When an American in the IDF meets a Palestinian American in Hebron

An American serving in the Israeli army in Hebron says that in her job granting and denying Palestinians permission to work and travel, it’s a ‘conversation starter’ to meet Palestinians who back home would have full rights like her.

The video below was published Sunday by COGAT, the unit of the Israeli Defense Ministry charged with administering the military occupation of the Palestinian territories. COGAT has a rich history of producing tone-deaf videos seemingly meant to do little more than make COGAT look like the benevolent arm of the occupation, for which Palestinians should be nothing but grateful. (See here, here, and here.)

The videos are almost too easy to rip apart. Indeed, nearly every line in this latest video could warrant an entire article dissecting its obscene distortion and white-washing of reality. A dissertation could be written just about the self-aggrandizing image of the benevolent occupier.

But let’s forget about all of that for a moment and just focus on one line. One sentence.

This particular video is about Alyse, an American immigrant to Israel who serves in the IDF’s oxymoronically named Civil Administration, a part of COGAT. Soldiers in the Civil Administration and COGAT determine where Palestinians may live, where and when they may travel (including to other parts of the occupied territories like Gaza and East Jerusalem), whether they can build or expand homes on their own land, whether they own that land at all, whether an Israeli settler can steal that land, whether two soccer teams from different parts of Palestine can play each other, and on and on.

At one point in the video, Alyse, who hails from Chicago and is now stationed in Hebron, notes that it’s “a huge conversation starter” to meet Palestinians who are also from the United States.

“It’s always interesting to meet people who are so different than me yet have such a similar background,” she says.

The video speaks for itself. But here are two things to ponder:

1. What exactly is a “conversation starter” when someone with no rights is begging a soldier in a foreign occupying army for permission to travel or work? What does that “conversation” look like? How “interesting” is it that the person standing on the other side of the glass with almost no rights could have, just a few weeks earlier, been riding next to her on the L with equal civil rights and protections?

2. Does Alyse ever think about what the difference actually is between her and those people with such a “similar background?” Does she think about how — in the situation she chose to enter — privilege, power, and basic rights like free movement and due process are determined almost exclusively by one’s ethnicity and religion of one’s parents?

Is it “interesting” for her to think about why one population in the city where she is stationed needs the permission of a foreign army just to travel or work, while the other population needs no permission from anyone at all?

Does she ever think about what that system would be called if it were imposed back in Chicago? Or which side of the glass she might be on if it were?