I feel very much out of place riding my bike here, where foreigners are already incredibly conspicuous. Culturally, bikes are really only for children and poor old men, so the white guy cutting through traffic and dodging potholes in business casual attire becomes something of a celebrity. Competent cycling in the daily bustle is fantastic, however, because drivers are excellent and used to reacting to variables in the dense, unpredictable street. A bicycle skitching on the back of a furniture truck, lane-splitting between cars, and running a red light, while unexpected, is perfectly manageable vehicle behavior. Seif takes this liberty to the maximum, incorporating motocross-style turns and huge, flared jumps into his passages over the cobblestones and frequent speed bumps. He shows off, cutting close to pedestrians and drawing shouted abuse wherever he goes. It is clear that, rather than a commute, riding for him is a kind of lawless therapy that both contrasts and parallels his normal existence. Whatever else he is, Seif is a rare rebel under Israeli occupation.
“I’ve been in jail three years, for various little things, working without papers, running from the soldiers, resisting arrest. Now I can’t afford to stop when they yell after me.”
He smiles as he talks, exaggerating the scenario with bravado.
“’Stop or we’ll shoot motherfucker!’ I know they won’t, so I just fly. You’ve never seen me when I run from them, man, I just stop thinking and go, go, go.”
It is hard to tell how much he’s talking himself up and how much he really does spend at the edge of oblivion. As immature or reckless as it seems, Seif’s belligerence in the face of foreign authority is a refreshing thing to see, as it is an exception to the rule. Palestinians often joke about their situation: “What did you do to be thrown in prison? Oh, you were being Palestinian? Don’t you know that’s illegal?” In an area that’s increasingly restricted and divided into separate cantons by militarized Israeli settlements, the pressure is everywhere. If you aren’t being stopped at random Israeli checkpoints, then the draconian internal government (the Palestinian Authority) is questioning you, discouraging political involvement in the youth and curtailing their future opportunities. When he’s not racing around like a maniac on his improvised urban downhill course, Seif is fed up with it. His current plan is to forge papers to get him to Europe, and then work illegally or claim refugee status. Obviously, I suggested bike messengering. but most people, bound by poverty, dreams, or familial obligations, just keep their heads down and work their asses off.