April 30, 2016

Gone with the phone...

A few months passed since my last post. It's not that I didn't have anything to write; things were too delicate to share. However, here I have a story I can tell you...

My car was in the "Bedouin Garage" - this time not since it needed repair, but because I came to fetch something from Ali, the garage manager. He hadn't arrived yet and in the meantime I went to buy some vegetables next door. For some reason, I left the car open; something I usually don't do, but the car was at the entrance of the garage, surrounded by people I knew and I considered it pretty safe. On exit of the greengrocery - just minutes later - I saw a small crowd near my car. I hadn't even realized that I left my telephone inside; now it was gone. I couldn't believe it. Someone stole my phone from within the garage.

Who took it?

My hope was on the security cameras... I rushed off to teach a class, and when I came back at night, Ali showed me the films. One could see how some youngster walked in, opened the door of my car and was gone with the phone within a moment. Although it was difficult to recognize the thief, one could clearly see Ali's 14 year old son only a couple of meters away from the thief. I was furious that no one intervened. Then Ali said he is happy that his son didn't do anything, because he could have been knifed, which made me reconsider my previous thinking. Ali added that no one knows the thief, but even if they would have known, they wouldn't tell me, because the villagers protect each other, and those workers not living in the village, wouldn't want to be involved. Moreover, I learned that my phone was only one out of several phones stolen in this main street in recent times, mostly from Jews. I estimated that I better take the loss and forget about this incident. The following morning I bought a new phone.

I informed my friend Ahmad of the story, who told me to wait and see... The next time we met, it became clear that as a local, he was able to find out more. He introduced me to someone with the words "this is the brother of the thief" and we're going to handle this in the Bedouin way. The brother already had seen the film and recognized his sibling, and we were off to their family, close by. The father of the alleged thief wasn't at home, but the mother immediately invited us into the guest room. The room, in contrast to my expectation, showed that the family was relatively well-to-do. There, the brother shouted at the thief, who shouted back. Things were more complicated since the thief already had sold the phone and spent the money. The mother was very hospitable and kind, bringing in more and more delicious salads. Ahmad did most of the talking, raising my esteem in their eyes, to such an extent that before I left the mother kissed me and the brother promised they would take care of the situation within a few hours. I felt ambivalent, both honored and uncomfortable, but they probably acted in the wisest way; Ahmad in increasing the chances of getting back the phone and the family in minimizing any negative action from my side. Some cups of coffee, a few hours and many phone calls later, not much happened; and also after a week neither phone nor money were returned.

Will the police get it back?

The first plan didn't work; so Ahmad suggested a different course: we go to the police. In Bedouin life legal issues are settled within the families and it is undone to go to the national authorities. However, he thought that since I'm a foreigner, going to the police would be more effective. The question remained which police. The West Bank is divided into administrative divisions. Part of the village Hizma, though behind the wall, is confiscated and therefore under Jerusalem civilian rule. Part of the village is considered Area C, which is under Israeli army jurisdiction. A small part is Area B, which is under Palestinian civil control. I was pretty sure that neither of the two Israeli systems would do much to get my phone back. The third option, going to the Palestinian civil police, is not done by Israelis, who would consider this too dangerous.

Since I actually am a foreigner and regarded this as the only option that could possibly work out well, we went to the Palestinian police. At the police station things went smooth and swift. We were addressed immediately by the head of the Criminal Investigations Department. After Ahmad convinced him of the importance of the case, I filed a complaint. We gave details of the phone and the name of the thief.

What a surprise!

A few days later, the garage was searched by a horde of Palestinian policemen. Unclear what exactly had happened, but probably someone didn't like my actions - that were backed by the garage - and therefore complained about something against the garage. The story made news in the village street - this being the first time someone had dared involving the police - and several of the neighboring shop owners gave their support.

Weeks passed and just as I had given up on police action in my favor, I received a call inviting me to come back to the station. The next day I obtained my phone. It was a highly pleasant surprise, not just the return of the telephone, but also the attitude of all policemen involved, which was more kind, fast and efficient than I received in any other police station I had been in.


  1. As usual - a very enjoyable read, of a less enjoyable reality on the ground. I would never have pursued this issue, amazing how you persisted!

    1. Thanks Bettina, I can hardly believe it myself. The amazing thing was that, in contrast to my expectations, it was much easier to go through the Palestinian system than through the Israeli one.

  2. Dear Daniel,
    you have a great story=talent!
    I wish you need less police intervention,
    Shavua tov, Mili

    1. Dear Mili, Thanks! I'm happy you liked the story. If all police were like these men, I wouldn't mind so much.