JERUSALEM - Jerusalem made me who I am today. I’ve spent half of my life here, 18 years of searching and trying to belong, still without any success.
Born in Nazareth to a Palestinian family, I rarely heard mention of Jerusalem and most of us thought of it as another planet. I heard about Jerusalem for the first time when my father told us that he was raised in a Christian orphanage in the city after his parents passed away. It is a very difficult and sad story but this was my first exposure to the narrative of Palestinian life in Jerusalem. His Jerusalem is quite different to mine.
When I arrived in Jerusalem as a student, I was amazed by the wealth of different nationalities, languages, religions, and cultures. At the time, I didn’t know that the human variety in Jerusalem was a burden for the people living here, not a resource like in many other cities around the world. In Jerusalem I encountered the concept of identity for the first time. I realised how complex mine was: a Palestinian from the north, an Arab-Christian with an Israeli identity card, blond with blue eyes. It made it very hard for people to categorise me. I was always labelled a stranger. I realised that this could become a powerful resource, but at the same time it became clear that belonging in the full sense of the word was not an option for me. I came to see my role as one of raising people’s awareness to the needs, the goodness and the limitations of the “other” side and was called a “bridger” by many Israelis and Palestinians with whom I worked. I felt driven to bring voices of conflicting parties to a place where they are sounded, heard and comprehensible to one another.
Jerusalem enriches, preoccupies, annoys, amuses and deeply frustrates me. You will see a smile come to my face every time I reminisce about my studies at the Hebrew University. That is what remains of the naivety of an 18-year-old girl who had left her hometown for the first time. I thought then that everyone in Jerusalem was experiencing the diversity in the same way as I, embracing, accepting and learning...what a delusion! I miss this feeling tremendously.
I’ve lived on both sides of the city and was lucky to meet, live and work with great minds and hearts—people who taught me the meaning of dialoguing and listening to hard, painful stories, to accept narratives that contradict mine. As a student, I had a great time discovering the colourful life of “united Jerusalem”, festivals, bars, restaurants, student days, Palestinian heritage and the Old City. I could go anywhere I wanted to but not many people move around the city as I have. So many Jews rarely cross over to the Palestinian neighbourhoods.
I was and am still amazed by the fact that most Israeli residents of the city think Jerusalem is united; they barely know the names of the Palestinian neighbourhoods and have rarely, if ever, communicated with the “other” who lives only a few metres away. I experienced this ignorance even more acutely once I moved to the Palestinian parts of the city; I felt what it was like to live on an island without proper public services but at the same time having to follow discriminatory regulations to the letter in order not to lose my husband’s right to live here. Like other Arab residents of this city without Israeli identity cards, my husband lives with the threat of having his residency status revoked if he leaves it for a given period of time or fails to keep up with tax payments.
The reality of present-day life in Jerusalem is sad. People live in denial of each other’s existence and legitimacy. Racism blinds us to one another. I can already identify the racist sensibility behind my children’s expressions when they see an Israeli soldier in the Old City or when we pass by the Separation Wall in the Beit Hanina neighbourhood. I wish they would stay naïve; they are only 5 and 9 years old. Where did I go wrong? They have a mother who has worked with both sides, speaks both Hebrew and Arabic fluently and believes this place is big enough to include everyone. I have systemically tried to bring the two narratives into my kids’ education and life, but children have their unique way of understanding reality.
This city opens my heart, and then shuts it. It makes me feel strong, capable and old. It taught me to be alert and awake at all times. There is humanity at the heart of this city; the residents are good but unfortunately not to each other. They are not aware that those on the other side want exactly what they want: to survive and live a decent life. I still believe that in persisting with little steps to approach the “other”, accepting their existence and embracing their narrative, the humanity of this City will prevail. I want to believe it because this is the only way to save Jerusalem.
* Carol Daniel Kasbari is a project manager for “Promoting Common Ground Print and Broadcast news in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza” at Search for Common Ground. She has been involved in conflict mediation since 1994 and founded the Israeli-Palestinian Media Forum in Jerusalem. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and is part of a special series on Jerusalem.
Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 24 June 2010,
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