A Punctuated Peace

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(View of Nablus, Palestine from above)

Today, we got bad news that one of our participants has been detained at the Allenby border crossing between Jordan and Israel and will not be allowed to enter Israel without first acquiring some kind of Palestinian ID (since her mother registered her when she was young on the Gaza population registry, though she is a Canadian citizen). If that goes through, and she’s allowed to enter the West Bank, she’ll then have to apply for a special permit to enter Israel… which could take weeks, or even months—rendering the effort completely useless since she’d miss our whole trip.

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A frustrating start to the day, especially since I woke up so sweetly, as the men next door were chanting and singing in beautiful, rich, deep voices the prayers for Shabbat morning. I felt so lucky to be in Jerusalem, and in typical Middle East fashion, the beauty was punctuated by strife & conflict. We’re working on pressuring the Canadian Embassy to help get her in. Fingers crossed.

The rest of the day was busy, despite it being Shabbat for everyone else in our neighborhood: Matt and I spent a bunch of time finalizing our itinerary, decorating the apartments, drawing up Hebrew and Arabic lesson plans, and hanging out with our first participant to arrive successfully. We all napped in the afternoon, then headed into the Old City for a stroll.

It had finally cooled off, and people were milling about in the streets in that special end- of-Shabbat fashion… not rushing, but pulsing with excitement as the week draws nearer and nearer. Kids were running everywhere, lovers were canoodling along the ramparts of the old city watching the moon rise, and our footsteps echoed softly on the slick white stones of the city floor.

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We visited the Kotel, arriving just in time to hear the men chanting Havdalah prayers, as we women stood on the other side of the mechitza to listen and pray along silently. For the first time ever, I wondered how bad it really is to just listen to the men sing. Though I softly chanted along in my own voice, I—for just a flickering moment—thought it was rather nice to be serenaded from across the divide. Someone passed me a sprig of mint to awaken the senses, and I awoke from my romantic reverie.

I prayed at the wall, draping my scarf around my head like a tallit, asking for a peaceful and healthy trip for all of us. We then wandered back through the Arab quarter, stopping for baklawa and dodging the street sweepers and teenage boys hauling empty boxes away from the shuk.

When we emerged from Damascus Gate, we heard cheering, and ascended the steep stairway to find the finals of “Arab Idol” being broadcast from a projector and perhaps a hundred excited Palestinians gathered around, standing on cars and leaning on gates cheering on Mohammad Assaf (a Gaza-born Palestinian refugee and aspiring pop idol) croon out traditional Palestinian love songs. People waved flags of black, green, and red, and twirled checkered black and white kaffiyeh in the air as their roar rose and fall with the honking of cars and the appearance of Nancy Ajram on screen.

I spoke with a middle-aged woman, a teacher, who knew Mohammad when he was young… “He always had a beautiful voice,” she told me. “We are so proud… and he will win!” Her excitement was contagious, and we ended the night by clapping along to the highlights reel as people whooped and cheered, hoping this one Palestinian boy would bring pride to their people… and a symbol of victory to all peoples who find a way to rise above the prison of their oppression.

Shavua Tov, and Goodnight. 

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