The Crime of Looking a Bit Too Arab

Gideon Levy

The Palestinian hoped that the two had finished venting their rage, but then one of the officials came back with reinforcements: two more workers and a wooden rod. One official held Bidran's arms, and his cohorts beat him with the rod.


2 July 2000

   Anas Bidran was looking for work. A 23-year-old Palestinian from the Dir al-Rasum village in the Tul Karm area, he worked in recent years as a customs clerk for the Palestinian Authority. An NIS 980 monthly salary didn't suffice - his father isn't alive, and Bidran has to support his mother and several brothers, and he has no money for his own wedding. Four months ago, he quit his job with PA customs. He then worked for a few weeks in his village with his brother, a plasterer, until the work ran out. So what can a young Palestinian man who is desperate for work do? He sneaks around the IDF checkpost by foot, crossing the border without proper authorization; and he then travels to the nearest Jewish city to wait in the local "slave market" for an employer to turn up. Such places have turned into over-the-border employment bureaus for Palestinians, the only venue where they have a chance of getting a day's work.

Bidran long ago overcame the feeling of humiliation which arises the first time Palestinians wait at these "slave" venues - as a boy, he would stand and wait for work during summer vacations. So several days ago, he joined dozens of Palestinians who wait close to the shopping mall at Netanya's entrance, and who scramble and push when any car stops by them, bargaining for work and then waiting until the next potential employer turns up.

Bidran waited for a day, then another day, to no avail; this two day job search put him at a loss, since the journey from Dir al-Rasum to Netanya and back costs NIS 21. Then, on his third day, the savior, a Subaru, stopped for him. This happened last Monday.

The driver told him to get in; the two never agreed to work terms. That happens sometimes: Cars go off to a work site, Palestinians see what the job entails, and then there's some wage-bargaining. This arrangement can be to the employer's advantage: When the laborer is already at the work site, it's easier for a temporary employer to set a particularly cut-throat wage rate.

The two traveled west, and when they reached the Netanya coastal promenade, the employer told Bidran to get out of the car and wait. He said he had a few things to take care of, and that he'd return soon to collect Bidran. Maybe he really intended to return, maybe not. It was already late morning, and the heat was scorching. Bidran dutifully agreed to wait as he had been told; he took a few steps toward the sea, to drink some water from a fountain. "I said to myself, I'll cool off, and then come back," he said at the end of the week, recalling the incident - he seemed to be stressing that he had no intention (heaven forbid) of remaining on the Jewish shore. This was the start of Bidran's day of torment.

Two men in light blue uniforms appeared by the beach water fountain. They were apparently Netanya Municipality workers, but Bidran didn't know who they were, or what they represented. Their uniforms and communications equipment sufficed to fill him with dread. His solid, muscular body didn't allay the fear.

Two other Palestinians were by the water fountain, having also come to quench their thirst. The inspectors checked identity documentation belonging to this pair, and rudely ordered the two to leave the beach immediately. Then one signaled to Bidran that he should come closer. He grabbed the Palestinian's shirt, shook his body, and yelled "you're a criminal, a real lout" or words to that effect.

Bidran began to fumble around his pockets, wanting to display his own identity card. The enraged official began to shake him harder. Bidran tried to explain that he was merely looking for his identity documentation, but his explanations went nowhere, and the beach guard only became more livid.

The two officials then shoved and hurled the Palestinian toward a small beach shed, located next to the lifeguard's booth. Bidran recalls that he tried to catch the lifeguard's attention, hoping for help. The lifeguard didn't budge. Nor did any of the sun-bathers on the beach lift a finger to help the young man as he was dragged forcibly to the shed.

Once the three were inside the small beach enclosure, removed from the public eye, brutal blows began to rain down on Bidran. It started with punches, and moved on to kicking.

The Palestinian hoped that the two had finished venting their rage, but then one of the officials came back with reinforcements: two more workers and a wooden rod. One official held Bidran's arms, and his cohorts beat him with the rod.

The beating left scars on his forearm, and contusions all over his body. Several days later, his body was still swollen, and purple-colored.

The assailants beat and cursed him. Their superior, who turned up on a municipal beach tractor, joined in, Bidran reports. The ranking official punched him also.

The abuse continued after Bidran was moved to another beach enclosure. He was kept confined there until 4:00 P.M., without food or drink. The ranking official, equipped with a beach buggy, took a parting shot at Bidran, threatening "if I see you here in Netanya one more time, you'll die."

Limp and battered, Bidran made his way back to the "slave market," and found a taxi to take him home. Photos were taken to document the physical abuse; he was treated by the village doctor and also at the Tul Karm hospital; and he registered a complaint at the nearest IDF-PA liaison office.

Responding to Bidran's story, the Netanya municipality spokesman said: "These were apparently workers belonging to a contractor who provide services for the municipality. They also wear uniforms. In any case, this was a serious incident, and an investigation will be made."

I asked Bidran at the end of the week why he thinks the group pummeled him so fiercely. "Maybe they didn't like the way I looked," the young man replied.





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