It’s hard to believe I arrived a week ago. I’m not quite sure where the time has gone.
I basically had a day in Jerusalem after flying in in the wee hours of Sunday morning, and most of this week I’ve been in Bethlehem to begin my Arabic studies. Except it’s a week of holidays, so I only had two days of study before the university shut down for Eid Al-Adha. Wednesday was also Yom Kippur, and the checkpoints were closed. I decided to wander around the Wall and walked down to Checkpoint 300 which I went through last year early in the morning on the first Sunday of Advent. Then it was packed. But on Wednesday, it was a ghost town. It was eery, and I felt conspicuous, so I didn’t hang about, even to take pictures.
I’ve spent much of the last week feeling conspicuous. Trying to get my clothing right in a predominately Muslim area so as to be respectful, but also to be respected. Adding more layers despite the heat. Always carrying a scarf. (Five minutes out of the guesthouse on the first day, I was propositioned. I promptly wrapped my scarf around my shoulders.)
I went out to eat in a restaurant one evening and felt so uncomfortable on my own that the next day I simply picked up a bunch of food from the market and resolved to eat in the guesthouse.
I thought I was conscious of my gender back in the UK, but in parts of Bethlehem, it’s hit a whole new level. I’m not sure how I feel about that. It is what it is, I guess.
So coming back into Jerusalem this morning, it was a shock to see so much skin. Short shorts. Sleeveless tops. I wandered into a restaurant in the German Colony for lunch and no one batted an eyelid that a woman wanted to eat on her own.
So much to navigate. So much to learn. And that’s before I’ve even delved into the political, the religious, the social complexities of the occupied and occupiers.
I decided to go for a run this evening, thankful that I had thrown my running shoes in my suitcase almost as an afterthought, and thankful that in this part of Jerusalem, I could wear my running clothes without attracting attention.
I know that that freedom comes with a cost though. I thought about the people I’ve met on the other side of the wall. The ones who can’t travel to see loved ones. The ones who have tried repeatedly to get permits to cross into Israel and have been turned down. The ones who cling to the keys of homes they have never seen but hear about only from the older generations.
I prayed as I ran, feeling the tension fall from my shoulders. I prayed for the peace of Jerusalem in this season of holy days for Muslims and Jews, prayed for the peace of communities living daily with anger and fear, prayed for the refugees living in Ayda camp behind Bethlehem Bible College where I’ve been staying, prayed for the young people in the cafe today who were sharing stories of their military service.
In my headphones, the terrible hiphop, the angry girl music, the rubbish I listen to when I am running, fell away and Black Eyed Peas ‘Where is the Love?’ came on, a song that has a strange poignancy here. And it became my prayer today:
But if you only have love for your own race
Then you only leave space to discriminate
And to discriminate only generates hate
And when you hate then you’re bound to get irate, yeah
Madness is what you demonstrate
And that’s exactly how anger works and operates
Now, you gotta have love just to set it straight
Take control of your mind and meditate
Let your soul gravitate to the love, y’all, y’all
People killin’, people dyin’
Children hurt can you hear them cryin’?
Can you practice what you preach?
And would you turn the other cheek?
Father, Father, Father help us
Send us some guidance from above
‘Cause people got me, got me questionin’
Where is the love?
The sun sets and the moon rises. A flag reminds me of a home that feels very far away tonight.