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Holy Land, Damned Land

 - by Ilaria Ruzza - Italy

I’m Catholic by upbringing, raised up during my childhood by my beloved grandmother, a deeply religious woman who took the first plane of her life to go to the Holy Land. It was 1993, the year of another vanished hope: the Oslo Accords. I was 9 at that time. Aged 34, I took a plane myself to get there.

It is easy to forget how comfortable most of our lives are, as easy as being born in the right corner of the world and having a passport that allows you to travel abroad. As easy as walking completely unnoticed through Damascus Gate into the Old City, if you are a woman with unveiled head. It was deeply emotional to see Christians, Muslims, Jews and Orthodox walking within the same walls to go and pray following their respective faith. It was deeply unbelievable that other walls have been built to separate most of those same people.

It is hard to walk towards Bethlehem through Checkpoint 300, as hard as being punched, as hard as having to accept something that heart and mind can’t tolerate. As scaring as being in the shoes of those walking through the many turnstiles and along the metal-barred walkways during crowded times of the day, when hundreds of people are there and even breathing gets hard.

Though, a spark of light was there.

As vivid as the drawings on the separation walls in Bethlehem, as beautiful as Palestinians’ resistance is. As bittersweet as a glass of pomegranate juice, as alive as a kid with his father selling it. As lively and flowing as the water was at Aida Refugee Camp on the day of my visit, after weeks of interruption: back and running as the noise coming from the pipes was testifying.

It is easy to forget how comfortable most of our lives are, as easy as running water from a faucet when you don’t have to worry about water at all. As easy as looking at your children playing in the yard, when the only thing the sky can drop on them, is nothing but rain. As easy as being a tourist getting on a bus, travelling back and forth from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, while Palestinians have to endure to be questioned and searched by the Israeli soldiers every time they move. As comfortable as leading an untroubled life, when no one will never impose on you to leave your house within 30 minutes, compelling you to decide in the blink of an eye what you would save.

It is not easy to find a solution, but the winds of change will begin to blow if we put our efforts together. It would be unfair not to take a position, as it would be utterly wrong conceiving the Palestinian/Israeli conflict as something far away, not concerning each of us.

It is impossible to forget how I felt like during those few days. Israel and Palestine are, and will remain, the most profound feeling of beauty and sorrow altogether. The beauty of diversity, of the people, historic places and the environment. The sorrow for an ongoing conflict, for what should have been settled decades ago, and it hasn’t been yet.

As painful as barbed-wire on your skin, as powerful as a memory that will never fade out. As delicate as a dove with an olive branch painted on a wall, as strong as children’s desire to play under a safe sky.

If my grandmother was still alive, I’d tell her that even in distress, I’ll never forget how comfortable my life is. I’d tell her, as she taught me, that for a vanished hope another will arise.

No one should forget that once upon a time there was a Holy Land, that has been, and still is, Damned.


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