One land, divided

2019 writing competition

 - by Kirsty LG - 

It’s summertime in Scotland and finally after four intensive months I feel enough distance and cooling of the air to be able to reflect on my time in Jerusalem. I’ll be returning soon as it’s to be my home for the next few years and for that I feel lucky. When I first arrived it bothered me that no-one seemed able to give us a precise address for our apartment. I get it now though. Language matters, spellings matter and both carry labels and meanings often beyond my comprehension. Living in East Jerusalem, I feel caught in a no-mans land between Israel and Palestine and by ‘no-mans’ really I mean ‘everyman’s’.

Previously I had little understanding of the conflict that divides the people and the land. Not wishing to sound ignorant, if it was raised in conversation, I would probably have trotted out phrases like ‘it’s complicated’, or worse ‘there is fault on both sides’, and ‘no easy solutions’. Perhaps these are still true. Certainly these phrases have created a convenient curtain to shield politicians and institutions for many years. Space travel is complicated. Brain surgery is complicated. The stock market is complicated. It seems to me that things are only insurmountable when there is not enough collective will to resolve them.

This conclusion has deeply saddened and disappointed me. Why is so much suffering allowed to continue? How can such a system founded on injustice and inequality go unchallenged? Does the world not see, or does the world not care? For these questions I have no answers.

Despite being swaddled in this great cloak of sadness and suffering, the city and the land have both enchanted and enthralled me. Layer upon layer of history and religious diversity have created a depth of culture that is unlike anywhere else I’ve been in the world. I would call Jerusalem a melting pot but the ingredients don’t mix so easily here as they do in other great cities of the world. The Old and new city are separated by a wall. East and West is separated by the invisible but keenly felt green line and each neighbourhood has a strict sense of its own identity and rules.

I do not underestimate the great privilege I have in being able to travel freely throughout Israel and Palestine. One of the greatest sorrows I’ve seen is that those who love the land are often separated from it through a lottery permit system. I suspect that rather like an immersive theatre experience the show plays out differently every day for every person depending on their background and it is this which shapes their experiences of this place. I know that I am living a sheltered existence and I often feel guilty for being able to view it as others can’t and equally for not seeing the things that shape other peoples’ lives.

I feel sad that most Israelis will never get to drive to Ramallah and experience the hustle and bustle of the old city or the divine cakes at Vanilla café in the shiny new area of the city. Similarly, most West bankers can only dream of hiking up Ein Gedi, floating in the Dead Sea or visiting the Tel Aviv beaches again. The human spirit is resilient however and there is always someone worse off with a staircase of suffering leading from East Jerusalem, to the West Bank, to Gaza and down from there to other Arab states like Syria and Yemen. This resilience of spirit impresses me but it’s not ok in the same way as Apartheid in South Africa wasn’t ok. When will the curtain drop and meaningful steps towards peace become a reality? We cannot afford to sit back and passively let another 50 years of pain and suffering occur.

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