I moved to East Jerusalem last year and barely a day goes by when I’m not surprised by something. It’s a fascinating and complicated place and I want to start this diary now, before I stop seeing some of the things that first struck me about being here.
I’m worried that I might live here for several years without ever scratching the surface of East Jerusalem. Maybe that’s an inevitable result of being a foreigner that doesn’t understand Arabic or Hebrew well enough for a conversation. I have a curious mind (Ok, it’s borderline nosiness) and normally would be enjoying overhearing chatter on public transport, in shops, on the radio, glibly gathering leaflets and posters about events and other such. Without any of those, I feel I am stumbling around in the dark trying to make sense of how things work here.
For this reason, I am very aware that what I see every day is the narrowest of slivers of the reality of East Jerusalem.
So let’s cut to the confession. I live a comfortable and free life here. I have a nice apartment and can travel where I like. I’m not boasting, I feel genuinely bad about these things as I know that many aren’t so fortunate. I’m hardly alone though. East Jerusalem is swamped with internationals working at foreign missions and NGOs who are in a similar position to me.
Walking around my neighbourhood in Sheikh Jarrah, you are just as likely to hear English, French, German or Italian spoken as you are Arabic or Hebrew. My kids attend an English speaking school with other international kids, we have international friends round for dinner, we watch Netflix, we enjoy our comfortable life and yet by being here we massively inflate rent prices making Sheikh Jarrah and other areas unaffordable for many local people.
That’s not to denigrate the huge investment and hard work that the international community contributes. Perhaps it is enough that we are here and we care. Like everything however, it is complicated and for those reasons, I don’t expect that everyone welcomes us here.
Whilst I am here however, I want to try and pop the bubble that surrounds the expat way of life. I want to use this blog to share my experiences and to ask if others agree. I want to hear people’s stories and to exchange tips and ideas. In doing so I hope I will be able to better understand East Jerusalem and the different people who live here.
I’d like to start by getting to know East Jerusalem better. My tip for this month is to visit the Garden Tomb just off Nablus Road. I only popped in to use the toilets a few weeks ago and as well as clean toilets on Nablus Road (a treasure in itself), I was delighted to find a peaceful garden and to see the interesting view of Skull Hill. There is evidence to suggest that this understated site may be the burial site of Jesus and where he rose from the dead. You are likely to encounter some tour groups but not on the scale of the other major sites. It’s free to get in and well worth a short visit for the lovely garden alone.
And that for me is the magic of Jerusalem! It is not uncommon to stumble upon a completely breathtaking and amazing site of huge historical or religious importance tucked away down a side street. The many tourists being bussed in daily have probably saved and planned for a trip to the Holy Land for years and yet we have the privilege to call it home for now. I want to keep exploring and to see everything it has to offer.
So please comment and let me know what your ‘hidden gem’ of East Jerusalem is? It could be somewhere to visit, a secret park, a good coffee shop or bakery or any other hidden gem. Please let me know and I promise I’ll check it out!