Fucking in the center of global, political and religious turmoil can be frustrating, especially when you happen to be a reckless woman in a patriarchal society. But ironically the best sex I’ve ever had was in the West Bank.
I’m a 20-year-old Palestinian girl who grew up wearing a hijab in East Jerusalem—I traded in my hijab for crop tops a couple years ago (off came the hijab, and out came the cleavage!). Sex outside of marriage constraints is considered forbidden where I’m from. The consequences of getting caught vary from being the subject of everyone’s talk, to being disowned from the family, to becoming an honor killing. You know, the usual! I’m not sure I’d be disowned if my parents found out I was having sex, but I know they’d never look at me the same way again. My sister’s friend’s parents almost disowned her when they thought she had a boyfriend.
To make matters even harder for myself, I started commuting to work at a learning center in Hebron last year. Hebron is one of the most conservative cities in the West Bank; it’s mostly under Palestinian control and inhabited by extremely traditional Muslims. It’s also is the center of a lot of conflict — checkpoints and raids and such — but that sometimes works in your favor. Like when you’re trying to fuck your foreign boyfriend.
I met Tobias (I’m changing everyone’s names for obvious reasons) at work when I was 19. I was teaching English to Palestinian students, and he was learning Arabic. Tobias was a very tall, athletic, blue-eyed Scandinavian, one of the most beautiful men I’ve ever seen. He was also funnily awkward in social situations, had a weird sense of humor, and was a great singer and dancer. We became friends, then friends with benefits, and eventually started dating.
Unfortunately, consummating our romance seemed impossible. It’s really hard to get somebody alone in Hebron — you can’t let anyone get the idea that you’re doing something forbidden. Plus, buses back to Jerusalem stop running just before the evening, so I always had to cross the checkpoint early.
I realized I could use the checkpoint to my advantage. One night, I hung out in Hebron until very late, after the buses had stopped running. Since I couldn’t get back to Jerusalem, and I had nowhere else to stay, I had the perfect excuse to ask to stay at Tobias’s apartment. He agreed, and so we embarked on the treacherous journey of being an unmarried couple heading to an apartment at night without anyone noticing and telling my parents.
On the way, potential disaster struck: We ran into Matt, one of Tobias’s friends. Matt was Danish, but he lived in Hebron, so he had plenty of Arab friends. In a gossipy culture like mine, news about Tobias and me could easily spread through the grapevine and reach my parents. That meant I had to pretend to be a foreigner (foreigners have way fewer restrictions in the West Bank, both around Israeli soldiers and Muslims). Luckily, I learned English from watching TV, so I had a pretty convincing American accent. I spoke in English and avoided any mention of being Arab.
Then they started talking in Arabic, and Matt asked me a question. I responded automatically, realizing a moment later that I’d blown my cover.
“I’ve been learning Arabic for two years,” I quickly explained.
Matt left, and Tobias and I reached the apartment building. As we walked through the lobby, I was terrified his landlord, a sheikh with a long beard, would recognize me and, of course, tell my parents. I was wearing a crop top, as usual (this was post-hijab days), and I pulled my pants up high to cover my belly button because, even as “American,” looking that immodest could get me some unwanted attention. Luckily, the landlord wasn’t around. We raced up the stairs and made it into Tobias’s apartment at last.
I slept on the sofa next to his bedroom. Well technically, I didn’t sleep so much as make a lot of noise so he knew I was awake. After a few minutes of rolling over on cushions and sighing loudly, Tobias came out to check on me. There is no time to waste in Hebron, so I just took off my bra. He invited me to his bedroom, and we fucked. Dogs barked outside, and a call of prayer came on right after (in Hebron and many other Muslim cities, prayers are broadcast from loudspeakers throughout the day), which was some pretty perfect timing. So far, so good.
As we lay in bed, I suddenly felt wet, and not the kind you’d expect.
“I’m too wet, something’s off,” I murmured.
“Maybe you’re just wet,” he replied.
I woke up next day in what looked like a massacre of my own blood. Tobias’s legs looked like they have been stabbed. SHIT, I realized: I’m on my period!
I ran to the bedroom, leaving a bloody footprint on the floor. I washed off and grabbed a towel to clean the mess, only to come back to find that Tobias had already cleaned everything.
“Don’t worry, it was all a bad dream,” he told me.
But my caper was far from over. I took the bus back to my parents’ house in Jerusalem and threw my clothes in the laundry. Five minutes later, my Mama called me in. She was holding my bra … which had a bloody fingerprint on it.
The whole of my insides flipped upside down. Five minutes ago, I’d been rejoicing in my accomplishment, feeling arrogant for succeeding with Tobias where all those foreign blond girls had failed. Now, my smugness was dissolving, my face turning yellow.
“What is this?” she asked me.
“Um, I don’t know,” I answered. “Oh! I was painting with my students today, and I decided to change my shirt halfway through, and this happened.” It was a very implausible lie, but one a Muslim mom was willing to believe rather than consider the real truth. Mama bought it, thus letting me remain the perfect Muslim daughter she raised me to be in her mind.
Tobias eventually left the country to study in Lebanon, and we parted on good terms. Every now and then, he’ll give me a random Facebook video call, and we’ll talk for hours. I still feel privileged that I once fucked such an unimaginably beautiful human. A human that reads for J.M Coetzee for fun.
Even though the experience gave me a sense of adventure, I didn’t like lying or sneaking around, and I really didn’t like, not having an hour of peace without my mother calling to check on me. But it confirmed my resolve to keep chasing after what I wanted (and having sex with more people in Hebron), rather than waiting for opportunities and boys to come knocking on my door. Tobias was stressful, but he was worth it. I wish it were easier. I wish girls could be transparent about what they did with their lives, but that’s hard in my community. When you’re sandwiched between two societies that both fence you in, then sometimes sneaking around is the only way to be honest about what (or who) you want.
Illustration by Ilana Strauss