One phrase kept coming to my head as I was leaving the old city of Jerusalem: This city is alive despite occupation.
I cannot deny that it felt all-odd. Actually behaving as if we were on a sightseeing tour was the abnormal feeling of it all. I meant to sit on the stairs of Damascus gate. In a normal day we couldn’t do it, and apparently it wasn’t only me thinking about it and do it. It felt for the very first time that it was normal to see a young man and woman (veiled) sitting there. As much as it felt normal to see a group of young men sitting. It was all-obvious that they were like us. It definitely felt ridiculous to keep posing for a photo, especially walking between two teenagers who seemed playing the role of the adult infront of their immature mother.
They actually didn’t get my sense of making a point. For them they were walking in the old city and it should be normal. Yasmina kept Mannering me saying: mom we’re not tourists. Until we reached the Aqsa and this was the worse part in the relationship with my daughters. I apparently missed bringing one piece of the covering material. I admit that this is not my favorite part and I know well we cannot enter without. At that moment the rule of the place was stronger than anything to the girls. I was giving them all my ideas of modern Islamic perspectives that they actually never buy and at some point amid the lectures to me about how inconsiderate I was for not brining that part, Serena said she would wait outside. And I was like. For god sake we are on a support mission they wont really pick. After all she is underage by Islamic law that she also refused to believe my theory about. Let me say something here .my children believe I am an atheist and that my concepts on religion are all wrong because religion to them is what is practiced and not what I claim to believe. It is an eternal discussion of course and I will eventually win. As I was struggling trying to made us move out of that situation and in the mosque I suggested that Serena uses my head band that practically made her look like Turkish veiled old women. Cute. Yasmina kept pushing on my nerves blaming me and asking me to admit that I made a mistake. For god sake I thought. I got rid of one man who made me live with this continuous feeling of admitting mistakes in order to fall into his daughter who would lecture me.
Usually those family arguments are good infront of the police. They think it is already bad enough. I was already excited that we passed the first checkpoint. Are you Arabs? Are you Muslims? Where do you live? Do you know how to recite the Quran? And they let us in. the Arab guards were friendlier than their usual this time. It is one of the real rare occasions that I felt well walking in the courts of al Aqsa.
After all the pressure I had from the kids, I was able to encounter some peace with the place. It felt great. It was practically empty, but we were in-between times of prayers. It was a great to grasp a moment of contemplation, but somewhere tension was in the air. One looks around and feels the place as an exhausted being just coming out of a tough operation.
But yet, there is an absolute peace of mind, no matter how absorbed you are, and no matter how the tension is surrounding you. I have to confess again that this was one of the real first times that I wasn’t stopped by people both men or women who would give me guidance on how to put the veil better or to cover whatever is not hundred percent from my figure. Serena was asked to cover her head properly a few times, but they were not in that previous sense of demanding way. I don’t know if it was my imagination but with each person I saw there I felt a message was being sent, as if everyone was there to say I am here. I can make it. I want to make it. It was one of the most peaceful prayers I encountered in the place.
As we headed out, the dark was shadowing the alleys of Jerusalem and more religious Jews were seen in the roads. You will see them walking in groups with protective chests and someone walking in front of them dressing those religious uniforms or whatever with obvious guns around him. I was anxious by each religious Jew orthodoxy passerby, and I would say, it is probably that those who walk alone could be like me. They are people who really go to pray in peace. When you see how he walks in a provocative attitude you sense a different energy.
Police were practically in every single possible corner, added to them was those checking machines. One of the funny encounters or scene is that how the police are sheltering themselves around those separation iron separation points. But people were yet moving. Stores were opened and kids were all over the place playing.
At some point as we are reaching the exit towards Damascus gate, two policemen or soldiers I didn’t concentrate stopped two young me of their age and started asking them to be checked. They had to uncover their shirts and they body searched them asking them to uncover their pants as well. I stopped at that moment. I was probably entering one of trances and Serena was holding hard to my shoulder. One of them looked at me and said: what are you looking at? I said: You. He said: what do you have a problem. I said: Yes I have a problem. Your behavior is the problem. At that moment Serena pulled me and Yasmina started yelling at me saying loud: what do you think yourself doing. He was pulling the trigger getting close to me, when the other one who was busy searching the other young man kind of looks at him and asked him to stop.
Of course Yasmina gave me a lecture of how immature I behaved, and about what would I get if he shot me at that moment.
Of course she was right. But at that instant I realized all those oppressive sentiments I felt. Watching a full state of injustice and humiliation that takes place infront of you and you have to pass through it as if nothing happened. As if it is just normal to stop passerby’s because they are young males who this probably a teenager soldier decides to humiliate. I confess that I didn’t feel any fear or threat. I practically felt nothing, I was at rage. I was in that moment where this line between life and death doesn’t really matter anymore. I haven’t felt the danger of the situation. I only realized it through my daughter’s reaction.
I was still captured by those young men’s humiliated eyes and bodies searched for the fun of it. I couldn’t but see my son in them. What if they were doing this to him? What is it was my son in that instant. I want going to let it pass by watching. I wasn’t actually immature. I wasn’t even aware of myself as I stopped and gazed in the situation.
Of course, I walked out like a macho. Still lecturing about how a bastard that soldier was.
I am not sure behaving normally did change the situation and made it normal. The tension in the air is so overwhelming. It is usually part of the aura of Jerusalem. The city feels its people and it reflects on its air.
I left telling myself, as the voices of people are echoing in the surrounding, sellers, buyers are making business as usual. Despite the tension. The fear of the coming moment that is unknown. Jerusalem was living in its beautiful way of trying to have a life despite all what she goes through as a city with its people.
The streets outside where a bit of a cynical view. Seeing new checkpoint on every possible way. In Sheikh Jarrah. On the roads that take to the joint roads. Israeli forces despite their claim that it is their eternal unified capital are dividing Jerusalem. It seems sarcastic how the blocks are there, with even blocks of wall to isolate some villages. Somewhere amid this cynical view, the scenes of gathered policemen around those checking steels seemed as if they were the ones behind bars.
As we ascended to the main road, it felt like a Saturday. Streets are effectively empty. The vibrant west side of the city is mute, anxious. Police in the area are more than the people.