My month in Palestine is nearing an end. It flew by as I knew it would. The last few days have been jam packed with must-dos. On Friday, I went into Jerusalem to meet with a lawyer from the human rights organization Diakonia. You can read about them here. http://www.diakonia.se/en/Where-we-work/Middle-EastNorth-Africa/ He was a young, very bright Italian chap named Alessandro. He’s been working for them for a couple of years and prior to that worked for the Palestinian advocacy group, Al Haq, which you can read about here. http://www.alhaq.org/ We met in a nice little book store in East Jerusalem, the focus of which was Palestine. I ordered a grapefruit juice and got an eye-poppingly huge tumbler full of fresh squeezed juice. There must have been 3 grapefruits in it. It was delicious. I’m proud to say I drank every last drop,too.
Here is Alessandro. We compared notes on our work and he gave me a lot of good ideas. I hope our paths will cross again (I’ve been saying that a lot lately!). Inshallah.
Before sharing lovely pictures of Jerusalem, I am compelled to talk about the trip into Jerusalem. Bethlehem and Jerusalem are very close to each other, but you would never know that anymore because of Israel’s slow, deliberate attempt to sequester all of Jerusalem and its surrounds. I’ve shown a picture of the separation wall in Bethlehem where people would pass from one city to the other.
Here is it is again – on the Bethlehem side.
And a detail of graffiti on the wall from the same area. There are so many good ones, but this one really spoke to me.
But, that’s not all. There are three large settlements that surround Bethlehem and are further encroaching on it. I have shown pictures of Har Homa which overlooks my neighborhood. They always build the settlements on high hills, giving them the advantage of being able to look down on the Palestinians in a siege sort of mentality. Imagine the feeling of the Palestinians having to constantly look up at them. These modern metropolises that are so out of place in the environment, secured by tall cement fences and with roads on which only Israelis are allowed, dissecting farms and villages.
I had spoken in a previous post about the ridiculous road that Palestinians must now take traveling north-south around Jerusalem. Ramallah used to be a 20 minute or so trip from Bethlehem. It now take 1 ½ hours or more. Here’s why.
If you look at the map, draw an imaginary line going north and south through Jerusalem. That would be Route 60, the major throughway going directly through Jerusalem. This route is open to Israelis but no longer to Palestinians. BIn the name of security (the excuse for the whole occupation and all of the land grabs), this road has been closed off to Palestinians who get the special road from hell, (euphemistically referred by Israel to as part of the Fabric of Life roads). Its purpose is to bypass not only Jerusalem, but also the several, huge illegal settlements that have spilled well over the green line into the West Bank. So, the Palestininan route roughly follows those red lines which demarcate the wall. The irony is that Uncle Sam financed the road from hell through US Aid dollars – Israel couldn’t even foot the bill to keep Palestinians off of the good roads.
Here are a couple of views of the wall snaking around Jerusalem that I took on the bus on my trip in.
I caught the bus at the main station in Bethlehem. It was quite full of people when we left. The trip itself was maybe a half hour. Again, you can’t go directly to Jerusalem, you have to snake around the city. But, all in all, it was maybe ½ hour or less. The aparatheid system was readily apparent when we arrived at the checkpoint. All of the Palestinians or the ones without dual citizenship had to leave the bus. We privileged persons got to stay on.
Two armed border police came on the bus to check our passports . . .
. . . while the Palestinians were herded into a queue outside to wait to be checked. They also spent quite a bit of time grilling our bus driver and on the telephone dealing with him for God knows what reason.
So that was the checkpoint, and by many accounts these days, very uneventful.
To counter the tragedy, I need to share a little bit about Jerusalem. After my meeting with Alessandro, I wandered the city a bit. Since it was Friday, there were droves of Muslims headed toward the Al Aqsa Mosque (the 4th holiest Muslim site in the world and site of huge controversy because it is on the Dome of the Rock aka Temple Mount, which was the site of the Jewish Temple that was destroyed over 2,000 years ago). A couple of times, not really knowing where I was going, I got caught in the crowd, and being a fast walker, was snaking through. At one point, a man politely chastised me telling me that I couldn’t take cuts. Without realizing it, I was in the midst of the throng on the way to the Mosque. At another point, I was stopped by an Israeli police indicating that I was going into an area restricted to Muslims. Once I got out of the way of the Muslim worshippers, I was able to see parts of Jerusalem I hadn’t seen during last year’s trip. It’s such a beautiful, ancient city. Everywhere you turn, these is something fascinating or awe inspiring.
The photo at the beginning of this post is the Damascus Gate. It is near the bus stop and this is the entrance through the ancient city wall to the Muslim quarter of old Jerusalem.
This is a little section of the wall near the Damascus Gate. It’s so beautiful how the wall is built into the natural rock.
And just a few random shots from around the old city.
Oh, and the amazing falafel plate I had for lunch along the Via Dolorosa.
To end this, I need to share a song that popped up on Facebook a couple of days ago , from the group Kairos Palestine, coinciding with my trip to Jerusalem – another little piece of serendipity. It’s a little sappy, but the words are poignant. I hope you’ll take a listen, because the message is so important.
Also, Kairos Palestine is an ecumenical group that stands in solidarity for the liberation of Palestine. You can read about it here. http://www.kairospalestine.ps/