He Knew Me as Michelle

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I was expecting a fight at the Temple Mount entrance in the Old City during “Muslim opening hours” on that summer afternoon. I approached with my Flip cam to record the discrimination. I put my L.A. acting skills to work and played a “stupid American” shocked at such racist entrance policies.

The Israeli guard was Arab; I assumed he would not be sympathetic to my quest for justice.

I nonchalantly walked across when he stopped me from his chair.

“Why can’t I go in? I’m American.”

“It’s open only to Muslims now.”

“But why? That’s not right.”

“That’s how it is.”

“So if I’m Muslim, then it’s okay?”

“Yes.”

“What if I say the Muslim prayer!”

He laughed, deftly diffusing the situation, and I noticed how handsome he was. He didn’t seem much of a fan of this discriminatory policy. He would have probably let me in if it were up to him.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Michelle,” I answered, still in character.

About two weeks later, I ascended the Temple Mount with a group of “Students for the Temple Mount” to surreptitiously film footage for my music video inspired by Carly Simon’s “Let the River Run” in which I call for freedom of Jewish worship on the Temple Mount. The entrance at the Mughrabi Gate, during the “Jewish hour,” was humiliating, as usual. We had to hand in our IDs as the Israeli police held us up and lectured us against praying, as Jews, on the Temple Mount. These policemen (not Arab) were not as kind as the one who knew me as Michelle.

Finally, on the Mount, we were assigned a policeman to escort us along with Muslim Waqf officials.

“Michelle?” the policeman asked. It was that handsome one, who, as it turned out, was Druze, a minority religious community of loyal Israeli citizens.

“Oh,” I fumbled. “Yes.”

I soon realized he wasn’t there to make sure we weren’t praying; to make sure we abided by the Waqf’s discriminatory behavioral requirements; to make sure I wasn’t filming improperly. He was there to protect me. To protect us. He was doing his job, but it seemed he took pride in protecting Jewish civil rights.

With his Arabic, he served as a go-between between us and the Waqf, especially as the Muslim worshippers loudly shouted “Allah Akbar” or violently waved their Koran at us at every corner to intimidate us from merely walking peacefully on the grounds.

This Druze man was there every step of the way, professional and courteous. Whether he liked it or not, he made the video possible, one that later got me on some sort of Islamic hit list. Watch him at 1:50, shielding us from the verbal assaults of the Arab worshippers.

Just last week before Shabbat, I saw a picture of the victims of the July 14th Temple Mount terror attack. I saw a handsome, smiling face with a familiar beard. Could it be him? I couldn’t tell for sure, so I watched the video over and over. Then my Facebook friend, Carol Flatto, posted a picture of him from her tour of the Temple Mount with “Americans for a Safe Israel,” describing him as “very sweet and friendly.” I noticed a tattoo on his right arm. I replayed the video and saw the same tattoo. It was definitely him. Sgt. Haiel Sitawe, who was killed along with fellow Druze officer, Kamil Shnaan.

“Most of the police are pretty buff, and the tall, very buff Sgt. Haiel stood out, not only because he was tall, dark and handsome, but because he had such a sweet smile and good nature,” Flatto wrote to me later. “I teasingly asked him if he was single (knowing he was half my age), and the others said that he was engaged. At the end of the walk, I asked if they would pose for a group photo selfie with me, and they obliged….When I saw the photo in the news of the murdered policemen, I was shocked, as I recognized Sgt. Haiel. He had made quite an impression for me to remember him so clearly over a year later.”

I lit a candle for him along with my Shabbat candles, with sadness.

I’m pained that his newborn will never get to know, in the flesh, what a wonderful father he had. I’m pained that his wife can’t enjoy the protection of his strong arms. I’m pained that while he protected us, the Israeli government didn’t protect him, starting with the abdication of Jewish rights to the Temple Mount after the Six Day War. I’m pained that such a good man was taken by such lowlifes. I’m pained that I didn’t treat him with more respect, and approached him at first with suspicion and even prejudice. I’m pained that I made his job harder. I’m pained that I lied to him about my name. I’m pained that I never thanked him.

So I could only tell him now, where he surely is in heaven, that my name is Orit, not Michelle. And I thank him for protecting me. For protecting my friends. For protecting human rights.

May his memory be a blessing and may his blood be avenged.

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