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(& Smartest) Arab
December 31st, 2011 (4 Comments)
This week, I experienced a kind of confusing racism I never could have imagined. Since I am proud of my heritage, I celebrate Christmas because it is the birthday of the most famous Palestinian of all time. In the spirit of the season, I bought each of my two sisters a Tommy Hilfiger bag from the well-known discount store Marshall’s. Yes, I shop at Marshall’s. I'm an Arab Palestinian and I've been culturally indoctrinated to never pay full price for anything.
On Christmas morning, I presented my sisters with their gifts. They didn't care for them too much. So they told me, “Thanks for the gesture, but just return them and get your money back.” I asked my mom if she knew anyone who might want the bags. She thought about it and couldn’t come up with any takers. I happened to think the bags were very cute.
So I went to get my money back. As I pulled up, I searched for my receipt. I had lost it. I entered Marshall’s, no receipt in hand, with the two beautiful, trendy bags I had bought. The manager was a nice 20-something white woman who couldn't have been more kind. She explained to me that without a receipt, I could only receive a store credit, in the form of a gift card. This was no problem. I would give the card to my father. He would appreciate my gift. He's a true bargain hunter, and he shops at Marshall’s almost daily. Where do you think I got it from?
As the manager worked through my transaction, I noticed a rack of gift cards on the counter with a few different designs. I asked her if I could have one of those nice-looking gift cards. She very politely obliged. One card in particular caught my eye. It was blue, contained the Marshall’s logo, and had written upon it a delightful holiday message: “Happy Hanukkah.”
I thought this was great. I would get my dad the “Happy Hanukkah” gift card. I thought it would be hilarious for a man who was kicked out of Palestine, grew up in refugee camps, and lived on UN rations to walk around with a “Happy Hanukkah” gift card. As a comedian, I was basically required to take advantage of this opportunity. My dad is a staunch lover of Palestine, but even he wouldn't turn down a $60 Marshall's gift card, no matter what was inscribed upon it.
I pulled the “Happy Hanukkah” gift card from the display and handed it to the pleasant young lady. Now, I should give a little note about where I grew up. I was raised in an area just outside of Philadelphia almost completely inhabited by very nice white people. I mean it was our family, an Indian family, a black family, and the rest were all white people. And we almost never had any problems. They loved us. They even elected my dad to the public school board. And this Marshall's manager was one of these very nice people.
I handed her the “Happy Hanukkah” gift card. She looked at the card, looked at me, looked at the card again, and looked at me again. Then she said, “You know this says ‘Hanukkah,’ right?”……… I paused, then said, “Yes, I know that.” She smiled, said “OK,” completed the transaction, gave me the card, and I walked out.
As I started to drive away, I thought, “Wait a second! That was messed up! What if I were a Jew? I would've been really offended! How dare she say that?” Then I realized something much bigger. I had just experienced real life anti-Semitism! I was a victim of rampant, ugly, disgusting anti-Semitism. This was horrible. I've experienced and seen lots of racism. But I've only read about anti-Semitism in history books, Wikipedia, and Palestinian textbooks.
But I was also thrilled to so glaringly discover that we Jews and Arabs share something very special. As it turns out, white people don’t like either of us. I always thought Jews were exaggerating about anti-Semitism. Boy, was I wrong.
I am not a Jew, but at that moment I felt the weight of thousands of years of persecution, discrimination, and oppression. I now know what it is like, in some small way, to be a Jew. Now, if only I could get through Israeli security with just a smile, I would be all set. I think I’ve earned my entry into the club. After all, I’m probably the first-ever Palestinian victim of anti-Semitism.
I mean, technically, we’re both Semites anyway. We both have big noses and neurotic moms. We’re both hairy and hate paying full price. The only real difference is that Jews are chosen by God, and we’re usually chosen by airport security.
I finally got home and gave my dad his gift card. He laughed. I get my sense of humor from him too. I also conveyed my experience of prejudice to him. I told him, “Can you believe she said that?” He replied, “Well, maybe she said that because Hanukkah is over.” I was shocked again. My dad knows when Hanukkah ends? I don't even know when it starts, or why it even exists. I know it's eight days long, but that's only because I heard it in an Adam Sandler song. If I were a Jew, I clearly wouldn't be a very good one.
As I thought about it, maybe he was right. I should give that Marshall’s manager the benefit of the doubt. After all, I could have been the first Jew she had ever encountered.