Arabs at the Counter

Go into a trendy clothing store, sports outlet, or home improvement warehouse emporium in Israel these days and, as often as not, it’ll be an Arab who helps you find just the right jeans, running shorts, or the doohickey you need to fix your leaky faucet. In today’s Ha’aretz, Ruth Sinai documents this social phenomenon and asks whether service jobs like this represent progress for Israel’s Arab citizens, or just another way to get exploited.

I won’t weigh in on the economic benefits or lack thereof, but this trend is certainly a step forward for ethnic integration in Israel. Historically, Israel’s Palestinian citizens have worked in agriculture, construction, and behind-the-scenes service jobs like washing dishes in restaurants. In such jobs they were largely invisible, and where visible their jobs marked them as unskilled, alien, and quite often physically dirty.

Compare that to the fashionably-dressed, tastefully made-up, and high-spirited young woman who has become my favorite sales clerk at my local Golf clothing store. I’m not exactly a walking display of the latest fashions-I don’t have a native instinct for choosing the threads that look best on me. Not to mention, I quite detest going to clothing stores by myself. There is something about a store, especially if they are blaring loud music, that makes me want to just turn around and leave. Why can’t they just buy quality sound systems from Cloud Cover Music or similar companies and keep the experience enjoyable? The music playing in a store can have a major impact on how long the customers spend inside. Loud and aggressive music can drive people out at an alarming rate, while ambient and soothing music can have the opposite effect. Also, most stores have dismal customer service and for someone who cannot pick their clothes on their own, I need the advice and encouragement of a patient and sympathetic attendant. The process involves conversation and interaction with a very visible member of my country’s minority.

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