Holy Land Tour Winds Down
By Roman Skaskiw
She spoke about a “green area” in the neighborhood on which new construction had been forbidden. The status of that area changed immediately after an American Casino Tycoon purchased the land.
A settler family from a group call Gush Imunim (block of the faithful) built a large home there. The area lies right against the wall in the middle of East Jerusalem. It is fenced off from the rest of the town and guarded twenty four hours a day by both soldiers and government-paid private security guards. “My taxes pay for them,” she said.
The lady also spoke about garbage. Their garbage pickup stopped after the construction of the wall. They lobbied the municipality for months, during which time, taking out the trash meant a fifteen-minute walk. The arrival of dumpsters coincided with the arrival of the settler family.
One dumpster was provided for the settlers. Another, for the Palestinian residents was placed near the soldiers guarding the house. Whenever residents took out their trash, they were required to show its content to the soldiers before disposing it.
Her daughter had once been chased home by soldiers and scolded because she refused to show the contents of her garbage and simply flung it into the dumpster. It took several more month of petitioning to have the dumpsters moved and residents able to dispose of their trash in peace.
The most troubling of the lady’s remarks were about Hezbollah. I’ll note here that she was a Christian woman.
“They [Israel] humiliate us, and we can do nothing. Even the Hague, the highest court in the world, says they are wrong, and we can do nothing. We weren’t for Hezbollah before, but we are all for Hezbollah now. It will never be defeated because it is an idea. Hezbollah is the right to resist.”
As she spoke, an SUV drove from the large home to the fence’s gate. The driver honked once, twice, then exited the vehicle and flung the gate open himself. He carried an M-16. He spoke angrily toward the soldiers and drove off, leaving the gate swinging on its hinges.
The conversation, the wall, the angry guy with the M-16, all happened less than five kilometers from my hostel in the Old City.
That evening, Al-Manar played on the hostel’s television. I had heard it described as Hezbollah news television but had never seen it before. It wasn’t even trying to appear legitimate. When I heard the baritone chorus, I thought of old Soviet propaganda. It looked like it too: formations marching, rockets launching, clips of wounded Israeli soldiers.
The Arab owner of the hostel stepped into the room. He told his son to switch channels back to Al Jazeera.
August 8: I threw a fish at Steffen. It was payback for a canoeing trip back in Iowa, when he did the same to me – blind-sided me with a small-mouth bass. For days I’d been on the lookout for fish vendors. I woke early, silently. Two shekels and one Mariano-Rivera-like windup later, Steffen tasted bitter revenge.
Steffen, Scandy, and I began our official boycott of a falafel joint outside Damascus Gate. When Scandy had gone in for water, a guy spoke sharply to him in Arabic. Scandy only recognized the words “fuck America.”
“What did you say?” Scandy asked.
“I say the television sounds good.” Al-Manar played.
Scandy cursed him in Swedish.
Earlier, Scandy had spoken to us about Arab immigrants in Sweden, their lack of assimilation and the few honor-killings within immigrant families. He said it was taboo to criticize immigration and he seemed to harbor some resentment. I think he took the opportunity to lash out at the men in the restaurant. Thankfully, it didn’t escalate. Wherever we went, Scandy was quick to point out how only men sat in little groups, drinking tea and chatting.
Falafel and bottle of water in West Jerusalem: 15 shekels.
We ate dinner in a rustic, underground restaurant called the Armenian Tavern. We went with three American women we’d met at the hostel.
Vine leaves wrapped around minced meat in yogurt sauce, rice: 45 shekels and well worth it.
One of the women was on her birthright tour and took the opportunity to visit her friend who was laying the groundwork for a PhD: A study of what she called the overt demographic race between Arab and Jewish populations, and specifically the distribution and availability of abortion clinics. She’d relocated to Jerusalem from Haifa when the war began. The third girl, a Korean-American, had studied Arabic in Cairo for the past year. She’d been held at the Airport for seven hours, then interrogated for two before being let into Israel.
Fox News: “Graveyard for Israel” Defiant Hezbollah Chief Threatens Attacks
CNN: “Israel Votes to Push Deeper into Lebanon”
Al Jazeera: “The Logic of Israel’s War on Civilians”
Scandy decided that hitting the road again was the way forward, and pedaled away in the morning.
A single 30-shekel ticket got me into the Israeli museum, the Shrine of the Book, and a sprawling scale model of ancient Jerusalem, complete with Solomon’s Second Temple in the spot where the Dome of the Rock now stands. The signs were in English and Hebrew.
The inside cover of the 2005-2006 Jerusalem Tourist Guide read:
“Four thousand years since it was founded, three thousand years after David conquered it, two thousand years since Jesus walked its narrow passageways and fifty six years since it became the sate of Israel’s capital, Jerusalem is still an enchanting city.”
I performed a little calculation: 2005 – 56 = 1949. Wasn’t Jerusalem an international city until 1967, in what was, until then, a part of Jordan?
The Shrine of the Book lies under a handsome, nipple-shaped fountain. The translation of one scroll, entitled “War of the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness,” read:
“On the day of calamity, the sons of light shall battle with the company of darkness amid the shouts of a mighty multitude and the clamor of gods and men to (make manifest) the might of God. And it shall be a time of (great) tribulation for the people which God shall redeem of all its afflictions none shall be as this, from its sudden beginning until its end in eternal redemption.”
Steffen, who after returning from Iraq switched majors from botany to Islamic Law, compared this to the Islamic notion of partitioning the world into of Dar al-Harb (house of war) and Dar as-Salaam (house of peace).
Me? I majored in computer science then spent almost five years running around with a helmet on my head, so I don’t pretend to have any scholarly insight into his comparison, but I told him I preferred the words of Russian Writer and Nobel Laureate Alexander Solhenitzyn:
“The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” (The Gulag Archipelago)
We looked at the scale model of ancient Jerusalem and the Second Temple. I read from my guidebook about the temple’s vigorous defense when the Romans set it ablaze.
“I didn’t know they had fire-breathing dragons,” Steffen said.
“Only at the beginning of the war,” I corrected, pretending to consult my book. “They hired a bunch of ninjas to fight them off.”
That night, we smoked shishas on the roof of our hostel and traded stories with other backpackers.