’ll watch the film, The Great Book Robbery, and then decide if there was really no culture, no science, no achievement before Israel came. That’s not the only source that documents the vibrant life and accomplishments of Palestinians before 1948, but it’s made by an Israeli and perhaps you’ll recognize it as a credible source. I look forward to your thoughts.

  5. Justine says:

    I am intrigued – if going to an Israeli dental clinic makes you so uncomfortable, why don’t you go to a Palestinian dental clinic?

    • Nora Lester Murad says:

      That’s a good question, Justine. I think there are three reasons. First, I think we should resist not give in to Israeli attempts to push Palestinians into ghettos. Second, why should we pay for a service that we are entitled to (and pay for through our contribution to national insurance)? Third, the quality of services and facilities is often better in Israeli clinics. That said, we reconsider these decisions every time and aren’t always consistent. For example, we use a Palestinian orthodontist rather than an Israeli one. We have to pay privately anyway and we found one we’re really happy with (first child already finished with braces and the second one is in process). So even these decisions are not easy and need constant re-thinking.

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