On this day last year (23 June 2015) at 2 am in the morning we drove into #AlQuds (#Jerusalem) completing the #Joburg2Jerusalem leg of our #overlandjourney.
We didn’t know much about the city layout or where exactly our accommodation was located, just that it was in the #oldcity. Looking at the old walls that envelope the old city of #AlQuds, we realised that cars cannot go in.
We parked outside and found the Damascus Gate – the gate that would become our main portal between the outside world and the walls that had witnessed millennia of communities, trade, prayer, unity, conquests, hatred, bloodshed, peace, love, tears, laughter, bonds, rivalries and footsteps of prophets, believers, soldiers, priests, rabbis, imams and kings.
To know what it feels like to walk these old stone streets you actually have to walk them.
To feel the weight that the walls would have felt when Jesus (peace be upon him) rested his tired palm against them with the cross on his back, you actually have to put your hand on the indentations into the walls along the path to his crucifixion – called Via Dolorosa.
To imagine what it must have been like when all the prophets of God prayed together led by the last of them to be sent to humankind – Muhammed (peace and blessings be upon him), you actually have to pray in Al-Haram Al-Sharif (The Noble Sanctuary).
To feel the constriction and the suffocation that a people feel when they are not free in the land they have called their home for generations… you actually have to live there.
This old city of Al-Quds became our home for almost 2 months and before we left, the locals started calling us “Qudsi” – those who live in Al-Quds. It was hard to hold back tears as I wrote this because the mark that this blessed land leaves on ones heart can never be erased. So we hope and pray to be Qudsi’s again very soon.
Fareed invited us to his home in Ramallah for Iftaar with his family, took us for a tour of the city and shared his wisdom and thoughts with us at a time when we most needed a reality check.
We met Fareed after South African Ebrahim Patellia, who followed our Facebook page made an electronic introduction and suggested a meet up. Fareed’s relationship with South Africa is a personal and special one that began when he befriended South African Anna Weekes while protesting the build of the Apartheid Wall about 15 years ago.
The connection with SA is also a result of the similarity between the Apartheid regime in SA and the Israeli occupation in Palestine with their similar practices and infrastructure. We delighted in Fareed’s stories of activism, friendship and sacrifice all of which would probably make a spectacular book.
In between mouthfuls of delicious traditional food, we lamented just some of the multi layered complexities of the Palestinian landscape and Fareed obliged all our simple questions. For example in Jerusalem while life went on uninterrupted during our stay, and while we foreigners continue to experience what we believe to be our most spiritually uplifting Ramadhan, the (temporarily) safe walls of the old city closes off the contrast of life that is West Bank, Gaza and the Palestinian administered territories. We were reminded that just a few kilometres away are some of the poorest neighbourhoods and camps where people are living the harsh realities of the occupation and war on Palestine.
Before Iftaar, we drove to a checkpoint and got a glimpse of the intricate designs of checkpoints, the life it closes in, the level of minute control it is used for and how amidst all of this, Israeli settlement roads are designed to bypass all the eyesore.
We took a walk through the bustling city centre which reminded us of an upmarket tourist town not very different from Cape Town, with its boutique cafe’s and branded shopping. Ramallah he noted, like Jerusalem is home to a growing middle class. It is part of the multi faceted dynamics of a population under occupation. One where the middle class are being engaged in the economic system in way that leaves a distinct gap between them and the majority of the people more harshly impacted.
We know all too well how Israeli strategy has for decades isolated Gazan’s from the rest of the world by controlling borders, imposing sanctions and reigning terror. This isolation however has a more cruel consequence of isolating people within a population creating internal divisions and nuances that have long term impacts and are much more difficult to address.
Fareed’s direct no nonsense approach shed light on issues that others may not have shared quite so candidly. While we had the luxury of theorising the lack of distinction between the Zionist state and the civilian Jew amongst many Palestinians, we could not fathom the daily humiliation and torture, the face of which people have come to identify as simply the “yahuds” (Jews).
We walked through the vegetable market and noticed how the small trader often has no choice but to be part of the agricultural system whose produce originates from the occupier. We talked about the nature of BDS and how Palestinians unequivocally support the international campaign, but internally it is much more tricky. While the boycott is a priority for Palestinians it is not easy to distinguish Israeli products from Israeli products inside occupied territories. The subsistence farmer needs all the support they can get. Fareed runs a campaign where he markets their goods online.
We visited the mausoleum of Yasser Arafat and spoke about the dwindling resistance of young activists, and the weakening of mobilisation. We talked about the role of social media and electronic resistance and joked about the “we have no 3G in Palestine” billboard campaign during Obama’s visit in 2010 (http://wallwritings.me/2013/03/20/we-have-no-3-g-in-palestine/).
When the evening reached it’s end and we felt somewhat despondent about the situation, Fareed reminded us that despite the sense of burnout in the air, Palestinian people have a tremendous spirit and will never give up. There is an inherent irony in the growing middle class in areas like Ramallah, that despite heavy taxes and high interest rates, these communities are a sign of life, a sign of people not willing to simply give in and move out and on to other countries.
With support the people will continue and will be reinvigorated. Fareed summarised the most impactful kind of help the people needed from the international community and particularly South Africans as BVD i.e. Boycott Israel, Visit Palestine, and engage in Demonstrations in our countries back home.