This morning I said good-bye to Bethlehem. Kasem met me at the college so we could travel to Jerusalem together. I didn't have to, but he wanted me to depart the city via the walk-through checkpoint with him so I could see what he and other Palestinians go through every day. I'm glad he shows me these things. Imagine waiting in the only open checkout lane at Target, 50 people in front of you, 50 people behind you and endless cashiers just standing around having coffee and talking instead of opening up the other registers. Sorry, it's late, I'm tired and that's the best analogy I can come up with. They only let one person through the gate at a time. I attempted to take pictures and only managed to get two before Kasem told me to stop it before I got in trouble.
Palestinians are not allowed to transport certain things out of Bethlehem. You know, really dangerous, terrorist-y things like iPads and saplings. When K takes a tour group out of Bethlehem, he leaves any electronics he's carrying with the group (who can carry anything out they want), he goes through the Palestinian checkpoint and then meets up with them on the other side. Seriously, today someone was not allowed to take a sapling olive tree out. It sat in the corner, lonely and sad. Kasem said no one would bother it and the owner would pick it up when he came back through the checkpoint. WTF?
All of our belongings went through the scanner while we went through the metal detectors. The scanner was labeled "Rapiscan". You should have heard me trying to explain the irony of that to my friend. The last part of the checkpoint was an ID check. As soon as the soldiers saw I was carrying an American passport they just waved me through. No one even looked at it. I stood aside and waited for my friend. Kasem's ID's were scrutinized, as was the document he carried that showed he had permission to travel to Jerusalem. (Of course you already know both of these items that he is forced to carry are stamped with a menorah and the Star of David.) The last insult came as I saw all the Palestinians behind me being fingerprinted. It doesn't always happen, Kasem said. It really depends on the mood of the soldier checking the IDs, but again I say WTF? How does this exist in today's world??? At that point I really wanted to ask Kasem what the Arabic equivalent for "douche-bag" is but I think I embarrass him enough already.
In Jerusalem, he finally let me treat him to lunch. He's very sneaky with the money & he pays for things when he thinks I'm not looking. Afterwards, we walked around the Old City. We visited the usual sites while waiting for the mosque to open. I missed this part in 2008 because of my injury. We waited in line behind a Russian tour group. Not surprisingly, I discovered K speaks Russian too as he started whispering to me a translation of what the guide was saying. "They are talking about us now" (us being the Palestinians) "Let the brainwashing begin". I still don't get how he can laugh at this. It could have been the heat or the fact that we both forgot to bring water but we stood in line and giggled like school kids as we listened to this guide go on and on and on.
Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock are beautiful and peaceful. While we walked around, I couldn't help but think of my Muslim friends who can never come here. Who am I to be here in their place? It makes your heart feel heavy and sad. We sat in the shade of one of the beautiful trees to talk. He pointed out that we could see Al Makassed from where we were sitting. For those of you that don't already know, Al Makassed Islamic Charity Hospital is where I had surgery in 2008. We talked again about the surgeon Kasem had taken me to because he had been the one who'd operated on his brother in 1991 when he'd been shot four times by Israeli soldiers and had almost died. Again, there is so much more to this story but I will not share it here. It's very personal and it makes me incredibly happy that he trusted me with it.
Kasem left me at the hostel in the afternoon and headed back home. It's so sad here. I'd wanted to cry all day but hadn't allowed myself to because it upsets him. I felt exhausted. I wandered around the souk for awhile until I got tired of people staring at me. One man said to me "Americans are the best. We love Americans best when they are sleeping!". I don't know if it was a threat or a cleaver comment on how most of us have our heads stuck in the sand. It's not like I'm wearing a t-shirt that says I LOVE USA. How do people know? I could be Canadian or British. I started back towards the hostel only to be stopped again when two young men yelled to me "Are you with us or with them? Which one? Us or them?". I asked which one they were & they said Palestinian. I didn't say anything because I realized at that moment they had seen my bracelet and my paranoid mind said they were trying to trick me. Not ten feet away there were armed soldiers who could hear everything we said. I told them I wasn't going to answer their questions. I came back to my room, took off the bracelet and cried my eyes out. I don't like it here. It's not like being in the West Bank. I can't tell who is my friend and who is my enemy. I'm too depressed to even leave the room again so for dinner I ate the chocolate bar Kasem brought me this morning.
He just texted me to say he is going with me to Nablus tomorrow. He's meeting me in the morning. I don't think he likes me going places by myself. He thinks I'll get into trouble. Probably because he knows I can't keep my mouth shut.
Jerusalem is the saddest place on earth.