Yesterday, I went to a new hairdresser because the last one I had never listens to me and always puts color in my hair that she likes. Her latest efforts made me feel Irish, which is the closest to an identity crisis that I ever came.
I didn't know anything about the new person. After the usual pleasantries and as soon as I sit down, my new stylist hits me with--no, not the blow-dryer--but the usual friendly question:
"Amal? Is that Persian?"
"Close," I say. It's sometimes risky to answer this question, and sometimes I'm tempted to lie to avoid a long discussion especially when I'm paying money to relax. "Arabic. I'm Palestinian," I say. In response, I hear an "Oh!" interrupted with something between a giggle and a chuckle, followed by: "I'm Israeli. Don't be afraid, I'm not going to hurt you." I shrug: "I come in peace too."
Her name is Yardena, which, she tells me, means "Jordan." Her parents named her that because she was born soon after the 1967 war. She says that lots of girls born at the time were given that name. "Why?" I ask. She doesn't know. "Your parents should have named you "Falasteena" if they were seeking to name you after the conquered," I say. To myself.
I ask her many questions, feeling this is a rare chance to reverse roles and play interrogator. I learn that she's from a place between Beer al Sabe3 and Tel Aviv. She has 10 siblings. Her father Moroccan. Her mother half Tunisian, half Italian. "You're three quarter Arab, then," I say enthusiastically as if I've just discovered a new natural color. She shrugs. She knows a bit of Arabic, whatever she learned from her grandparents who only know Arabic. But she cooks Moroccan food, using lots of cumin. "I love cumin," I say.
When finally she has a chance to ask me questions, I seem to confuse the heck out of her. She has no idea where I am from. "West Bank" and "Ramallah" make no impression on her. "Territories?" I optimistically try a term she may be familiar with, leaving "occupied" out in order not to start a fight. To her puzzled look, I snap, "No way I'm going to say Judea and Samaria, lady. 'Territories' is my compromise for the day. Take it or leave it." Well, considering that my head is in her hands, and her hands are holding a sharp object, I say that using my "inside" voice. Finally, I desperately throw at her the only Hebrew word I know: "where there is Makhsoum. Lots of makhsoums.*" She nods, and I convince myself that I see a glimmer of recognition in her eyes.
At some point in our conversation, if you can call it that, she gets so irritated by my pathetic attempts to explain to her the documents I use to travel that she impatiently blurts out, "Why don't you get an Israeli passport?"
Damn, why didn't I think of that!
At this point, I feel like shaving my hair off. Yardena is really clueless. And on this particular day it happens that I have no maps on me to explain to her who I am and who she is. I knew, though I never could understand, that for many Israelis the "territories" might as well be on the moon and "occupation" is a term that you use to impress on your date that you do not work at the local falafel stand. But to be confronted with this denial face to face was a new experience.
To cover up my agitation, I tell her that she's cutting too much hair and that I really love cumin.