As I have applied for a training course in the USA, yesterday I had my visa interview done and one of dreams coming true…as I and for the first time in my life visited…Jerusalem…Al-Quds.
It must be the fastest twelve hour I had in my entire life. From Erez crossing point to Jerusalem to the US consulate in Occupied East Jerusalem to a very short tour in the Old City to Gaza again, in between I felt the best and worst feelings that I am still trying to make sense of. More importantly, I am trying to believe that I did set my foot in Jerusalem…and I did see the Dome of Rock though everything was so fast and so short. Anyhow, I will be writing about my whole experience from A to Z. Because this short 12 hour trip is very significant on so many levels.
This is the first time for me to “travel” from Erez crossing point. I was with a group of 9 people. 6 of us were university students and the rest were teachers. We got to Erez at 7 am as we were told. Waiting for our papers and IDS to be called, I got the chance to meet the other two guys who are joining the program that I am going to in the US.
With our IDS and papers with us, we walked approximately a one kilo and a half in prison like passage to reach the Israeli side of Erez. When you see the passage, it looks like it’s endless. I walked, walked and walked and I still had more to walk till I reached an electronic gate. With a green light flickered, I entered a huge-factory like building where we were scanned by something like tubes.
While my collogues and I were waiting for our turns to be scanned, a woman in front of us was with her little baby. She went back and forth to be scanned. Once with her little baby and other time alone. Her baby was carried by the Palestinian worker there. Another woman was asked to almost take off her scarf. Seeing this humiliation to the women and children, I couldn’t help it. I found myself shedding some tears for the way these women and others were treated. And when a woman who is not Palestinian saw me like this, she looked at me and said “I know”. To note, Most of the people traveling through Erez are patients who get operated in Israel.
Now, it was my turn to step inside the tube to be scanned. I followed the instructions where I raised my hands in the level of faces and my feet were astride, then I was scaned by the machine. No beeps were heard, so I moved to the next gate. Then our IDs were taken again to work on our permits to go to Jerusalem.
While waiting for our paper work to be done, I talked to woman who was extremely worried about her husband. She told me that he has problems with his cornea, and he couldn’t see well to follow the scanning instructions, so he was taken self-searching. He was kept there for quite long time; his operation was due today. I just can’t forget how that woman was worried, almost crying.
I was called by one my collogues to join them in the hall, so I left her without knowing what happened to her husband.
at 9:30 am, I was at my utmost point of happiness, as our papers were done. We met the head of exchange programs in the US Consulate, Mr. Ali. And we were all in the cool, bullet proof van…on our way to Jerusalem!
The road to Jerusalem,
We were all starving, so our first stop was a café located on the outskirts of Ashkelon –Asqlan. The thing that I could not make sense of is that how close this café was to Gaza, but how different everything was, except the currency and the very expensive items. I got a strawberry slush which cost me 20 shekels, that’s a lot comparing to Gaza, and a cinnamon roll which was also too expensive. We grabbed our meals, then we hopped in the cool van.
A long, greenish, beautiful road was ahead of us before we reached Jerusalem. I can say now after thinking about the trip that the best part was definitely the road. It was amazing! I put my headphones and listened to the few love songs that my mind instantly pertain it to loving Palestine .
In that state of mind which was still trying to absorb the fact that I was on my way to Jerusalem, I just wanted to look and look closer out of the window to see, to feel this holy, pristine green forests lying out of the window.After one hour and a half of mesmerizing beauty passing by as fast as the van was, we reached the US Consulate in Jerusalem. Then dull security procedures were taken that I would like to spare you and myself from writing them.
We entered a hall which was crowded by both Palestinians and Israelis. This stop lasted the longest. It was a chance to speak with more people; I talked to a fellow Palestinian from Bethlehem. I was very happy to be speaking with someone from the West Bank, we virtually have contact with our fellow Palestinians in the West Bank.
The teacher with us spoke to a young Israeli who was curious how Palestinians from GAZA could go out from GAZA. I wanted to eavesdrop the conversation between the teacher and young Israeli, but they were talking in low voice, so I couldn’t catch much.
My name was called for the final step, before I get my visa to the USA. And I say it was also one of the best parts of this trip, the window-visa interview!
The man behind the disk was nice; I believe was not really walking, yet I was jumping. I was VERY excited, and apparently he felt it! He told me:” you look excited!”, I instantly answered “I AM! I am in Jerusalem!”. He told me that I was lucky that I was going to UCLA, California.
The interview was quite short, and it ended up with “You are qualified for the USA visa.”. In my mind I was like “YAY,NOW IT”S TIME TO GO OUT FROM THE DULL HALL TO JERUSALEM!”.
Unfortunately, we spent A LOT of time in the US. Consulate, so we were left with only 30 minutes to tour the closest spot to the consulate, Bab el Amoud area.
Racing time at Bab-Al Amoud
Mr.Ali left us under the supervision of the teacher who told us that we have to stick together. I wanted to take photos of everything, to enter every shop, and more importantly, to pray in Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, but the time and circumstances didn’t let us do the last and the most important thing.
The couple with us took a cab after they finished from the Consulate and went to the Aqsa and took their time. I had the chance to join them, but I stayed with the group of the students in the hope that we’d join the couple, but we could not.
We only got the chance to take a short glimpse at the Dome of the Rock when I entered some yard full of trees, then I found the golden dome shinning. I couldn’t believe it, I couldn’t believe my eyes that the mosque, I have been seeing its photos since I was very young is standing there…right in front of my eyes! I took a photo of it, then photo of me next to it, then hurried up to go back to the van.
I can say that the worst part was the fact that I went to Jerusalem, but I didn’t get the chance to pray in Al-Aqsa. I spent the whole way back to Gaza frowning, crying at some point and regretting my bad choice to stay with the group.
But I have to say that I got some stuff from Bab-Al Amoud market that will remind me of Jerusalem. But it will never repair the damage I did by my bad choice, which when I remember it, I feel my heart is burning from the inside. They tried to make me feel better, but I needed to feel bad! Really, really bad!
The tour finished, and we met Mr.Ali again to drive us back to Gaza.
Gaza is Gaza!
By the end of the tour, and after my mistake, I felt that I just wanted to go home, Gaza. Though I loved Jerusalem very much, and I really, really wished I could spend more time there ,in the end, I wanted to go to my house, and to my family.
It was a pleasant experience, I learned a lot in terms of twelve hours, the fastest twelve hours ever! Now, I know why Jerusalem is called Kingdom of Heaven, you see all the world in a one narrow alley. Everything is old, so much like the time has stopped in there.
I went home carrying with me an image of how Jerusalem looks like. I went home with one dream not fully fulfilled, but part of it definitely was. And I went home more motivated to work hard to represent Palestine when I go to the US, if I managed to go there. In sha Allah!
And I am so grateful for that…
Last thing, I would love to thank my family and friends for their support. And Maath fron the US Consulate.
Check more photos from Jerusalem…Click here.