So will you be visiting Palestine?
This was the question asked to us by Ibrahim, a softly spoken merchant sitting outside his jewelry store in the Christian quarter of the Old Town of Jerusalem. Slightly paranoid and still sleepy from our journey, we started to mutter something vague about perhaps taking a trip into the West Bank in a few days. He smiled and shook his head, “Wrong answer. You are already in Palestine.”
And of course Jerusalem is. The East of it, at any rate. And much of the Old City, with its hickledee pickledee cobbled streets and endless market stalls trading in insanely kitsch tat from the Big Three religions (my favourite is a hologram of Jesus on the cross, opening his eyes to look all forgiving and Jesus-like at you as you approach, only to die again as you walk on – I can’t speak for the real Jesus, but I think its what he would have wanted).
We felt a bit embarrassed to have fallen for Ibrahim’s trap, and, I guess, a bit disappointed in ourselves too. The Israeli land grab in Jerusalem is an insidious one. In the New City centre, with its modern infrastructure of late night designer shopping malls and trendy overpriced bars, it’s all too easy to let yourself be blind to the fact that these are the fruits of an illegal occupation – but the bored looking soldiers, playing on their mobile phones at Damascus Gate, machine guns draped casually across laps, are a stark reminder that all is not as it should be. I want to keep a diary whilst here, but was finding it hard to start, what to write first? We were sitting in one of the said overpriced bars drinking Israeli beer and I kept staring at the blank page of my notebook. In the end I opted to take my pen into the toilet, where I scribbled Free Palestine on the wall.
We’re both itching to get to Ramallah and do what we came here for. When we got chatting a bit more to Ibrahim and felt comfortable enough to explain the purpose of our journey, his smile grew wider. We left with his telephone number and a promise of assistance, or to put us in touch with his family once we make it there.
We’re now in the hostel, waiting for our ISM contact. The plan is to eat more hummus and head to Ramallah tomorrow.