Monday 25 May 2015

Getting to Abu Dis: part 2

It turns out I picked quite an eventful first day to spend in Jerusalem. I genuinely liked the city and found it very beautiful, with the small exception of often being surrounded by people casually walking around with machine guns slung over their shoulder. This is not something you’re used to if you've grown up in London, or indeed most places I think. I had no idea what was going on at first, all I wanted to do was find a new sim card for my phone and exchange the British money I had left. Neither of these plans ended up working out for me so after hours of wandering aimlessly round Jerusalem, I decided it might be a good idea to head to the Jerusalem Hotel where I had planned to meet the other two volunteers Rowan and Hana.

Even that wasn't as simple as I had hoped. While walking through the city centre I noticed a huge amount of people were running around wrapped in Israeli flags singing and shouting. I am aware of the great love the Israelis have for their country, but it was fair to assume that this level of nationalism isn't a daily occurrence there. At first I naively concluded that some international sport event might be the cause of all this and carried on in my attempt to find a taxi. The attempt took about 3 hours as it turned out that most of the roads were closed because of the parade and by now it was way past the agreed 5 o'clock meeting time. The only taxi that eventually did stop for me was driven by an Arab, who kindly explained that the parade was nothing to do with sport but was infact a yearly occasion in which the Israeli settlers celebrate the taking of Jerusalem in the 6 day war by walking around the city waving flags and shouting. What a day to arrive!

I made it to the Jerusalem Hotel just in time as the girls had almost given up on waiting for me and weren't really sure what to do next. We introduced ourselves and headed off in the direction of the buses, hoping we hadn't missed the last one. I was struck by how different East Jerusalem felt to West as the girls showed me the way while recounting the eventful day they had had coming to meet me. It turned out they also hadn't been aware of the Israeli celebrations and had accidentally found themselves in the middle of a protest in East Jerusalem. The settlers had apparently been very aggressive and the soldiers, far from holding them back, were more interested in violently dispersing the protesters. As we walked past the scene of the earlier protest, we noticed one of the boys had a serious facial injury.

We did make the bus in the end and by this point, I was very excited to get to Abu Dis. The bus was full of Palestinian men going home from work and even though a couple looked slightly confused by our presence, no one made us feel out of place. The journey went pretty smoothly and the view of Jerusalem at night from the hill was stunning. It was tragic to think that many Palestinians also had this view every night. The view of a city that was once a major part of their lives, that they were now not even allowed to set foot in. It’s in moments like these that the reality of what these people have been through and are still going through, really hits you.
View of Abu Dis from our window

Getting off the bus, I finally realised I was actually in Palestine. I was struck by how much I felt at home already. The air was warm and still and there were sounds of dogs barking in the distance. I crawled into bed exhausted but happy and fell asleep in seconds. 

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