The horrifying attacks that we have seen over the course of the last few days have shocked the world. Hundreds of Palestinians were injured as Israeli police clashed with Palestinians praying at Al Aqsa. The fact that these attacks were carried out during Ramadan, the holiest month for Muslims around the world, makes it even more horrific and hard to comprehend, not to mention the law that has been passed which will evict Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarah, East Jerusalem.
There is a certain deja vu that is occurring in all of this. On the 19th of May, it will be the 73rd anniversary of the Al-Nakba. Al-Nakba translates to ‘The Catastrophe’ and marks the day in 1948 when thousands of Palestinians were forcibly removed from their homes and lands and the near-total destruction of Palestinian culture and society. Now with these orders coming through it is hard not to think of history repeating itself.
Last year I was working on an archaeological excavation two hours north of Jerusalem and on one of my days off, I travelled to Jerusalem to see if I could find and visit Al Aqsa. Although I was not allowed to enter the compound due to safety issues that were occurring at the time, I was able to stand outside at the base of the massive walls, look up at the windows and listen to the Jumu’ah prayers being said. While standing there I felt great peace and calmness as I listened and so my heart was broken when I saw and heard reports of what was happening.
After coming back from Al Aqsa I went further into the city and ended up in East Jerusalem. What I found was a group of warm, welcoming, loving people who welcomed me to their city. From curious shops to ancient pathways it remains one of the most amazing experiences that I have ever had in my life.
Jerusalem is one of the holiest cities as it is the foundation for the Jewish faith, the Christian Faith and the place in Islam where the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) received revelations for the Quran. It is a city with a history going back centuries and is one that is vibrant and colourful, that welcomes tourists from all areas of the world. And don’t get me started on the food. Oh my goodness it is AMAZING! Bourekas, Ka’ak, Falafel, Hummus, Baba Ganouj & Pita…I ate it all! Since coming back to Australia I have eaten these foods here but they are not as nearly delicious as the ones I had in Jerusalem.
Walking down the narrow stone streets as the sun was beginning to set I felt like I was being transported back in time, not one hundred years ago, not four hundred years ago but centuries ago. The scent of Bakhoor was hanging in the air mixing with the smell of food cooking giving an atmosphere of peace and tranquillity and the sound of the Azan (the Muslim call to prayer) echoing down the streets finished off what had been a perfect day.
While wandering through the markets I found myself getting numerous invitations to come and have coffee with the shopkeepers and their families as well as them wanting to give me their products for free. This touched my heart as I knew that even though they were struggling to make ends meet they still welcomed me and by the time I left they felt like family to me. There was no way I could have taken their products for free so I made sure that when I paid them, I slipped them a bit of extra money than what the product cost.
But now those happy, sunny days are gone and that is why my heart is breaking as I write this. The rulings that have been passed on East Jerusalem, particularly in Sheikh Jarah as well as the attack on innocent Palestinians praying at Al Aqsa, have me fearing for the safety of the new friends I made while I was in Jerusalem. I have been hoping and praying that they have been safe but I have no way of knowing. All I know is that the Palestinians are strong, resilient and tough people who will come out of this stronger. This has already been proven as footage has emerged of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarah holding Iftar in front of the homes they may lose while Israeli Police forces are standing along the length of the street behind them.
The first University I attended had a motto that inspired me every time I read it and it was this: “I look ahead to a brighter tomorrow”. If you are in Jerusalem and reading this right now, know that the world sees what is happening to you. Nobody should have to spend their days living in fear of what tomorrow will bring, nor the fear that they will not be able to worship safely. Brighter days will come and peace will return to Jerusalem. Cling to the hope that you are not alone, you are not invisible and that one day you will have the peace that you deserve. You are all in my heart and my prayers.
(Jerusalem photos & videos property of Kaye Fisher)
(Photos of Sheikh Jarrah, Al-Aqsa & Protesters courtesy of BB, Reuters, DW.com, Middle East Eye and Canadians for Justice & Peace)