Mary Goes to Jerusalem

2019 writing competition

 - by Mary Niesluchowska -

How did I know I was on a flight from Poland to Israel? All those black fedoras clogging up the x-ray machine!

I arrived in Tel Aviv at 3:30am where the airport seemed to be the liveliest place in town. Everything was open and there were crowds shopping, eating and drinking. 15 bucks for an hour ride to Jerusalem in a minivan with 6 fedora hats. There was barely room for me as they only seem to take them off for security, but I managed to squeeze in. Once out of the airport, nothing seemed to be going on in the early dawn except for elderly gentlemen wearing white prayer robes on the street from time to time. I met Ilan, my host and immediately went to bed, sleeping for about 2 hours. I got up to a delicious meal in the breakfast room overlooking the Wailing Wall and the golden dome of the Temple Mount mosque. What a way to begin each day!

Walking is the only way to see the Old City and luckily, my place was walking distance to everywhere. It was pretty quiet in the Jewish quarter. Once I got to the Arab quarter, that’s when the noise began. All the merchants were in their doorways cajoling me to come in and get their “best price”. I told one all I wanted was some money and a cup of coffee.

I slowly meandered through the Arab quarter, taking in the sounds, sights and smells, with the sheer pleasure of knowing I had nowhere to go and nowhere to be. I sort of fell into a reverie which was suddenly broken by the ear splitting dong of a bell. I looked around and found myself near a church and a procession of monks leaving it. It turned out to be the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus was supposed to be crucified. I still needed to find an ATM because the truth was, I couldn’t even pay for that coffee if I ever found it. I had some dollars with me and ended up at a money changer (and no, he wasn’t at the temple, he was at the Jaffa Gate) who said my best bet would be to go to the New City where all the banks are and change money there. In the meantime, I needed money for that coffee so I changed $20 with him. And while he was making the transaction, we started talking and ended up discussing the Palestinian situation for about 20 minutes. This would be the first of many such conversations that week. Since he was so friendly I felt I should introduce myself. “Mary, like the Virgin”, I said. “Mohammed, like the Prophet”, he answered.

I had signed up for a 3 hour political tour of Jerusalem which left in the afternoon so I had a whole morning free. I decided to see Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum. As an Israeli once said, “The Holocaust is the civil religion of Israel.”

I took a taxi. 40 sheckels and this included a conversation about the Palestinian question and the US elections with the taxi driver. The museum is impressive and I was surprised how much of it is Polish, from the victims to the displays: Auschwitz Treblinka, Warsaw Square, the the Alley of the Righteous.

I then joined the political group outside the Jerusalem Hotel. There was 6 of us, all women from Ireland, Germany, Australia England and the US. All of us asked intelligent questions of Abbas, our guide and how ironic that two of them were from countries where they too, built walls to separate the people. And that Separation Wall brought the whole Palestinian question into focus. And how appropriate to see how the Israelis treat the Palestinians right after seeing how the Nazis treated the Jews.

The apartheid wall is an outright violation of human rights, the modern version of the concentration camps that imprisoned Europe’s Jews. But for the Israelis it is a "separation fence”.

For the next 3 hours, we learned, saw and discussed the daily humiliations suffered by the Palestinians. Roads and checkpoints that open and close at will, demolition of homes, all of them illegal acts. And the ultimate humiliation? The scarcity of jobs forces the Palestinians to take any work they can, including building the wall.

Abbas left us with these words: “Go back to your countries and tell them what you saw.” So I am.

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