I have Sundays off and I really felt like getting out of Ramallah for a little bit. I had wanted to go visit Ian in Haifa since he flies back to the States soon, but I wasn’t sure if I would make it there and back before late and have much time to enjoy the city. So instead, I decided to go in to Jerusalem for a few hours, and save the trip to Haifa for another time.
I hadn’t been to Jerusalem since I was 11 yrs old or so. I wasn’t planning on a big adventure. The service from Ramallah drops off near the Damascus Gate, so I figured I’d wander the market a little, have some delicious street food, and spend some time marveling at the Dome of the Rock, and head back around dinner time. I knew, of course, that this little day trip of mine – like so much else I’ll be doing this summer – is something most Palestinians cannot do, that my simple day off plans are a forbidden fruit of inexplicable proportions to millions of people. My wait at Qalandiya checkpoint – regardless how long or whether I get stuck in the turnstile like cattle – eventually ends with someone waving me through, after all.
When the turnstile did stop as I was in it, an elderly Palestinian gentleman (who saw the passport I was holding) said to me in English and in a kind voice “You see how you suffer, how we suffer.” I knew he had seen me speaking to a German student in the line with us and assumed I was also a tourist (which is not necessarily untrue). He wanted to teach us foreigners something.
I smiled and sweetly said “Ba3rif, 3amo, walla ba3rif. Allah ya3teekom il 3afya.” (For my American friends – “I know, Uncle, really I do. God give you the health (to endure).”)
He started to apologize, said he didn’t realize I was Arab. He just saw the passport, he said.
I told him not to apologize. He was right. I don’t do this everyday. He does.
Of course, we then began to talk and exchanged all the Palestinian instant bits of information we are so accustomed to asking and supplying our fellow countrymen – the town we’re from, where our families are now, the last name, etc. I stood trapped in my little turnstile and made conversation with the nice man that looked like my late Uncle Khalid, and answered his questions. When he found out I had family in Gaza, the conversation shifted from me wishing him good health to about a five minute session of him wishing and praying for everyone I know in Gaza health, strength, and every other necessity you could think of – with me saying thank you and trying to get him to stop every 30 seconds or so. And then the buzzer sounded and the turnstile moved. Out I went. Bye, 3amo – ya3teek il 3afya, I said again.
I told the German student I met at Qalandiya that she could call me when she was let through the tourist/non-Muslim entrance to Al-Aqsa and I would meet her outside the mosque. Meanwhile, I would be inside after wandering the market for a while.
I had been speaking Arabic for a couple of hours now to everyone in the market, again with the same standard, original town-last name-where did you flee to, questions and answers we Palestinians recite as easily as we take our breaths. So, when I got to the end of the market and (one of) the entrance(s) to Al-Aqsa, I was not exactly in Israeli soldier mode.
I knew there would be someone there to ask me if I was Muslim, etc, checking I was not some European tourist trying to lie her way out of walking to the tourist entrance. I had of course by this point put on my hijab and long sleeves, but nevertheless expected a man there expecting me to say “Assalamu 3alaykom” or something of the like.
So, when I got to the gate, that is just what I said. Of course, I was zoned out to the point of not realizing that the nice Palestinian gatekeeper was one doorway up from the man I had wished peace upon. Instead, I had greeted Israeli security.
He asked me where I was from, surprising myself slightly – without any sort of hesitation or my typical border control filter, I said “Falasteen.”
“Where in Falasteen? What Falasteen?!?!” he said, outraged and shocked I would have the audacity to utter the concept.
I couldn’t make out what he was saying in Hebrew, but his older supervisor to the side was mumbling some commentary to him, seemingly instructing him to just let me by and not trouble himself.
Instead, he was indignant and I was not about to appease his disgust with an apology, and we both stood there in a sort of staring match. Eyes locked.
“Let me see your passport.” he demanded.
I pulled it out, handed it to him.
He pointed to the words “United States of America” on the front.
“This is Falasteen?!”
I didn’t react, kept my eyes locked.
“You understand politico?!” he said.
I nodded again.
and though I know I was trying to keep an expressionless face, I can’t help but feel like I smirked.
His supervisor made the same remarks he had made earlier. Hell if I know what they were, but it was obvious, he wanted him to just let me through and stop wasting his time on the worthlessness in front of him.
So, he did. He handed back my passport and signaled with his head to go.
I walked up one step and behind me I heard his spit hit the ground on the step below, followed by “Pah! Falasteen!”
By the time I walked up to the Palestinian man sitting at the gate to the area around the Dome, there were no questions about where I was from – it turned out the spit from the soldier was enough proof for him. He smiled at me and said “Assalamo 3alaykom, Ahla o sahla.”