A common joke in the Middle East.

I recently spent a day in the West Bank city of Hebron. Simply put, Hebron is a wacky place. To put it’s wackiness into perspective, I mentioned to Jacob Gough, the new director of the Freedom Theater (which is in the refugee camp of Jenin –  the location of a high-profile murder of its founder, Juliano Mer Khamis, and has some of its members being controversially detained on suspicion of the murder). His response was, “Oh yeah. They are really f*cking crazy there.”

Near Hebron’s city center you will find the Ibrahimi Mosque, which is the fourth holiest site in Islam and the second holiest site to Jews (though it goes by a different name – The Cave of the Patriarchs). There you will find thousands upon thousands of Palestinians living and working, a 500-person Jewish settlement, about 2000 members of the Israeli army (protecting the settlers), and I don’t know how many members of Palestinian security. The tension is palpable. As you navigate the several hundred meter long market place on the way to the holy site, for instance, you will see chain link fence over top of the walkway – placed there to stop trash being thrown down by settlers living in the apartments above. (As another example, check out this video shot during the visit).

One way to help thwart conflict is to have international observers walking around — pretty much all the time. The observers have many stories and jokes to tell. For example, meet “Joe,” an observer working for Christian Peacemaker Team (aka CPT). He tells me a joke common. In this version, a Palestinian intelligence agent is the bad guy –  and the butt of the joke:

Sometimes, the Israeli’s are the butt the same joke. This one, from Joe Sacco‘s graphic novel, Palestine, features a Shin Bet agent:

……………..Find the full joke here.

An interesting aspect of the two versions of the jokes is that they highlight the  dual oppression of the Palestinians: by the Israeli occupation and by the Palestinian Authority. To highlight the absurdity of it all, while I was on the trip, the Palestinian government shut down the “Saturday Night Live” of the West Bank (read about it here).


Joel Warner accompanied me on the trip. We have teamed up to explore the science of humor on a global expedition. Our project, The Humor Code, chronicles our adventures, scientific experiments and unintentional comedy along the way.

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