Sunday, October 11, 2009
I Just Want To Go Home!
It was an overwhelming week, “The Goldstone” week, when my people, my family, my Jerusalem, my home, and my heart were under attack. This week reminded me once again how present and continuous is the 1948 Nakba.
It is Friday night October 9th. I just arrived from a journey filled with excitement, pain, hardships, happiness, loss, gains, fear, anxiety, power, humiliation and spirit injury….…spirit injury…..filled with the continuous Israeli terrorism.
This week, and for the first time in my life, I met my brother and sister. Yes….yes, for the first time. In March 1948, the Zionist movement compelled my mom and her husband to run away from Haifa. Mom could no longer safeguard and protect her three children (3 months, 4 years and 6 years) from the Zionist atrocities in Palestine. She took her children, and left Haifa, and my brothers and sister were never able to see Haifa again in 61 years. Meeting them last Monday was too overwhelming emotionally. My tears were the only power I carried. My brother and sister were stronger, they kissed and smelled me non stop, they were searching for mom in me, for her smell, and love they never felt. My ordeal was too confusing to be expressed in words, too strong to be reflected on paper, and too scary to be shared.
I was on my way back home to Jerusalem, but, reaching home is not an easy task. Reaching home, my home in the old city, required dealing with a new set of challenges,. It is these challenges that I want to share with you today.
Both Islah, my friend, and I started our journey at 7:00 am, in Amman- Jordan, heading towards the 1967 occupied territories. We arrived at King Husein Bridge (another station where Palestinians are humiliated on a daily basis, each time they want to travel to Jordan or through Jordan to another country) and the "Via Dolorosa" as Islah defined it- started. We needed to line up in rows, wait to get a piece of paper for our luggage, then line up again, pay the taxes for border crossing ; keep moving on with the hundreds of people pushing and shoving, walking fast, trying to move faster…waiting in line again; pay the visa fee and keep on waiting. I was told that I should leave Islah, for I have a different passport that made me the privileged other. It is the US passport that works miracles. I was able to move faster, leave all the Palestinian locals behind me, including Islah, get on the bus that takes you to the other side of the bridge. It was a long frightening journey, but both Islah and I managed to meet on the Israeli side at 11:35 (under normal conditions, it takes 10 maybe 15 minutes to pass from the Jordanian to the Israeli side). We were happy we made it, kissed each other; Islah took the bus to Ramallah and I took the transit to Jerusalem.
I REACHED JERUSALEM to learn that the driver couldn’t drop us off at Bab el Amoud station because the Israeli police had blocked the area. I called Gaby to learn that since it is Friday noon, the police closed all the area from and to the old city, while preventing Muslims from reaching the Al Aqsa Mosque. He suggested picking me up from a nearby place, from the entrance of Isawiyyeh- a village in Jerusalem, and drive me with my bags home.
Reaching home was not easy: we reached Jaffa Gate. The Israeli police and soldiers were filling the area, and cars were all packed, trying to find a way to get inside the old city. The police told us that we can't drive through Jaffa Gate- as this is the only road that takes us home- and must go around through Zion Gate instead, and against the traffic. We circled around, struggled to find our way in the middle of chaos, and managed at last to reach Zion Gate. Driving into Zion Gate is tricky, for it is very narrow, and entails going back and forth two three times to get through. While Gaby was trying to get inside the narrow gate, a Jewish man that was walking hit the car with something that made a loud noise, and started screaming at Gaby. Gaby yelled back in English while asking the man: “Why are you hitting my car.” A policeman who was standing on the other side of the gate, on the narrow stairs, came down to tell Gaby and the other man to stop yelling. The Jewish man explained that he wanted to walk through the gate but Gaby was blocking him as he was going in the opposite direction. Gaby explained in English that he too wanted to get through the gate, that the police had ordered that all cars go in the direction he had taken, and that the man had hit his car with a bang. Speaking in English revealed Gaby’s Palestinian identity. Whereupon, the policeman then raised his voice louder, asked Gaby to back up the car, and stand on the side. I then got out of the car and told the policeman that if he is upset that Gaby and the other man are yelling at each other, why is he yelling at my husband. He kept on yelling at Gaby to back up his car, although by that time we were already almost inside the old city. When I realized that the policeman knew and spoke Arabic, I started talking to him in Arabic, and tried to convince him to leave us alone. I failed. He ordered Gaby to stand on the side, and not move. His intention was to humiliate Gaby in front of the other man. The Jewish man finally left the place all the while deriding us, no doubt feeling good that the police had stopped us. We stood there, on the corner of the street, apart from others, awaiting the police’s orders.
Again, I went up to the policeman to explain to him that we had just come from a long journey, and that Gaby was tired and frustrated from maneuvering the streets, and that, as a result, he had raised his voice. I tried to convince him to allow us to reach home. He not only refused but also ordered us to stay where we were and wait for his orders. He further sat on the stairs inside the gate, looked at us with an air omnipotence about him, and started eating his food. I kept on trying to speak to him, to make him realize the senselessness of his action. He gave me back Gaby's ID (he took it from Gaby before, to write down the ID number and name) and ordered me to shut up. I kept on arguing with him…and my neighbors who happened to pass by us at that time were looking at me, wondering whether I will be able solve the problem. I kept on talking to the police, and the other two police man and woman that stood on the side ( they were also eating, and did not care about us), and watched me arguing and speaking. I reminded them that the role of the police is to protect and secure, and that he was doing the opposite. I asked the policeman that stopped us, again to leave us alone, explained that the situation in Jerusalem is too stressful for everyone, requested him to refrain from "punishing us" for screaming at that guy. But, he did not see us or hear us as people with a voice, people with rights, or in need of protection; he wanted to step on us, assert his power over us. I refused to surrender and called 100- that is, the equivalent of 911- and asked to talk to the police station to ask for emergency help. They heard me, promised to help and called him, but he still refused to allow us in, while allowing other cars to drive through Zion Gate.
We were both standing on the corner, so upset, so mad, so tiered, so disturbed and sad. Gaby was living the attack against him with such silence. I gave him water, and asked him to relax, while taking pictures of the policeman, trying to get his name and information. I told him that "my name is Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian….remember it….keep it in your mind….I promise to teach you a lesson about your racism and your racist policing"
After 40 minutes, we were ordered to go back to Jaffa Gate. Back to where we started the journey, in our attempt to reach home, when Gaby discovered that his credit card was not in his ID wallet. I then decided to stop by the Kishleh police station situated in the old city in Jaffa Gate, to 1. File a complaint against the police. 2. Inform them about the disappearance of Gaby’s Visa card.
We reached our neighborhood at 3:40 pm, but since only Jews are allowed to park in front of our building, it took us a while to find parking for our car.
I called Islah to tell her that I had arrived home safe, she said: “Yallah Himdelleh 3al salameh” …and continued: “you mean you just arrived home???
When would my HOME be a home in my Homeland, if I am deprived of seeking justice, because I am Palestinian? When can I enjoy my family's love, if my beloved ones are abused and punished every day, and if I am deprived of meeting my brother and sister because I am Palestinian? When can I live with safety, if I can’t travel without fearing the ideological system that constantly harasses and abuses me……because I am a Palestinian. I can’t make the Israeli police see, hear or acknowledge our existence….because we are Palestinians. How could one make those in power see, hear, or acknowledge our existence……. As Palestinians.
Could we ever have a safe journey back home……with a place to call home?