Neil Rogall is in Palestine as part of a visit organised by Camden Abu Dis Friendship Association (CADFA). Here, in the second of his dispatches for rs21.org.uk, he describes his experiences visiting Jerusalem. (Part one / Part three / Part four)
Though the security checkpoint gate at Abu Dis to catch the bus to Jerusalem with the X-rays and a sense of panic as the buzzer goes off because of coins in my pocket. The gun toting Israeli soldier, so young, spotty and callow, watching closely. I show my passport and say London, British. I feel fear and I’m white, British and ‘Jewish’. What it must be like for Palestinians on a daily basis. Jail or a bullet really a mistake away. And of course so many people in Abu Dis don’t even have the right to go to Jerusalem even though they were born there. Finally through the gates we catch the shabby battered bus to Jerusalem.
We enter the Old City at the Damascus Gate. Normally I would take tourist photographs of the narrow passages and the old buildings. But this is not a tourist town despite the trappings, this is a city under occupation. Heavily Armed soldiers threatening everywhere. But then we go to a open air sports and leisure centre where young boys are dancing dabke, waiting young girls with fairy wings eager and excited to do a dance routine. No army, no occupiers. Normal life except it’s far from normal and as our guide Issa says every stone in the old city has seen blood and death. And then we walk down Via Dolorosa, with the surreal sight of singing South African Christians and groups of Israeli Jewish teenagers on a school trip, some wearing IDF t-shirts. We see the house in the heart of the old city that Ariel Sharon bought with the flag of conquest draped down it. And then when the call to prayer cuts through the air from every direction it feels like the old city fighting back.
We went to meet the staff at the Community Action Centre of Al Quds university in the heart of the old city. We were given a horrifying talk on the status of Palestinians in Jerusalem. Palestinians have only the status of residents not citizens of Jerusalem and the occupiers can revoke their residency on a whim. In fact legislation is currently going through the Israeli parliament, the Knesset that means Israel can expel any Palestinian citizen from Jerusalem on the grounds of ‘breach of loyalty’ (to the Jewish state). This would necessarily apply to every Palestinian in Jerusalem – what Palestinian could be loyal to a state which is a coloniser, an occupier and murders them with impunity. And of course there are thousands of people living in Jerusalem without even residency rights who live in constant fear of deportation. If a Palestinian from Jerusalem marries a Palestinian from Gaza or the West Bank they are not allowed to bring their spouse to the city. They can apply for permission for ‘family reunification’ if the spouse is from the West Bank but even if they are successful it is only temporary and has to be renewed annually.
My two women companions go off to pray at Al Aqsa. One of them dressed appropriately for prayer and speaking Arabic is challenged by a gun toting Israeli soldier. It is only ‘for Muslims’ he says viciously. So at the second holiest site for Muslims, it is an Israeli occupier who is the gate keeper.