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Fear and loathing in Jerusalem

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“Look out, Walid!”

Standing in the confines of the Old City of Jerusalem, I soon realize that there was a large horse ridden by an Israeli soldier, barrelling towards me. I begin to frantically search for a place of refuge from this monstrosity. Within the nick of time, I was able to seek shelter behind a corn stand. I did not expect my vacation to begin this way…

Recently, I decided to go on  vacation to Palestine/ Israel, my mother’s ancestral home, in order to reconnect with my roots, visit some historical sites, and of course, soak up the sun on the beach. Little did I realize how unexpected of a holiday I would be on. Instead, I was almost trampled to death by an Israeli soldier on a horse, witnessing the stabbing of an Israeli soldier, and intervening in the assault of a Palestinian by an Israeli transit officer.

After my arrival in Palestine, the first place I went to visit was the holy city of Jerusalem. The sprawling walls of the Old City and the overwhelming presence of holy sites such as the Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are a magnificent site.

But beneath the spiritual holiness of the city is a deep underlying, tension between the Arab and Jewish residents of the city. Since Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1967, West Jerusalem has remained a mainly Jewish area while East Jerusalem has remained a mainly Arab Palestinian area. But recently, Israeli settlers have begun to expropriate land and homes from Palestinians, especially in the historic old city. The Israeli government has also restricted entry for Palestinians into their most holy site, the Dome of the Rock, and Al Aqsa Mosque. On top of that, Palestinians in Jerusalem face societal discrimination from Israelis and are sometimes subject to attacks from Jewish mobs. These incidents have turned Jerusalem into a tense place.

Unfortunately, I witnessed a manifestation of their tension on a seemingly normal evening in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Some friends and I decided to grab some falafels for dinner. As we were eating in the market, we heard large sirens coming from the main road above. Almost immediately, the vendors and the youth in our vicinity, stopped what they were doing and ran in the direction of an alley way. Ten Israeli soldiers chased after them. Curious about the situation, my friends and I followed them into the alley way.

We came upon a large crowd of Palestinian youth circling five Israeli soldiers and a middle aged Palestinian man. The Palestinian man was covered in blood and was handcuffed. He seemed resigned and very calm. One of the Israeli soldiers had a large gash on his leg and looked to be in pain. We later gathered that the Palestinian had stabbed the Israeli soldier, in an attempt to kill him. After the Israelis secured the soldier, they quickly dragged the Palestinian away and sent the injured soldier away for medical attention.

But the Israelis were left with hundreds of youth in the streets of the Old City, angry and upset about the Palestinian man arrested.

Consequently, more Israeli soldiers began to turn up, along with armoured vehicles and horses,  to try and disperse the crowd.

In the midst of the confusion, I did not pay attention to my surroundings. At one point, I noticed people running away from me. That is when I realized that an Israeli soldier riding a large horse was barrelling towards me. Frantically searching for a place of refuge from this large creature, I was able to seek shelter behind a corn stand. I did not expect my vacation to begin this way…

After the near death experience event that took place, I ran to safety away from the crowd. From afar, I analyzed the crowd of angry Palestinian youth of Jerusalem and realized just how desperate, upset, and marginalized they were. They were so repulsed by the ongoing encroachment on their homes, lands and holy spaces, that they were desperately searching for change. It was obvious an uprising against the state would transpire in the near future. Unfortunately, this was not the only instance of Palestinian resistance that I experienced during my visit.

Racial profiling

Weeks later, my friend and I were catching the tramcar in West Jerusalem on a Saturday night. The tram car was packed with a mishmash of Hasidic, Secular, Orthodox Jews, and Palestinians. Hasidic Jews were on their way to spend time with their families, many of the secular and orthodox youth were going downtown to hit up the night life, and us Palestinians were off to East Jerusalem.

Half way through the trip, a transit authority worker came on the tram to ensure all passenger tickets had been validated. The authority employee immediately approached a Palestinian woman wearing a hijab and asks her if she validated her ticket on the tram. The woman replied that she couldn’t because of the large crowd in the car. The officer began to get agitated and asked for Palestinian woman’s identity card. The Palestinian woman replied that she didn’t have her card on her person.  The transit officer began to get excessively aggressive with the Palestinian woman, calling her names, and insulting her. She then began to push the Palestinian woman, while the packed tram car watched on. Out of the hundred people in the tram, I was the only one to intervene in the situation.

At the next stop, the transit employee forcibly pulled the Palestinian out of the tram. She kicked and screamed in resistance as she was pulled out. Outside the transit employee began to assault her while I watched in shock; all this, because of an unpaid tram ticket. The Palestinian woman did not take this abuse lying down; she fought back with strength and courage. She refused to let this employee attack her, and she fought back. The other Arab passengers and I helplessly watched as the tram departed away from the assaulted Palestinian woman. We accosted another transit employee on the train, accusing the transit authority of racial profiling.

Watching the incident, an Israeli passenger approached me and explained that the Palestinian woman had no right to be in Israel, because she did not have an identity card on her person. I stood in disbelief watching as the tram emptied, leaving only Palestinians as we approached Damascus Gate station in East Jerusalem. As I exited the tram, with other Palestinians passengers, we began to discuss the situation that had unfolded. They expressed anger and resentment towards Israeli Jews for their excessive abuse of Palestinians. Resignedly , they explained  that this form of abuse and racial profiling is quite common.

These two experiences exemplify the marginalization of Palestinians from Israeli society, but also indicate the breaking point for many Palestinians. The situation in Israel/ Palestine has reached a boiling point for Palestinians. Their homes are being occupied, demolished and expropriated. Their holy spaces are being taken. They face systematic and societal discrimination, and are constantly subject to attacks from Israeli Jews. But Palestinians, especially in Jerusalem, are now resisting more than ever to reclaim their spaces, be it violent, or non-violent. Palestinians believe more than ever, that if they do not resist, they will have all their rights taken away. Only once true justice is achieved for Palestinians, will they cease their resistance.

Waleed Othman

Waleed Othman is a Palestinian-Canadian writer and activist involved in the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign against Israel.

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7 Responses

  1. JLewisDickerson on October 30, 2015, 12:24 pm

    RE: “Fear and loathing in Jerusalem”

    “The First Word: A day in Jerusalem”, By Yehudah Mirsky, Jerusalem Post, 05/07/09 

    [EXCERPTS] . . . Nobody who has lived in Jerusalem in recent years needs any educating about the sword from without. A week ago Thursday I discovered the terror within. It coils through Jerusalem’s streets, and us. . . 
    . . . As I came out of the plaza, right across the street from city hall, I saw four men jump, stomp and kick the daylights out of several others (Lord knows why) and run off.
    I called for the police and waited for them to arrive as people ran out of the surrounding pubs to help the crushed victims, whose blood ran down the sidewalk. 
    First ambulances came – some of the EMTs were haredim, and some were women. Then came the police, and I reported to them what I’d seen. After the police left, some young haredim came up to me, hungry for details: Did you see fists? Did you see a knife? 
    I told them how earlier in the day their comrades had nearly done the same to me. “There was action at the demo? We missed it?” . . . 

    . . . When I finally got home, at about 2:30 in the morning, my wife was, luckily for me, awake. I told her something that I had been thinking and scared to say for a long while: that the Jerusalem of my dreams, the Jerusalem where heaven and earth kiss, the Jerusalem of my father’s childhood, is finally dead. . .


  2. Jon66 on October 30, 2015, 4:14 pm

    If this had occurred in New York or many other cities she would have been arrested as well.

    After the success of Bratton’s broken windows approach to minor offenses many localities now arrest fare evaders.

    • Bumblebye on October 30, 2015, 5:09 pm

      Pathetic attempt at equivalence. Jerusalem is illegally occupied.

      • Jon66 on October 30, 2015, 6:06 pm

        The articleis asserts that the arrest of the woman was racial profiling and abuse. From this anecdote we can’t draw a conclusion. One person on the tram was approached and she was a fare cheater. She was the arrested as she would have been in other localities. Whether or not she was traveling in a legal or an illegal occupation, she should have been expected to pay her fare.

    • johneill on October 31, 2015, 9:54 am

      The “success” of Bratton’s broken windows policy is not something to emulate.

  3. Keith on October 30, 2015, 5:39 pm

    Over at CounterPunch, the Jerusalem Women’s Coalition has issued an appeal for international help to deal with Israeli violence. A quote followed by a link.

    “We women of occupied East Jerusalem call for immediate protection as we witness and suffer the widespread and serious violations of Palestinian human rights, including physical attacks and injuries, severe psychological threats, and persecution by the Israeli settler-colonial state and settler entities.” (Jerusalemite Women’s Coalition)

  4. JLWarner on October 31, 2015, 5:29 pm

    The arrest of the Palestinian women who did not pay her fare may have been profiling, but the article just did not give us enough information. For example, tell us about the transit official’s actions before he/she approached the woman.
    Also, Othman says he was the only passenger to intervene. But how. And what was the response?

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