Spent a long day touring the old city of Jerusalem with our excellent guide, Mr. Mohammad Barakat of the Siraj Center. Saw the Israeli settlements within the walls of the old city, and the house that Ariel Sharon bought but never lived in; the Israeli presence extends from within the old city outward in rings, as if daily life has become a military operation of surround and secure.
Life within the old city bustles, nonetheless. It is an ancient citadel with everything residents need within its walls: food, clothing, toys and trinkets, medical care, and places of worship. Most of the shops are owned by Muslims, though some Armenians and Israelis have shops too. While the array of cheap souvenirs and high-priced antiquities is vast, there are also all the needs of homemaking to be found down one alley or another, even shops that sell bolts of fabric, coffee pots, and ironing boards. Above narrow, winding stone paths, tens of thousands of Muslims, Armenians, Palestinian Christians, and Jews live; beneath these dwellings, pilgrims walk the last steps of Jesus along the Via Dolorosa, and ordinary tourists try to make sense of the layers of history and narrative surrounding them. It is dizzying.
On the way out of Jerusalem, we visited two families in a Palestinian neighborhood who are being threatened with eviction from their homes — to make room for Israeli settlers. Already there are settlers on their narrow street; we encountered a large group as we talked with the Palestinians outside their modest homes. (In one small home, twenty-five members of an extended family live, including elderly aunts and uncles and several young children.) There was no visible interaction between the Palestinians and the settlers, but it was a very long moment as we watched the Israelis, all dressed in the fashion of orthodox Jews, ascend the steps into their equally modest dwelling, a house that only a few months ago had been the crowded home of more than one Palestinian family. Soon, I will post notes from one of our conversations with a Palestinian father, as well as the photos he graciously allowed me to take.
For now, we are staying in a lovely guest house in the village of Beit Sahour, just outside Bethlehem. There is no wifi connection here, only a PC for the guests to use — so I won’t be able to upload my photos until we are in a place where I can use my laptop.
That’s all for now. We have an early day tomorrow!