Monday, August 28, 2006

Palestine Diary: Jerusalem and Confusion (3)

1 August 2006, Jerusalem

I went back to Bir Zeit University the next morning, to bid goodbye to everyone I know. I first found the camp coordinator Gadah, she said, “You couldn’t even visit my house, I was going to cook for you!” and I could just say, “Next year I will, hopefully”.Both of our eyes filled with tears. I said, “You should visit Istanbul”, he gave me university T-shirt as a present. I called Ahmed and Lauri as they were showing 2 people around, people who came for the camp though it’d been cancelled, one from Romania, one from the US. I asked Amanda, the American girl, what her family thought about her visit to Palestine and she said that they didn’t know that she was here. She told her mother that she was going to Egypt and her father didn’t even know about the imaginary Egypt journey. And these two wanted to come and see it here despite everything. We had lunch together and chatted.

We started mentioning Jewish Palestinians who are living in a northern town. They all voted for Hamas.Then we started comparing the PKK and Hamas. Neither foreigners nor Palestinians regard the PKK as a terrorist organization. What is Hamas is the same as the PKK to them.

It took me hours to go to the dorm and pack; for some reason I didn’t want to leave this place, I didn’t want to leave Ramallah even if my destination was Jerusalem. I bid goodbye to everyone and set out. Actually I had 16 km to go but it took me more than one hour becuase of the checkpoints on the way. We had a chat with Namir, who was sitting next to me. Namir, who is a student at Bir Zeit and travels from Jerusalem to Ramallah for school. She lost his mother 2 years ago; and as she is the eldest of 5 siblings and as an elder sister, she has the responsibility of taking care of the household. While she was talking about these, an Israeli soldier stopped the bus and ckecked the ID cards. I realized that Namir’s eyes filled with tears. When I saw her like this, I couldn’t stand that. I asked, “Don’t you ever get used to this? Are you still affected so negatively?” She said, “Neither will I get used to this, nor will the situation get better, I don’t believe that the problem will ever be solved!”. We were in Jerusalem now and I could feel that I was no longer in Palestine, I was in Israel now. The local teleophone line I bought in Ramallah went dead, now occasionally it comes and goes. I got off the bus at the Damascusgate and started to look for the hostel I was going to stay at. But both the bags on my back and the ones in my hand were so heavy that I could hardly walk. I took a taxi but the driver told me that he couldn’t take me to the hostel because, all the roads had been blocked. Desperately I got off, took a look around and saw a grocery store. I asked the Palestinian shopowner about the hostel and he said it was just a 15- minute walk from there. But it was rather difficult with those bags. They let 10-year old Ahmad, their son or the apprentice, help me for money in return, so we set out. I followed Ahmad, noticing ultra-Orthodox Jews, Palestinians, priests, policemen, soldiers around and finally we arrived at a public square.

Hundreds, thousands of Israeli people, including kids were heading towards a direction with Israeli flags in their hands. Because of the heavy burden on my shoulders, our inability to find the hotel, and lack of communication (because Ahmad couldn’t speak English, and I couldn’t speak Arabic), I gave up and entered a hostel.I thanked Ahmed and dismissed him. My reservation started tomorrow morning at the hotel anyway, so I was going to spend the night at this hostel. I left my bags and went out in order to mingle with the Jews I had just seen. Meanwhile, I learnt that all of them were going to the Wailing Wall (the western Wall) both to pray and to spiritually support the war. Also that day it was the anniversary of Israeli settlers being dismissed from Gaza. I was stunned when I heard the words: “support the war”. Thousands of Israeli people of all kinds, old and young, kids and adults, had come to that spot for this demonstration by buses from the North, South, everywhere. Some teenagers were wearing orange headbands, some were seated at a corner with a book of prayer in their hands, praying while moving back and forth, some are running around. And I, confused, sometimes walk sometimes stop. I pass by churches, hearing call for prayer from the mosques. There are Armenian restaurants along the road. It is rather difficult to describe the atmosphere and my feelings. At last we arrive at the Wailing Wall. There is tight security at the entrance, they look inside the bags.

I guess there wasn’t any Muslim among them other than me. They didn’t feel the need to do body search on me, thinking that I was one of them. And I entered the area. The rabbi is uttering words in Hebrew, sometimes loudly sometimes in a crying voice, people are saying them along with him, listening to him. I felt strange. How come all these people, all these faithful people support the war? I took a few photos, recorded a few scenes and I couldn’t wait any more to set out and go back.

Passing through covered shopping arcades, I walked and walked in the old city, and at last I got lost. I was so impressed by the things I saw that I forgot the name of the hostel I was staying. I was looking for the public square I first saw when I came to the city but all the streets looked alike. Buildings and pavements made of stone, hundreds of narrow streets... It had got dark already, and all the shops were closing. I walked into a market and learnt the name of the square, and started walking again. The Jews had finished their demostration and now they were going home-it was crowded around. Palestinian shop owners were staring around with surprised looks. Yes, everone lives here together but not in peace, they ignore one another. It’s full of Israeli gunmen around anyway. Finally I found my hostel, had something to eat and now I felt really confused after the things I had seen that day.

3 August 2006, Jerusalem

Unfortunately, the internet here is far more expensive than Palestine, I cannot write that often. I am about to end my travel, herefore I am running short of money but everything’s alright. As soon as I got up yesterday, I moved into the hostel I had booked a room at. It’s much more comfortable here, it is thounds of years old, looks like an old castle and also it is in the middle of the old souq. There are people from Finland, Czech Republic, Canada, Palestine, Israel, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Belgium, England and Slovakia. I had a chat somehow with all of them, and everyone favours Palestine, including the Israeli people. War and politics are in every conversation.

At the entrance of the Hz.Omar Mosque (Dome of the Rock), which many people confuse with Al Aqsa, you have to prove that you are Muslim. The entrance is denied to non-Muslims. First I enter the Omar Mosque, it is the time for noon prayer, it’s crowded in the mosque. Then I go to Al Aksa and something incredible happens. I start crying as soon as I enter the place, even before I take a look around. I sit at a corner with a tissue in my hand, I almost sob, bewildered at myself, asking”why are you crying!”. Later on I notice that is because of the magnificant spiritual atmosphere this place has. The construction is simplistic, there is nothing around that will make you cry. I mean, nothing visually impressive, but the atmosphere is indescribable. Words would not suffice, one needs to exprerience. I don’t want to go out, I sit there for a long while. Then I see the basement floor, which is older; finally I go out, fascinated. I pass through covered shopping arcades again and walk towards Jaffa Gate to visit the Museum of the Tower of David. The tower consists of several sections- I mean, there is a minaret in the museum, but now it isn’t open to public, maybe the mosque has been destroyed, I have no idea. The museum tells the history of Jerusalem. In each section you can see various historical periods. The Ottoman period seems pretty small and dull when compared with other sections, although the Ottomans ruled over this land for 400 years. For this period there is also an interactive “film”. At the beginning, there is a depressing piece of music and the descent of the Turkish flag and the ascent of the English flag, later on a joyful melody starts and 1948, the ascent of the Israeli flag, happy ending! But, English ruling is depicted as more positive than the 400-year reign of the Ottomans.All the walls in the “old town” part were built by (the Ottoman emperor) Suleyman the Magnificent. When the Palestinians learn that I am a Turk, they talk about it in pride but the museum doesn’t give that much attention to Turks.

I meet a rabbi in the evening, a rabbi whom I had a contact with before I came here. His name is Jeremy Milgrom. He is an opponent liberal Israeli rabbi at his 50s. At the time we meet, a group of Jews are walking towards the Wailing Wall but not to protest anything this time, for prayer. They aren’t carrying Israeli flags. It is one of the important religious days of the year and all of them are fasting, from yesterday’s sunset till today’s sunset. We also walk along with them and I listen to Milgrom’s ideas about Israel, the war, and all that’s happening and I get amazed. “What is happening between Israel and Lebanon cannot be called a war”, he says, “It’s an unfair attack by Israel. It’s a raid and an unfair occupation” he adds. He tells me about his worries about his children’s doing their military service right now, and criticizes Israeli policies. At this moment, a radical Jew, dressed up in a black jacket and wearing a hat, asks for donation and Milgrom starts speaking in Arabic, just to see the his reaction. He says, “I thank God” and walks away. Milgram says, “This city could have been a peaceful city, but now one can live here this way only under security precautions.Actually there is no communication among various communities”. By the way I learn that in the whole country there are only 3 or 4 schools that both Israeli and Palestinian children can attend. Even this seems to be a big improvement to me.

Then I learn that Jews will try to get into Al Aqsa today. According to Judaism, this is on the Moria Hill where Solomon Temple was built, in other words, where Prophet Abrahamwas born. Jews gained admission to this place, but the police may do anything. No Muslim man between the ages of 20-45 is admitted. The last time they tried to do so in 2000 Ariel ªaron also joined them, they say it was in the second intifada. They say a big opposition may occur.

I found it strange when I saw that Palestinians’ Jewish accessories, key holders, and even T-shirts that read “Don’t worry, be Jewish” on them are sold at the market here. I asked about this to Fahmi, an employee at the hostel, “They need money, what else can they do?” he said, and I said, “Then it means they accept failure, they cannot claim Jerusalem any more, it is all words and no action”.

I haven’t lived through a war in Turkey but in the case of an earthquake, all people unite, everyone collects money and helps people far away from them. I couldn’t see such mutual support here. It seems as though no one cares about what is happening in Jerusalem and no one opposes to the Israeli demonstrations supporting the war. I asked why it is this way and he said they have given up, they have been forced to give up. Once you find a job and save your life, you try to support your family and grow individualistic. One more thing, when you are young, you are more active and you have faith in change; but then you see how powerful they are and that it is impossible for you to stand up and fight. He says he sometimes feels suspicious of even his friends, are they spies or so? Everyone is “sold”, one by one. Enterprises to set up an association, or unification are blocked, they have no leader here. The ones living in Jerusalem don’t even have their citizenship. They get a special travel document when they travel abroad. The situation is rather complicated, and multi-dimensional, what is more, saddening. It all seems hopeless to me now.

3 August 2006, Jerusalem

I thank God that the police didn’t let the Jews to enter Al Aqsa and the possible events have been prevented. I got up early in the morning and went to Betlehem. Ittakes 15 minutes to arrive at the “wall” by the vehicles that depart from the DamascusGate. Then you arrive at a big terminal that reminds one of an airport and you show your passport three times, you get searched twice, you go through X-ray machines and go to West Bank. Betlehem is a Palestinian city with its population of 22.000-half Muslim and half Christian. The Church of Nativity, where Jesus Christ was born is downtown. It is a very old big church, there aren’t many tourists around. Tourism has been affected badly due to the current events. I visit another Omar Mosque and have a chat with the officers here to get their ideas. They complain about the decrease in tourism. There are people who haven’t been paid their salaries for months. I ask whether they collect money for Gaza or not, but no! They transferred all their responsibility and right to Hamas. Okay, I say, “I want to donate some, but how could I be sure that Hamas won’t buy weapons? I want this money to be used for food and medicine”. They say, “Just trust” and they promise, but I don’t find them very reliable. Therefore, I donate just a little sum. The streets are full of beggars, and kids asking for ice-cream.

Then I take a taxi to go to Heroid Palace, 10 kms from here in Palestine, but it is in an Israeli military zone. The driver accompanies me, greets an Israeli officer and then I buy a ticket and walk around the palace-I mean the remains, taking photos. When I come down, I get happy to see a scene: the Israeli officer chatting with the Palestinian driver. Then again way back to Jerusalem through painful borders. I take photos of the slogans and graffitis favouring peace and freedom on “the wall”, reading things like, “let it go down”, “the wall can’t hide the truth” etc.

In Jerusalem, at the spot where I get off the bus, I see the sign of Garden of Tomb and I walk in. According to Protestant belief, this is where the tomb of Jesus Christ is. It looks like an open air church. As opposed to Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox people believe that his tomb is in the Church of Holy Sepulchre, which I will try to visit tomorrow.

For the first time I am visiting West Jerusalem. It looks like a European city with its stores. Life seems quite normal, modern and based on consumption. It is really different than the Old City. It is full of police officers and soldiers here, too. I can see around 500 policemen or soldiers in just one day. Security guards check bags at the entrance of even small shops.

By the way, I just realized that I have been staying at an Armenian district. Right next to that, there is the Muslim section, then the Christian one and the Jewish. These districts are next to one another. There is a little bit of interaction between the Christians and the Muslims but the Jews are totally isolated. This is the divison in this old city, which is enclosed by the city walls once built by Suleyman the Magnificent

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