Day One: Ben Gurion Airport
The flight to Ben Gurion Airport from Amman takes only 20 minutes. We arrive in Tel Aviv on the eve of Rosh Hashanah. Airport security is heightened. I strategically position myself behind an official from the U.S. State Depa rtment at the passport control. He’s wearing shorts and has been on R&R in Amman.
“They always harass me at Ben Gurion airport,” I tell the big-shot with the diplomatic passport. He goes through fast. “Next,” the female official yells.
“You’re born in Israel, no?” she asks.
“Jerusalem,” I answer, “not Israel. This is what I wrote on the form ... It is also on my passport.”
She rolls her eyes. “You must write a country.” She crosses out Jerusalem and writes “ISRAEL” in red. As usual, I am irritated.
“When I was born,” I say, “the Jordanians controlled Jerusalem. My mother was born there when the British controlled it, and my father was also born in Jerusalem at the start of WWI during the final days of the Ottomans. His passport says Palestine on it, in Arabic, Hebrew and English.”
“Next,” she yells again, handing me my passport and a “security-risk” paper. I am stopped at baggage claim by an Israeli security officer. I look behind him, and there is the State Department guy in his shorts. “Is there a problem?” he asks. “Nothing out of the ordinary,” I reply, “for a Palestinian returning home.”
The Israeli security officer looks at the U.S. official, looks at me, and hands me my passport.
“Welcome to Israel,” he says.
Day Two: Jerusalem
Today is Rosh Hashanah and the first day of Ramadan. No traffic is permitted in the Haradym (orthodox Jewish) neighborhoods in Western Jerusalem, and the Old City comes to a standstill 15 minutes before the Iftar (breaking the fast). Everyone is waiting a nxiously in their dining rooms. There is a strange sense of peace in a place that witnessed so much bloodshed for centuries. I sit on my balcony facing the Mount of Olives, listening to the wind. The calls of the Mu’athens echo in harmony from the seven hills of the city like a symphony... “Allah wa Akbar...Allah wa Akbar,” God is great...God is great. The canon sounds, shattering the peace and signaling the end of the fast. I hear the noise of spoons hitting pots and plates. People talking and laughing. I wonder what it is like to live in the Western part of the city.
Day Three: Ramallah
“Wein Ala Ramallah,” (We are going to Ramallah) a folkloric song everyone from Ramallah knows by heart, highlights the beauty and the longing of what used to be a be autiful village. Now, most of Ramallah’s original inhabitants live in Michigan. My parents used to take us to this place in the summer time to escape the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem. The trip took 15 minutes but felt as if we were going to some faraway place. Today, it took me a little shy of two hours to get there. We went through one bypass road and three checkpoints. Kalandia was the worst. A backlog of hundreds of cars. You can buy just about anything while stuck in traffic: clothes, fake Nikes, fr uits, vegetables, birds, refrigerators. I saw someone selling refrigerators from the back of his truck. Under the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority, Ramallah developed into a mish-mash of buildings without planning or zoning restrictions. Overcrowded, dirty and noisy. Oh, to the glorious days of Ramallah... “Wein ala Ramallah.”
Day Four: Beit Agron
I went to Beit Agron to renew my Israeli press card. Without it I will not be able to cross into Gaza, which is still considered a closed military zon e. At 8:30 a.m., two foreign journalists (one Italian, one British) received their press cards in less than 15 minutes. I, on the other hand, am told that my application will take several days. I plead with the press office employee and tell him that I am staying in the country for only two more days. He does not budge.
I am boiling from the inside out but decide not to lose my temper. So I leave for a stroll in the Old City.
I enter it from the New Gate passing College des Freres, the French Catholic school where I spent 13 years receiving my early education. I walk down the Via De La Rosa, the road taken by Jesus Christ to his Crucifixion, and stop at the sixth station where he fell carrying the cross. I touch the markings on the stone wall ... I no longer feel the pain ... I am not angry any more.
Day Five: Jericho
During the Six Days War in 1967, we stayed at my grandmother’s in Jericho. I always thought of my grandmother as my protector. She was 88 when the Israelis in their tanks rolled down the Mount of Temptations into Jericho. When the soldiers came to our home she made us all stand behind her and made sure we were all safe. Jericho always reminded me of her: warm, old and beautiful ... an oasis.
Today, the ancient road between Jerusale m and Jericho is blocked off by the 30-foot Israeli security wall. The Palestinians call it the “Apartheid Wall.” Now you have to go through a tunnel to link to the one lane highway which snaked its way into Jericho. I know when my ears pop that I am gett ing close to Jericho. It is below sea level.
Today, when we approach Wadi el Qilt intersection, the traffic comes to a quick halt. Two Israeli humvees have blocked off the road and the soldiers are checking Palestinian drivers’ IDs. Of course, Israeli s ettlers with yellow plates are quickly waved through. Palestinians have to sit in their cars for miles under the heat of the sweltering sun of the Jordan Valley.
I see an old lady in her 80s riding on a donkey. She’s carrying grapes and figs. She is sto pped by the Israelis and turned back. She passes our car.
“Where are you heading to, hajeh?” (a title of respect to address the elderly that literally means “pilgrim”)
“Jericho,” she replies. “I’ll get there, Inshallah, don’t worry.”
She gently nudges her donkey, who immediately turns right into the hills. I watch her slowly disappear and reappear like a mirage. It takes us about two hours to make it into the center of town, yet I am thrilled. Jericho has not changed a bit. It remains the same laid-back town I remembered. Farmers still grow citrus and bananas and the center of the town has not grown by a single foot. When we got to the “Douwar” (the Circle), I look to my right and there she is ... and there is her donkey eating some orange peels. He looks happy. We drive next to her and stop. She looks at me and smiles. I smile and wave. I think of my grandmother.
Day Six: Jerusalem
I read in the letters to the editor section of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that the Israeli Cabinet has halted t he efforts of the agriculture minister to bypass the High Court’s ruling to end the cruel force-feeding of geese to produce foie gras! This outcome was hailed to “preserve the dignity of Israel as a humanitarian state in keeping with the rule of law.” The letter-writer added: “Perhaps the dignity of Israel as a humanitarian state in keeping with the rule of law will now manifest itself with regard to Palestinians as well as to geese?”
I’ve just finished reading seven newspapers, front to back. Three Isr aeli papers, three Palestinian ones and the International Herald Tribune. The Palestinians are missing one huge newspaper sheltered from partisan and government influence. They need their own New York Times. There is much debate going on in the Israeli pr ess about the future of Israel. Should Israel give up the West Bank? Should Israel sacrifice its Jewish identity for democracy?
There is a lot of talk and debate but no action on the ground to ease the suffering of the Palestinians. The gigantic Wall is almost 70 percent complete, the Israelis continue their policy of demolishing Palestinian homes, illegal settlement activities continue in the West Bank and human rights abuses against the indigenous people of the land are committed daily by the Israeli government, under the watchful eye of the United States and the European Union.
Tonight, I’ll head back to Ben Gurion Airport. A young Israeli security officer, perhaps a new immigrant or the son of one, will ask: “Where is your Israeli ID card? Why did you come back? Who did you see? Who do you know? What do you do?”
I know the drill by heart...
Jamal Dajani is director of Middle Eastern programming at Link TV (www.linktv.org).Ä