From Jerusalem with Love – Blog from the Middle East
The “special treatment” began in the Newark Liberty International Airport where the departure gate for Continental Flight 84 to Tel Aviv, Israel was walled off and separated from all the other gates and passengers. In order to enter that gate area, one had to pass through yet another personal inspection with metal detectors and hand luggage had to be checked all over again. Once you were in this special closed-off gate area you could not leave. And so began my first trip to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Upon arrival in Tel Aviv I took the shuttle bus to Jerusalem. I was one of two women in a shuttle full of Orthodox Jewish men – mostly young and all from the United States – who were calling friends and family on their shiny cell phones. They seemed happy to be re-uniting with family and friends in Jerusalem, and it seemed that many of them were on their extended winter break from college. The land is beautiful – hilly, and although rocky, it is terraced and the patterns formed are lovely. There are so many stones that the areas where one can cultivate are relatively small, and I imagine they require a special manner of planting in diversified small plots. I keep thinking that many of the scattered stone walls that separate the terraced land were picked from the field and stacked by hand many years ago. Whose hands were those that stacked the first stone fences in the fields here between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem? Were they Arab, Palestinian, or Israeli Jewish hands? One may never know – but one thing is clear – the land is now firmly under Israeli control. The shuttle bus stops at the Jerusalem Hotel, a Palestinian family-owned hotel across from the Damascus Gate of the Old City, to let me out. The other remaining occupants in the shuttle look around uncomfortably to see who is going to depart here. From the back of the bus, I make my way forward, relieved to finally arrive at my destination. Later that day I travel by taxi to West Jerusalem to visit the staff and volunteers of the Israeli Committee against Home Demolitions (ICAHD). A long-term ally of Grassroots International, ICAHD conducts learning tours and helps to rebuild demolished homes as a form of both solidarity and resistance. The director of ICAHD, Jeff Halper told us that there are currently over 20,000 home demolition orders in Jerusalem alone – this compared to 24,100 demolitions of Palestinian homes that have taken place between 1967 and early 2009. The severity of this comparison tells me something about the current direction of Israeli government policy and intentions for greater Jerusalem. I then took a long slow walk back to the Jerusalem Hotel going through the old city which is beautiful, mysterious, and at the same time full of life and ancient secrets. In the Christian sector I walked past small ancient church doors and peaked in to see winding stone stairways disappearing into the bowels of these old sacred buildings. When I pass from the Christian sector full of churches and religious offices and shops into the Muslim sector the difference is palpable. I walk in a part of the Muslim sector that is full of life – with small farmers selling their produce on sidewalks, children helping to carry things and playing nearby, young men on bicycles, and couples and families strolling hand in hand. The smell of a medley of herbs and lentils perfumes the air from various food stalls along the way. This is the kind of space, teeming with life, where you fall in love with a people, a culture and a country.