Everything about this part of the world is fraught with controversy and politics. While I would usually combine Qalqilya, Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv, and Kfar-Saba in one set of posts, since I was in the area for only six days total. I decided to separate them into three sets of short posts. As an example, when I was chatting with Asmaa to arrange my specific dates for my visit, I mentioned visiting Jerusalem. While I studiously avoiding positing it as either Palestinian, Israeli, or international, I made the mistake of referring to the area of the Dome of the Rock as the Temple Mount. For me they are simply two different words for the same place, but she was extremely offended.
After being dropped off in Ra’anana Bus Station, despite asking multiple times for the train station instead, I took the 947 bus to Jerusalem. An old crooked back woman in rags made me extremely nervous, as she kept offloading her things on other passengers. Despite my awareness of the statistical safety of Israel, it surprised me how deeply I’d been emotionally primed to the threat of terrorism. Half the people boarding the bus were young Israeli soldiers with automatic weapons casually slung over their shoulders, however, and as they seemed completely unconcerned, just annoyed by this woman, I boarded.
There are guns everywhere in Israel and especially in Jerusalem. Young plain-clothes Israelis with uzis walking through the crowds in the Old City with their trigger finger straight across the trigger mount in a ready-yet-safe position, blue and gray uniformed police with semi-automatic rifles at every semi-major intersection, olive green uniformed soldiers with automatics slung over one shoulder and a shopping bag across the other, and faded green professional soldiers in full black body armor with multiple automatic weapons walking in pairs with shoulders back. They made me feel a strange mix of watched, nervous, and safe.
After finally finding a way into extraordinary hotel (in a stone house steps away from Al-Aqsa – but an entrance only for Muslims), I went for Falafel with one of the other two guests, a Turk by the name of Furkan. My time with him at the restaurant, on the walk over to the Mount of Olives and the hours watching the sunset over the city there exemplified one of the themes of my summer: nationalism. I listened, mostly, as he spoke at length about the struggles of the Turkish nation against the Chinese, against Israel, against Russia, and against Europe. He understood the history of coups in Turkey as the product of Roosevelt Foundation funded private armies against the will of the people and in the interests of Israel. He was in Israel to study Hebrew as Russian major. He related the following story:
A Turkish general was faced with a Chinese army ten times its size. One of his officers noticed that the general looked sad and asked him why. The general responded, “Where will we bury all the Chinese?” They won the battle.
This relentless nationalistic interpretation reminded me of the worrying ideology of Manas in Kyrgyzstan and the nation building efforts across the world in general. I want to learn more and find an alternative, but I can’t think of anything with as much seductive power. Sometimes I wonder if I should study nationalism formally.
I stayed for nearly three hours simply watching Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives while the tourists came and went, most staying no longer than ten minutes. The next day, I entered at the earliest possible time for non-muslims, deciding not to call myself a muslim to try and gain access to the interior, and stayed until closing – the last non-muslim to leave. I sat by a gaggle of ten fully armed and body-armored Israeli police near the entrance to draw, and their initially hostile expressions softened as they watched me, telling me “professional” by the time I stood up. My drawing, like my busking years ago, gives me access to a different side to people.
After wandering the Old City and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, I rested in the afternoon before a very fancy dinner with a Taiwanese woman I’d met crossing the border from Jordan. We ate in the Jaffa Gate district – what a marked contrast from the Old City. Where the Old City was grimy, with dirt caked into every surface, New Jerusalem was shiny and clean and modern. Coming from Qalqilya, I couldn’t really enjoy it, even though I’d requested a clean restaurant specifically. The Israelis happily singing in their beautiful park around a public concrete piano with water fountains and public sculptures was superimposed with an after-image of the wall for me.