Who could imagine I went to Palestine this summer? I could not even believe. I did not expect it at all until my parents said “We will travel to France.” Paris? No thank you, I had to visit Palestine because I really wanted to go and promised it everyone. You can visit Paris whenever, but Palestine tour was very limited. Yes, I should enter and leave Israeli Immigration Bureau under the cover of “wandering Japanese tourists.” My friends on Twitter and Facebook worried about entry denial very much, so this was the best choice. I did not like the tour’s name like “Israel something,” but there was no other way to visit Palestine.
My parents reluctantly hanged the destination. I bounced so much that I could reach the sky. I started to pack clothes and my things including study aids right away. But you can easily imagine that I did not open the study aids during this trip at all. Meh, it was just a weight. I was too thoughtless for the attraction of Palestine at this time.
After I underwent terribly economy class, I went through Immigration Bureau in Tel Aviv safely. The power of group tour was very effective. The immigration officer did not even look at my face carefully because I was behind my family. Phew! Then we went to Masada. I admit it was very interesting and valuable heritage indeed, but I saw Israeli nationalism there. You will see Israeli flag when you descend the fortress and many people who take a picture of it. Hmm… After that, we went to the Dead Sea and I floated. It was funny for a while, but you will get bored after thirty minutes. And I do not know if I should write it or not, but my scrotum hurt owing to dense salt water.
Two days after, we went to Nazareth. The tour guide said mayor of this city was an Arab and it went right. We walked around the market there, and then I found many things to buy. My mother even bought five bags! However, I did not buy anything eventually because my Twitter friend told me that “Jerusalem souq is full of gems.” I managed to keep my money in my purse at last.
On the next day, we went to some churches in Jerusalem. For example, Church of All Nations, Church of the Pater Noster and Dominus Flevit Church. In the Church of the Pater Noster, there was Kurdish Lord’s Prayer since there were more than one hundred translated Lord’s Prayer on the wall. There was Japanese one of course, but it was a little different from normal words. I simply enjoyed seeing many unknown languages on the wall although I was not able to read them at all. After having a lunch in a Chinese restaurant, we went to the Last Supper Room. Aww, there was a cat! I became friend with her and forgot sightseeing.
But “the wall” always ruined my trip. My friend spread my tweets though, she encouraged me so much. Much appreciated @tounsiahourra and Dima Khatib!
— tounsiahourra (@tounsiahourra) August 8, 2012
— tounsiahourra (@tounsiahourra) August 10, 2012
@gulphtanamy I will be eager to read it and spread it. Thank you
— Dima Khatib أنا ديمة (@Dima_Khatib) August 15, 2012
It dawned. We finally went to the Old City. But how do I write that impression? Erm, I would not like to make a commonplace remark. First of all, we saw the Wailing Wall and the Temple Mount. I was surely impressed, but they were not in the same class with the Dome of the Rock. It was too awesome to write. It made smile well up on my face. “This is Palestine,” it made me feel. The tour guide said the gilt was brighter when Jordanian king donated to re-gilt the dome, but I did not care. It was beautiful enough to move me. It shined as dazzling as the sun, yes, Jerusalem had two suns. The beauty was not merely the dome but also walls. White Arabic inscriptions glowing on blue-based wall and geometrical mosaic also attracted my eyes. Umm, seriously how express?
My sane body led my ecstatic mind and entered Via Dolorosa. “The Way of Grief” was definitely “the Way of Temptation.” I discovered hundreds of jewels (literally or figuratively) which were sold for a few dollars there, but I had little time to buy all of them. Sigh, I was only able to buy a “Visit Palestine” poster at an original shop at that time. In the afternoon, we went to Bethlehem. You know, this place is in State of Palestine. No sooner did I pass through the “wall” than I found that the situation changed. They were needy. Believe me, the distance between Jerusalem and Bethlehem is less than fifteen kilo metres. But what was that difference? I never think that Palestinian Authority’s negligence caused it because East Jerusalem was as needy as Bethlehem. Israel does make it face financial difficulty, I think. If they ask me whether I choose freedom or money, I will have to get freedom. But Palestinians are not given both freedom and days of plenty. Whatever.
Palestine-side of Apartheid wall was “beautiful.” Leila Khaled smiled at me. Without wall, there were no art on the wall; so I sensed something complicated when I see the graffiti. They were really beautiful probably because it represented Palestinian wills, and showed Palestinian hearts. There were crying Statue of Liberty holding Handala, words like “To exist is to resist,” “Fragile,” “Justice without Love is Nothing,” et cetra… I know the best situation is ‘no wall and no graffiti’ though.
Because I felt rage and I have decided to spend much money in West Bank before this trip, I bought as many Palestine-related souvenirs as I could. But they were so chap, and what is more, the cashier discounted 15 per cent without asking, so I just spent dozens of dollars. I strongly decided that I would visit the Old City once again instead.
In Bethlehem, we went to the Church of the Nativity. This is the first World Heritage in Palestine, you know. It was registered on 29 June 2012 and we went there on 12 August. In the fresh World Heritage, there was a notebook. The tour guide said “If you register in it, the priest will pray for you.” I was not a Christian, so I wrote a woman’s name. Oops, do not expect, I have no girlfriend. She was a Christian Palestinian and the first Palestinian I came to know each other. She made me what I am now. Without her honest talks, I am not interested in the Middle East, which in turn am even not interested in the world. She was from Bethlehem and lived in the United States. I also wrote her name on other churches’ notebook in Jerusalem. The key of the right to return is taken by Palestinians.
When I am leaving Bethlehem, I felt glad and sad. I was glad because I was able to visit there at last, and yet I was sad because I had to leave there. In addition, I had to go back the land where Israeli soldiers were loitering. Even East Jerusalem! It disgusted me very much.
In the following morning, I woke up very early and made everything finished soon. After having breakfast, I shot out of the hotel and left heading for the Old City. I got lost once but I managed to arrive at the New Gate. It was approximately eight in the morning, so a few shops were open. I wandered as far as I would not get lost again, but there were no shop which sold Palestinian stuffs then. I turned back and decided again: I would visit the Old City once again.
But I reaped a few harvest then indeed. I discovered many graffiti which read “Free Palestine” and “Fuck Israel.” It encouraged me somewhat. It made me feel “I am in Palestine!” I saw the Old City most tourists do not know. You can see the graffiti by early morning, but not by day since there are so many tourists on the street in the afternoon. I saw small shouts.
I arrived at the hotel at half past ten in the morning. The tour departed at eleven o’clock and brought us to Mamilla Street. To tell the truth, I do not give a damn about high-class brand goods. The guide said we would have one and a half hours. Enough time to spend my money! I fairly jumped for joy. I walked and ran to the Damascus Gate. I said wow. “Is it a gate?” It even seemed to be a small house. Inside the gate, there were countless shops of course, and even in the gate, there were some shops. I saw some Muslimah wearing Burqa at the first time in my life. I have seen hijabi women in Istanbul airport on the first day and the rest of trip, but I did not have opportunity of seeing burqa except this time. At first I did not expect to see them, so I thought I was lucky.
I headed myself for Via Dolorosa. I hammered the shortest way into my head, therefore I did not get lost. Qur’an was piped in through speakers and I felt “This is Palestine!” again although I did not confirm it was Qur’an then. Smile came up on my face again. “I am in Palestine!” Yes, I was assured that East Jerusalem was definitely Palestine. When I see IOF soldiers, I would even like to ask “Why are you here?” Isn’t it an obvious question? Of course yes, because it is Palestine! There was a big graffito which reads “We need peace.” It hurt me.
I bought many key rings and accessories. When I bought two Palestine-related key rings and gave ten dollars, the shopkeeper discounted them and let me buy three ones without asking. What a kindness, it was probably because he was a “Palestinian.” He was not a “Jordanian” or just an Arab, he was a proud Palestinian. Voila, State of Palestine does exist and Palestinian people do exist. In your face, Israel. I was very proud of it. “Have a good day,” I can remember his corrupt-formed English and smile even now.
I spent fifty-five dollars in East Jerusalem. But there were two dollars left over and I had no way to use them. I had decided how I use them when I enter the Damascus Gate, so I followed the steps. In front of the gate, I saw a Muslimah beggar with hijab. I do not know what you think about them, but I could never ignore her.
I saw another Muslimah beggar on the street on the way to Damascus Gate. Unlike the beggar who were in front of the gate, she was silent; no one would notice whether she were alive or dead. She only turned up her palms with some coins. I had two dollars. I gave one dollar note to her palm. Her palm was warm and she feebly took a note. Her palm was warm. She said nothing. I said nothing, too.
I left her and started walking again. “Her palm was warm,” this phrase was spinning around my head. The Damascus Gate was near.
I was out of the gate. There was the beggar sitting and begging money. I could not understand her Arabic at all, but I reached my last one dollar note out for her. She nodded over and over again with her squinted eyes. Her palm was also warm. We talked nothing. I saluted to her and left the Old City. East Jerusalem was poor. Actually, I also saw another young hijabi girl beggar on the day before that day in East Jerusalem. Big city, in other words, the capital city always has beggar. Tokyo, New York and London are like many others. But how about Jerusalem? Is it a so big city? It is just poor. Does Israel have right to claim that their capital is Jerusalem even though they cannot govern it fair and square? Israel should get out of East Jerusalem and never come back again. As the first step, at least the IOF soldiers should be withdrawn from the Old City. They should not be in our beloved Jerusalem since they ruin the holy place.
What Palestine gave was much experience. Love. Faith. And hope. When I left the Old City, I decided once again: I would visit Palestine once more time.
*To see some pictures during my trip, follow #PalTrip hashtags on Twitter or visit my account on Twitpic.
All photographs taken by the author. ® Hiroaki Tanaka 2012