Signs of Occupation
Today I went to Jerusalem to check out a potential apartment for a friend of mine who will be working in Beit Hanina for the first three months of the new year. The trip was uneventful until we got onto the bus heading from the Kalandia checkpoint to Jerusalem (third transportation vehicle necessary on this trip). There is a checkpoint that the buses have to go through on their way to the city, and the length of time it takes to clear the checkpoint depends on the soldiers’ moods. There have been times when the soldiers just wave buses through. Other times, the get onto the bus, collect everyone’s passports and we sit for 20-40 minutes while they verify the paperwork.
I knew we were going to be waiting a while when the soldier climbed onto the bus wearing his mirror sunglasses with his regulation crew cut. He took his time collecting the passports, and then disappeared with them. One man got off the bus voluntarily – I don’t think that he had permission to enter Jerusalem (most Palestinians don’t) but he had some kind of special paperwork with him. I assume he got off the bus to try and protect that special piece of paper – it takes most Palestinians months to get special permission to enter Jerusalem – and he never did get back on.
While we were waiting I noticed a roadsign in front of the bus. It said something in Hebrew, then in Arabic lettering it had the Israeli name for Jerusalem (Yerushalom), then in small Arabic lettering in parenthesis it had the Arabic name for Jerusalem, (Al-Quds) and finally it had Jerusalem in English. Sometimes the systemization of the occupation here floors me. They won’t even let the Palestinians call Jerusalem (a disputed city) by their name for it – even in Arabic script.
Eventually our Tom Cruise wannabe soldier (think Top Gun) came back onto the bus and started to read off the names of the passports as he returned them. Mind you, he was mispronouncing the names so badly that the Palestinians were having a hard time figuring out who’s name he was calling . . . At this point the driver reached forward to volunteer to take the passports from the soldier and distribute them himself (and quicker). The soldier responded by clenching his hand into a fist and drawing back his arm as if he was going to backhand the bus driver. Then he continued to mispronounce names. As this painful process continued, the driver’s foot must have slipped on the break a little. Not much, but just enough that the bus rocked. Our friendly representative from the IDF turned towards him, clenched his hand again, drew back to backhand the driver and halted his movement before hitting the driver. Then he started yelling at him in Hebrew . . .
After that uplifting experience, M and I went to check out this apartment in the Old City, just inside the Damascus Gate. I’ve never seen anything like it. It is off one of the narrow alleyways that permeate the Old City; terribly romantic but a pain in the ass to move big things in and out of. Anyway, the entryway of the apartment is kind of low ceiling-ed and dingy, but after taking a couple of steps you walk into an open courtyard. There are a serious of doors surrounding the courtyard – a master bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, living room and living room. It must be absolutely fabulous in the summertime. The living room area is very large, and has a little shower and small bedroom connected to it, so in the winter that part can be a cozy den, with fresh air just a step away. My new life’s mission is to live in this apartment and write a bestselling novel. Screw world peace. . .