July 2013, I was holding my camera, tripod, lenses, a smile, and lots and lots of excitement heading towards the Israeli checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem. It was Friday 2:00PM, no crowds and nearly empty. I had no visa to pass as I was in Palestine for only few days and therefore; no time to get one since it usually takes at least a week –if I was lucky-.
I stood in a line made of 3 men, 2 women and a boy from Qalandya Refugee Camp located near the checkpoint. The boy spoke Hebrew, English and of course Arabic; he stands there to translate between the Israeli soldiers and the Palestinians, hoping to get a tip in exchange.
I was thrilled of the idea that I might pass really soon, It has been a year since I laid my eyes on the beauty of one of the holiest cities in the world. I was delighted I am finally there with my camera, more than 100G of memory cards, but mostly…It was the holy month of Ramadan!
It was the “Orphan Friday”; which stands for the last Friday in the holy month, thousands and thousands of Muslim Palestinians head to checkpoints on Thursday to be able to spend all Friday praying and making Duaa inside the walls of Jerusalem.
It was my turn; my lips were grinning towards the metal bars forming a cage around me, my bones were crushed by them because of a women pushing me to walk forward, but who cares.. I was about to get access! But…..I was rejected!!
“Erja3’ la Wa3’a”* and “Tasreekh wen?”* were all I heard during the next few hours. I took few steps back, got out of the line, sat on a seat that smells like dead cats and started crying.
I mean, what would I do? Scream? Insult? Go home? The last option was off the table!
I am a Palestinian, born in Jerusalem and denied entrance to her capital. I am a Palestinian in Ramadan carrying a praying rug, and dreaming about the spot I will lay my rug on with a view of the Dome of the Rock but denied entrance. I am a Palestinian 20 minutes away from her childhood memories, but met checkpoints that made Jerusalem seem as the furthest city in the world and I was denied entrance. I actually would have reached Dubai with the time I waited, but will not say wasted 🙂
I did not give up. The idea of going home now? It is impossible! I mean nothing will seem or feel as exciting and amazing as the city I am about to walk in, pray at and photograph.
I stood in the line again, pushed my way through since no one would move to the “rejected girl that has no tasreekh”, I reached the little Qalandian translator, he told me he will help me, I told him I will do it myself, I need to feel I entered because I insisted, not because of anyone else!
The Israeli soldier thought I was silly returning to the line, and that I am wasting his and my time. I insisted into going in. I know it was probably stupid, but I gave him my Bus Card that I used in Spain couple of years ago, I told him how precious it was to me and that I will come back to Ramallah just so I can regain it from him, again he thought I am an insane women, but I know I was a woman who knew what she wanted. Again he refused, so I gave him the foreign passport I have, and told him “Keep it, obviously It will not help me in passing!”.
I turned around and decide to go back to my stinky seat and cry some more until Allah rescues my crushed heart and extremely upset mind. To be honest crying in public there is so usual that if you are actually smiling, you will look bizarre. People are usually rejected entrance, therefore tears are all you see, and you only spot smiles on the other side, on the faces of those who own a “tasreekh”.
The soldier called me, and said he cannot legally hold my passport; and that I need to take it back. Well.. Unless I spread my arms to take it from him, there is no way through the tens of metal rusted bars he could reach me, I told him no, I wont take it keep it and bye! He called me and said “Why are you going in?” , I turned back, walked with confidence, and answered with an irritated voice “To see my friends”, which was a fact, or at least one of many. He looked at my tripod gave me this plastic dead smile and told me “and photograph them!”
The woman behind me was still pushing, that I decided to tell her “dear, no tasreekh, no pass”!! I mean pushing me won’t get you closer to Alquds, so do not touch me! -Personal issues I know – 🙂
The soldier put my Spanish Bus Card into my passport and said: “I want to see you back before midnight!” I actually do not remember anything he said afterwards, all I remember is going through several metal-checks and gates, I saw few female soldiers drinking CocaCola, passed through another stinky corner, walked in a small dark passage covered with Hebrew signs, pushed a heavy metal door, and finally …. I was officially standing on a Jerusalem land!
Yes I was 2 minutes away from the city, so crying 10 times was legit! I rode the bus and flew to the city, I think I paid the bus double what he asked, I sat on a wit chair, I dropped my sunglasses, and called my friend in Jordan for 2 minutes which cost me 20$, but who cares..I AM IN 😀
I cannot really talk enough about the beauty of the city, the holy Ramadani atmosphere, the children playing in the allies, the amazing weather, and the beautiful smells of shawerma, knafe, and Falafel. I let my camera take the lead, of showing the beautiful jasmine near the small Palestinian houses in old Jerusalem, the old men sitting on their chairs and narrating old stories to kids, the graffiti on the walls calling for freedom, and another asking people to vote for Mohammad Assaf who was running for Arab Idol.
Everything looked old, beautifully old, preciously old, and deliciously old! I have never liked old as much as I did that day, and was never that happy to be young, to be able to climb the hundreds of stairs around the city, and walk up the high roads, I did not want to be tired, I had no time to sit and rest!
Kazdura and Sura ; a Palestinian photography group, known to walk around Palestinian cities and capture the spirit of resistance, freedom and the beautiful landscape of Palestine. I walked around the city with them, the organizer Maysaa AlShaer was generous enough to organize a whole event so I can join along with Bashar Alkurdi who was also visiting from Amman.
It was a beautiful quick day, I tried to enjoy every second, I believe eating with Izra when the Imam called for prayers while sitting right in-front of The Dome of the Rock made this day perfect, or maybe the view from Jabal Al Zaytoun did that, when I saw the Dome of the Rock shinning, like a blessed star in a city occupied by oppressors.
On our way back to Ramallah, I got to the checkpoint at 12:30am. We saw people running but didn’t know the reason, some Palestinian youth volunteering with the Red Crescent told us that the Israeli soldiers have been throwing tear-gas at a group of men who wanted to go home through the checkpoint, but were rejected and sent back! I was so proud of these volunteers, despite the gas and the danger, they were there to take injured Palestinians to the closest hospital, and offer immediate medical help.
I mean close your eyes for a second…. imagine yourself, anywhere in the world, 15 minutes away from your house then suddenly someone stops you and tells you..NO! ….. How would you feel?!!
This is one day, and thousands of Palestinians go through this…Every!Single!Day!
I hope some of my photos below will show a little of this day, an early Eid gift from Allah to me 🙂
Oh Jerusalem.. Peace Be Upon You..
“Erja3’ la Wa3’a”* = Go backwards (In a bad Arabic accent) and “Tasreekh wen?” * = Where is your visa? (In a bad Arabic accent)
” في القدس لو صافحتَ شيخاً أو لمستَ بنايةً لَوجدْتَ منقوشاً على كَفيكَ نَص قصيدةٍ يابن الكرامِ أو اثْنتين”