The Two Sides of Qalandia Part 17: We are Jerusalem.

The unfolding of events in Jerusalem seemed to occur pretty quickly for those of us watching them on television/computer/phone screens. Two Israeli police were killed. Three Palestinian men were killed. The Friday prayers were canceled for the first time since 1969. Security measures, in the form of  metal detectors and cameras, media seemed to focus their lens closely on Jerusalem, ignoring – or at least, for the most part – not mentioning the greater context these events took place in. It wasn’t an instance. It was – is – a result of the occupation.

The gates to Al-Aqsa and Dome of the Rock compound remained closed for about two weeks, and those who want to pray would have to go through the humiliating measures. The protests resumed for two weeks. Hospitals were raided in order to arrest the injured and capture the dead. Yes, the dead. Bodies had to be smuggled out of the hospital to be buried – quick mourning.

 

Then, after about two weeks, I was watching the very first moments of the security measures being taken down and the gates finally opening, welcoming the people of Jerusalem and all around. The mosques – even the ones in Al-Bireh/Ramallah – began performing takbeerat. My eyes filled with tears watching my fellow brothers and sisters in Jerusalem celebrate this victory. Yes, it was a victory.

My mind drifted to far places, as it often does. It drifted to a good place. That morning was one of them. I imagined the first few moments of a Palestine that is rid of the heinous occupation. I don’t know what will happen before or even after this, but that morning, I received a taste of it. I think many Palestinians did, and that is all thanks to our brothers and sisters in Jerusalem.

My friend asked a taxi driver on our way home from an adventure in Sebastia, “Do you have hope?”

He said, “If we didn’t have hope, would what happened in Jerusalem have happened?”

 

Image credit: Maannews.com

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The Two Sides of Qalandia Part 16: My Grandfather’s Request

“Grandpa, what do you want me to bring you back from Jerusalem?” I asked my paternal grandfather a day before I would go visit Jerusalem for the second time in the month.

I watched my grandfather, who turned eighty last November, as he slowly walked to his spot on the couch. I was waiting for him to say something like, “Thank you, sidi – Grandpa” or “Just go have fun.”

“Bring back Jerusalem,” he replied.

June of this year marked fifty years since the 1967 six-day war, or Al-Naksa, when Jerusalem, as well as the rest of Palestine, was occupied by Israel. Jerusalem is separated into East Jerusalem and West Jerusalem. East Jerusalem is what is proposed as the capital of the State of Palestine on paper. It is where the Old City of Jerusalem, rich with history, exists. For people with a green identity card or with a Gaza identity card, entering Jerusalem is simply difficult.

As I thought of what my grandfather was saying, I remembered my maternal grandfather. He passed away in the United States a little over two years ago, but he always told my grandmother that when his legs were strong again, he wanted to go to Jerusalem. It is that kind of city.

“Bring back Jerusalem,” he replied.

One day, sidi. One day we will bring back Jerusalem. We will be able to get there and make more beautiful history between the gates and walls of one of the holiest cities in the world.

The Two Sides of Qalandia Part 15: The Aftermath

Qalandia checkpoint is a human-sized birdcage. I have said this before, and this is the only way I will ever see it. I rode the Ramallah to Jerusalem bus excited – except I would not be dropped off in Jerusalem. I would be dropped off at the Qalandia checkpoint.

I have not been to Jerusalem in two years. At the bus stop and on Qalandia, I heard stories of women and old men who have not been there in over twenty. I know people who haven’t been there since they were born and who are now having children of their own. I am lucky. It had only been two years since I have visited one of the holiest cities in the world.

Walk to Qalandia

A woman walking towards the Qalandia checkpoint. Photo credit:   Author

As I walked, I reserved great attention to my footsteps. I looked down at my blue Converse as I stepped on stones and the remains of burnt tires.

A few weeks ago, there were protests at Qalandia for the hunger strikers who have had their basic rights stripped away from them. Tires were burnt. Smoke rose in the air. I, however, was not witness to this. I only found stones and the remains of burnt tires.

This is the aftermath of protests. Black skies and ground. Black. Darkness until one day, when we see light.

 

Our Mother Tongues Not Quite One: Late night poetry

For a moment,
we were not quite one.
We were…I and you.
We did not use our mother tongues
when we exchanged our “hello”‘s
and “thank you”‘s.
You, wearing your yellow clown costume
with red painted around your foreign lips
that blew into balloons
making children laugh…
Our and your children laugh.

You handed over a balloon,
and I handed over money in your currency.
We exchanged smiles in a moment you’d forget

At least for the moment
when we were not quite one.

We did not use our mother tongues
when we exchanged our “hello”‘s
and “thank you”‘s.
You didn’t discriminate and let
your kind fall in line before me
because I am the “other.”
I didn’t walk away and boycott you,
as I had refrained from buying that yellow
skirt made on land that is soaked
by my people’s blood…and yours?

We did not think of the war that was to come
in a year, and if you had enlisted
and carried firearms.
You, a clown. I, someone wanting to laugh.

We did not use our mother tongues when we exchanged
our “hello”‘s and “thank you”‘s.
For a moment,
we were not quite one.
We were…I and you…
and questions never to be answered,
not in our mother tongues…
not in any language.

The Two Sides of Qalandia Checkpoint Part 14: Time

Close to a year ago, I attended this Right to Education workshop, and one of the members mentioned that according to her and someone else’s calculations, students waste around a month per year on Qalandia checkpoint.

From the moment I or anyone else with a green identity card from the West Bank of what is known as the occupied Palestinian Territories reach Qalandia checkpoint, we think ‘time.’

The visas or permits given to us to cross provide the time we are allowed to enter and the time we have to be back to “our” side. There’s a date from when the piece of paper is issued and a date when the piece of paper is no longer of use…the day you should not exist on the other side of Qalandia checkpoint, the side that leads to Beit Hanina, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv…

We look at our phones and watches around our wrists to check the time we’ve been standing so the next time around we calculate the journey’s time accurately. We check the time so we can let others know how long the crossing takes and to warn them to “come earlier” than we had.

We wait, and time ticks by. We can’t sit and read or scroll through the Internet while we wait. I can’t upload these posts while I wait. Time in a birdcage is draining. You want to get out of there. No fights, no random “go to the other lane” after you’ve been waiting in this particular one for close to an hour. No sweat. No pushing or shoving or yelling. Just with some harmony.

You can hear the little children ask their parents how long it will take. My friends and I wonder if we’d make it to the internship by 9:00. Others want to go make their prayers. Others complain to the rest of us and try to plead with the soldiers standing that they have a doctor’s appointment they can’t miss.

About a month ago, I was asked how many parts I thought this segment of my blog was going to be. The segment will always be here, but for now, it’s a wrap as I won’t be going through the checkpoint until the next time I recieve a visa for entry.

On Qalandia, we are bound by a struggle, yes, but we are also bound by time…the minutes that tick by, the calculations we make, the warnings we give to others to “come earlier” next time, the Thursdays we dread since that is the busiest day of the week…

Time passes by and the blot of gray known as Qalandia checkpoint restricts, separates, and stands.

The Two Sides of Qalandia Checkpoint Part 13: The Cattle’s Roundabout

The blot of gray known as Qalandia checkpoint has these metal bars lined vertically that a person has to push in one direction to get through to the next part. They open and close according to the soldier/officer that is in charge, according to his/her liking/boredom or if the number of people is too much to handle. My friend gave it a name in Arabic, and my mind automatically translated it into “the cattle’s roundabout,” except, once again, it only goes in one direction.

On lane three, the lane I often found myself passing through, a cattle’s roundabout exists. Other than the fact that such a tool adds on to Israel’s effect of making Qalandia – and other checkpoints – seem like a human-sized birdcage or barnyard, the “roundabout” itself is not where the stories lie. It is what is written on it.

This specific one had the good stuff written. A random cellphone number, a few names, a few prayers, verses from the Holy Quran…Like the information on a cereal box, I found my eyes reading the words written on the metal bars.

“Palestine free alive or die” was one of the things written right in the middle…right where my eyesight hits straight ahead. After countless meetings with this phrase, my thoughts couldn’t help but drift off into a thought that is so distant…a thought that has been termed a dream, wishful thinking, a reality we may never see but we struggle everyday for.

Would the cattle roundabout be put in a museum one day…proof of a heinous occupation that once stood?

The Two Sides of Qalandia Checkpoint Part 12: First Time

This time, we weren’t so lucky as to go through the “Lane for Humanitarian Causes”, which is code for whoever we feel like letting through, so we had to wait, push, and shove in the multiple lines that were being formed around us.

Finally, in the birdcage, I felt like I could breathe again. At least, each person had their own spot.
The old man behind me struck up a conversation with the man behind him about how we – Arabs- don’t know how to line up and how we are somewhat to blame for what the occupation has become. In front of me, as I stared ahead listening intentively to when the metal cages signal their opening, I felt the person in front of me staring at me.

She was a lady in a full length gown in black with a different shades of gray-and-blue colored scarf covering her hair. She was looking at me, and then past me, and smiling.

“May Allah give us patience, sir,” she began saying to the old man.
“Patience! What patience?”

She looked at me again and smiled. “I’m just glad I finally got here.” She put her hand to her mouth, still smiling. “Wait, I guess I shouldn’t say that till I actually get to Jerusalem, right?”

I smiled back at her. “You’ll be on your way there in no time.”
She looked past me. Those eyes gleamed with the eagerness of a young child and a nostalgia that only those who are old and wise would understand. I could tell not only from her words, but the way she observed everything and everyone, that this was her first time going to Jerusalem. Her patience and her smile…smiles that restrictions like Qalandia try to break.

Hers was still there. It was going to be her first time in a city that is probably a minimum of thirty minutes away from where she lives. I wonder how the city embraced her.

The Two Sides of Qalandia Checkpoint Part 11: Solve This.

“We don’t want them to solve the question of Palestine. At least, they should solve Qalandia.”

The man, as all seven passengers including the service taxi driver, was frustrated with all the traffic the checkpoint causes that is magnified in the month of Ramadan.

I used to audit a course of the question of Palestine. The professor, sleeves rolled up and all, would speak so passionately as the students who ranged from knowing nothing at all to having the Oslo Accords close to memorized listened quietly. The refugee camps, the destroyed villages, Oslo, the ’48 and ’67 wars, the first and second intifada were at the core of those discussions. If one were to place Qalandia checkpoint on the list of topics to discuss, it would be on the list as a topic of its own.

Lines and lines of cars and buses were to the left as we were headed back to Ramallah. People waiting, getting furious, yelling at each other, trying to bypass each other to get through the blot of gray that stands…

That blot of gray that is a question itself.

The Two Sides of Qalandia Checkpoint Part 10: Danger

On the side of the Qalandia checkpoint that some of us struggle to get to is a large sign in red that reads in Hebrew, Arabic, and English:
“This Road leads To Area ‘A’ Under The Palestinian Authority. The Enterance For Israeli Citizens Is Forbidden, Dangerous To Your Lives And Is Against Israeli Law.”

I rolled my eyes reading this sign for the first time. Of all the laws Israel makes and breaks…