I was very pleased, only 20 minutes after posting last week’s blog, to receive my first diary entry from an East Jerusalem resident. In setting up this blog, I thought I might have to cajole people into contributing (i.e. bribe my friends) which would have risked missing the real story. I wasn’t expecting the first contribution to come from an Israeli but I hugely appreciate the honesty of the piece and the window it gives into their experience.
My hope is to hear from a range of voices across East Jerusalem and I encourage you to visit ‘join the conversation’ if you wish to share your thoughts. I will post entries in the order that I receive them.
GUEST DIARY ENTRY: A walk through East Jerusalem (anonymous)
In many ways, my thoughts about East Jerusalem are practically non-existent. This is a problem. I’ve lived most of my life in West Jerusalem and really, never had any type of reason to travel beyond. If I spare any type of thought about East Jerusalem, it is, unfortunately, connected to terrorism.
And yet, as I’ve started university and am now living in East Jerusalem, I’ve been feeling this curiosity for the neighbourhoods around me that are unfamiliar to me. In a desperate attempt to avoid studying, I took a long walk today in East Jerusalem.
I won’t lie, as an Israeli, it was scary. It’s always a little intimidating to walk into a place where you don’t speak the language. Arabic, especially, has been so vilified for most of my life that I am still unlearning not to fear it. Suddenly being surrounded by it made me feel like I’m inherently in danger, even though I was not.
As I walked through the winding streets of East Jerusalem, I felt like I’d stepped into an alternative universe. I always feel at home when I see white Jerusalem stones and the hills and mountains that give this city so much depth. However, I was struck by the sheer foreignness of it all. I felt like a tourist in my hometown. It’s jolting and shocking, I quickly lost all fear as I became overwhelmed with this version of Jerusalem. Curiosity and excitement struck me, this is so new, this is fascinating, so familiar and yet so so different.
I suddenly felt like my lack of hijab set me apart from everyone I saw around me. I realized that I’m not sure how comfortable I’d be to speak Hebrew. It struck me that this might be similar to how Muslims feel in Jewish dominated spaces. I’ve never thought about feeling like an outsider in my own hometown, to be a tourist in your home.
I eventually had to return home, ready to begin studying again but I still can’t shake the feeling of hunger. I want to get to know these Jerusalem stones as intimately as I know the ones in my old neighbourhood. To feel as comfortable as I do in the streets of West Jerusalem. To be able to hang out with friends in the hipstery coffee-shops of East Jerusalem and not feel like a foreigner or scared.
I’ve always loved Jerusalem. I didn’t think I could love it more but today, I learned that there is much more to love and I look forward to venturing into the areas that are new to me.