In Israel, white people sit in front

In Israel, white people sit in front
A car with yellow Israeli license plates. Somewhere in the West Bank. June, 2019.

From 2016 through 2023 I have had many visits, both long and short, throughout Palestine. On most of my trips I would visit Gaza and stay in Gaza during the week; I'd leave on the weekends and return to Ramallah.

The commute from Ramallah to the Erez crossing to enter Gaza and back is one of the clearest and most obvious displays, to even the casual observer, of the deep rooted racism and dehumanization of Palestinians fundamentally embedded in Israeli society. It is no surprise that during the on-going genocide happening right now in Gaza in 2024, we see reports from right wing Israeli media outlets of soldiers playing with Gazan women's lingerie on social media. These actions are funny to the soldiers – a joke – because Palestinians are not human beings.

The racism and dehumanization of Palestinians is so deeply embedded in the Israeli psyche that I doubt the soldiers, border guards, and settlers who are acting it out even realize what they are doing.

The soldier stopping the Palestinian from seeing their family at a checkpoint in the West Bank? She's just a robot following orders.

Israeli soldiers, preventing people from working, seeing their families, and traveling. Qalandia, June 2022.

As foreigners, my friends and I have the distinct privilege of driving a vehicle with yellow Israeli license plates. These magical yellow license plates allows us to drive anywhere, including through military checkpoints. Many of my Palestinian friends, unfortunately, have green and white license plates which limits where and on which roads they can drive.

Driving through the West Bank is such a bizarre experience.

You drive through twisted roads around hills full of massive illegal settlements with running water, reliable power, fast internet, and 5G cell service. White people from the US, Europe, and elsewhere who made aliyah live a life of relative luxury at a fraction of the price it would cost elsewhere because they are living illegally on stolen land. They can do this with a clear conscience because in their mind there were no humans living here before.

It's not uncommon to be driving right next to a bus full of settlers in the West Bank. I've often looked in through their tinted windows and wondered: how did you get to this point? How many of you grew up less than 20 minutes away from where I did? Of all the choices you could have made in your life, why did you choose to do this?

These small individual acts of dehumanization compound over time. Fueled by a right wing government, the result is what see today in 2024: genocide in Gaza.

Of course, settlers have their own military checkpoints like Hizma, which allow them to move much more freely and easily through the West Bank than the Palestinians whose land they've stolen.

As foreigners, we don't need any special permits or papers; we can simply get in our fancy yellow plated car, passports in our pockets, and drive through the military checkpoints.

Will the soldiers stop us, ask to see our passports, and harass any friends in the car with Arab or Muslim sounding names?

We definitely don't want to get stopped if we happen to have a Palestinian with us who is lucky enough to have a permit to enter Israel.

Our solution, which worked for us about ~70% of the time: make sure the driver and front passenger are white and not wearing sunglasses. While you are at it, give the soldiers a soft smile as your car approaches the checkpoint.

Two white guys in Ramallah. Me on the left, my friend on the right. Very helpful for driving through checkpoints. June, 2019.

The soldiers will see your bright yellow license plate and two smiling white people sitting in the front of the car and their racist brains short circuit: these aren't "them".

About ~70% of the time they just wave you right on through. No document check, no questions, and your passport stays right where you originally put it: your pocket. Our car never even comes to a full stop and we just go right on ahead from one Bantustan to the next.

If they do happen to stop you, though, when you roll down the window and they begin speaking Hebrew, simply reply with: "Sorry, I don't speak Hebrew – English only." If they didn't see the brown or Arab person sitting in the back, they'll usually just take a step back from the car and wave you through without checking anything.

When American politicians say that America and Israel have shared values, it's true: if the front half of a car looks like the two guys in the photo above, the rules are different.

Special thanks to my friend Anam Raheem for her tireless effort reading and providing feedback on my posts. Read her work on her blog.