The Old City is a little decrepit and the modern scourge of graffiti decorates some of its walls and tunnels - The common signal of unemployment and disenfranchised youth in any city. In the ancient city of Jerusalem such signs are even more depressing. I see a disconnect between the youth in their standard American ghetto-rap attire and trainers, and the older men dressed in dapper Mediterranean style with their suits and leather shoes. But perhaps the generation gap is only superficial.
Old Jerusalem is always beautiful, and if not, at least mysterious. Where would this tunnel lead me to?
I had 3 cups of expressos here. While sipping caffeine, I jotted this note down in my phone (I left my diary in the hotel room) - "Jaber coffee shop, drinking coffee n plain water. So cold dat i have to wear a hat. Everyone drinking coffee n playing cards... Nothing to eat here at all? Earlier prayed zohor at aqsa... Saw d dome of d rock... tel aviv. It must b d sandstone capital of d world. Looks like europe. Amazing green contrast d minute we cross from jordan to israel. No problem at ben gurion airport... Except for some israeli making a ruckus at one passport counter. Beautiful arab school kids just out, and damn if they dont look jewish..."
Seeing me alone, and undoubtedly a non-local (but how?), an elderly gentleman approached me and I invited him for a cuppa. His name was Abu Ayob and lived in a village not far from here. After light banter and another cup of coffee. He invited me to his home, "You can see the Dome and al-Aqsa from my house!" And indeed I could see them when later I found myself sipping tea with sage in his frontyard. To be honest, I was a little worried, going along with a complete stranger in Jerusalem. But I did anyway (what is a holiday, without a little risk). In the bus, the lesser civil crowd chucked a couple of candy wraps at the sinner, but Abu Ayob straighten them out pretty quick. And as I walked with him into his village, I felt good that I had him to escort me. In the bus later, I saw a boy throwing litter at a chicken. What is it about this place and throwing stuff at things/people? Again, I feel that the young people would benefit from an economic growth. But even the shops are selling some electrical products looking at least 5 years pass its sell-by date. It is clear that the continuing stalemate between the arabs and the Israel government is doing them no good.
He has 3 young sons and 2 elder daughters. The youngest, Abdullah was the most curious about the sinner, shyly peeping behind the door at me. I look at his young family (he must have married pretty late) and wondered what the future has in store for them. They appear to be like flotsam and jetsam, adrift in an arbitrary and ancient conflict. But this conflict is not as ancient as it appears to be. Oh no... I know that arabs, christians and jews lived in peace in this blessed land for hundreds of years before. something happened to change this. The effects of the fall of the Ottoman caliphate (I think it is wrong to call it an empire) is still reverberating here, and indeed, all over the world. It is strange, I mused, how even Muslims forget that the Caliphate expired only some 90 odd years ago, when the last Sultan in Istanbul abdicated and the Young Turks took over and banned the turban and made western suits mandatory.
O' Abdullah, where are you climbing to?
My newly found friend took me back to Herod's Gate. He refused, he said, to allow his wife and daughters to work in a Jewish household. And life was tough. "Such is the fate of people living in the vicinity of the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa", he said the Prophet once prophesised. Money is never enough too. Well, I am not sure, I thought to myself, that prohibiting your family from working with the jews is the best resolution to the problem. But then, I am not an arab, and I am not born here in Jerusalem. I have not tasted the painful edge under what they would call a foreign occupation. I asked him if the jews rode the bus I was in. No, he said. It is not prohibited, but they never do. It must be exhausting, living in this manner, I thought. And I could see it in the worried lines of his face his constant worry for his family. Many have given up and have migrated to the USA for a better future, becoming doctors and good American citizens. What America has gained, I fear, is an irreplaceable lost to Jerusalem.With that sad thought, I walked slowly back to my hotel, to wait for my group to return from their travel itinerary.
As I jot this down, I am wistful and miss Jerusalem terribly. I hope to visit her, and perhaps make acquaintance with Abu Ayob once again. Have a lovely day, sunshine. If you have not visited Jerusalem, you should. It is both glorious and sad.