In Jerusalem, Even the Dentist Lets You Know Who’s in Charge
Nora Lester Murad
A lot of people hate going to the dentist because it hurts. I hate going to the dentist in Jerusalem because it hurts, but not in my mouth. It hurts my sense of belonging.
We go to an Israeli dental clinic.
Many Palestinians in Jerusalem go to Israeli dental clinics. Why shouldn’t they? Palestinians who have residency in Jerusalem are entitled to Israeli health insurance. It’s one of the few benefits they got when Israel illegally annexed Jerusalem.
Nearly all the approximately 300,000 Palestinians living in East Jerusalem are “residents.” They were born in Jerusalem (like their parents, and their parents’ parents) but despite Israel’s annexation, they are not citizens of Israel. They have no voice in the Israeli elections that determine their fate. Not that they necessarily want to vote in the Israeli elections. But I digress.
Last time I took my children to the Israeli dental clinic, the receptionist waved us to the x-ray room and a technician hurried my middle daughter into the big faux-leather chair.
“Wait! Why does she need an x-ray?” I intervened.
The woman had straight blond hair and a pink hair extension that matched her pinkish lipstick. She looked at me with a totally unreadable look on her face.
“She’s having her teeth cleaned. She doesn’t need an x-ray,” I repeated in English. My middle daughter was looking uncomfortable in the chair, embarrassed. The other two had backed into the waiting area and were pretending not to know me.
The technician shouted to the receptionist and there was soon a small congregation of Israeli women around me, all speaking Russian. They were trying to figure out what my problem was.
The dentist herself came out from her room in the back carrying my daughter’s dental records. I could understand her Hebrew despite her heavy Russian accent, “If you want to see the dentist, you have to have an x-ray,” she proclaimed, as if it were a law of nature.
I tried to explain in my few words of Hebrew: “Teeth cleaning. Last time we came, the hygienist wrote in the file that we needed to come back.” I tapped the file in her hand. It would all be clear if she would just read the dental record.
But she didn’t. The dentist turned on her heel and walked through the reception area talking loudly. “This lady wants me to write in the file that her daughter got an x-ray but she doesn’t want her daughter to have the x-ray!”
I was livid, frustrated, powerless.
“She doesn’t need an x-ray!” I raised my voice, following her to her office.
“I decide!” she countered.
By then, all my children were ready to crawl into the medicine cabinet with shame.
And I made it worse.
I approached a Palestinian woman sitting with her children in the waiting room. I asked her in Arabic if she knew enough Hebrew to explain to “those crazy people” (yes, I was angry) that my daughter needed her teeth cleaned, not an x-ray. She didn’t look too happy to be associated with me in any way, but she stood up to help.
Then the door to the hygienist’s room opened and she stepped out, interested in all the commotion. I ran to her. Her long bouncy curls had changed colors since our last visit.
“Do you remember me?” I asked in English.
“Of course!” She smiled at my children and I felt a wave of relief. She is the reason why we go to that clinic. She makes flossing and mouthwash and fluoride fun.
“Can you please tell them I want you to clean my daughter’s teeth? I told them you wrote it on her dental record, but they don’t understand.”
A few minutes later, my middle daughter was reclining in the hygienist’s chair having her teeth cleaned.
“Apparently the person who scheduled your appointment at your last visit thought you wanted to see the dentist,” she said as she worked. “And everyone who sees the dentist for the first time needs an x-ray.”
“You provide services in Hebrew and in Russian,” I said. “Why not in Arabic? Isn’t Arabic also an official language of Israel?”
There was a pause and the hygienist looked at me, humanity shining in her eyes. She didn’t respond to me, but she spoke to my daughter. I think she said: “Spit.”
Nora Lester Murad, PhD, writes fiction and commentary from Jerusalem, Palestine. Her blog, “The View from My Window in Palestine” addresses issues of international development and life under military occupation She is a life-long social justice activist and a founder of Dalia Association, Palestine’s first community foundation. She tweets from @NoraInPalestine.
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