The Israeli salesman at the airport bookstore smiles when he sees my passport. I have just handed him my boarding pass and means of identity. He registers where their clientele is coming from. I look at him and ask what my passport reminds him off, he looks up. ‘Your country, it is paradise, such freedom. Every time I see a passport like this I want to be there again.’ I nod, and respond, ‘And I’m even luckier, I live in Amsterdam.’ He sighs and I sign the receipt for my credit card payment. ‘Have a nice trip home,’ he adds with another smile. ‘You’re always welcome to come back,’ I tell him and the next customer is up for his friendly service.
Shortly before I was dropped off by our driver, a Palestinian Catholic. We only had a short delay coming into the airport. At the checkpoint into the airport we were directed to pull over to the side. I ask him whether he thinks they will search my luggage, ‘Wait, just wait for their orders.’ He sighs, ‘Always the same, they see a car from Jerusalem and we have to stop. They think we are all terrorists.’ His voice raises in frustration. He has a short conversation in Hebrew with the officer in charge. An Israeli soldier with an extremely young face. The baby face soldier moves to my side of the car. He asks me, where I have stayed and how long? My answers are satisfactory and we do not even have to show my luggage, we may continue. My driver is visibly relieved. ‘Even if I come here twice a day, the same questions. I usually collaborate. I have worked in security, I know, the more you collaborate, the better they can do their job and the quicker you can go. But sometimes I can’t, I have to ask them, ‘Is it written on my forehead, that I’m a terrorist?’
The two nieces & the scarf
Two days before a colleague from Gaza offers me a scarf. She is the first one in and it is the last day of the training. As she sees my surprise, she eggs me on, you can choose which colour, holding four packages in front of my nose. I pick a combination of light pink and shades of purple and discover quickly it is a beautiful soft cashmere quality. I thank her and we continue to talk. I ask her what she plans to do on the weekend, before she goes back to Gaza. I will go to my sisters in Hebron [Palestinian territory]. Both have lost a daughter last month. My nieces were both newly-wed, 19 and 20 years old, pregnant, but then all of a sudden they got sick. First one got sick and she was taken to the hospital in Hebron. Our doctors did not do anything. I was just for the first time out of Gaza since the war in August and I arranged the funeral and everything, my sister was devastated, but we in Gaza, well, we are addicted to death. After this, I went back to Gaza, but only a few weeks later my next niece, also pregnant, falls ill. I have the permit to go out, so I arranged for my niece to be transferred to a hospital in West-Jerusalem [Israeli territory]. And the doctors really tried they really tried, but she died. They were so kind to us. And all I could think was, are these the same people that bombed us a month ago?
The fiddler on the roof & the scarf
Wearing my new scarf I stroll the day after with an Italian colleague the streets of the Old City. We are trying to find back a mesmerizing view available from the rooftops of the souk, that another Italian colleague introduced to me just a few nights before. When we find the right stairs the sun welcomes us and a couple of Palestinian boys are free-running over the various obstacles on the roof. They want me to take a picture of them. We sit down and stare both at the boys summer salting and the famous Golden Dome of the Rock on top of the Temple Mount. Our attention is caught by a man in what looks like a classic fiddler on the roof outfit. A blue square hat, white shirt covering a sizable belly, puffy blue pants, topped off with a long white beard. He is giving three young women an explanation of the environment. We listen in and he attracts our curiosity. Not much later we decide to ask him for a possibility of a tour as well. ‘Well,’ he says, ‘these ladies are my lunch guests. I live here. My house is the other access point to this roof, but anyone who’s interested I’ll tell about here.’ He briefly explains where the main souk road is underneath us, where we can recognize the roof of a mosque and that you can also enter a Jewish school from the roof, which explains the many Orthodox Jews that seem to walk by and disappear all of a sudden. We continue our stroll, but on our way back we see the man standing in front of his home, waving to us to come. We enter into a living room what I had imagined a Jewish scholar’s library would look like, filled with books, although slightly messier. He leads us to a model of the Temple Mount and starts a rather detailed account of who was ruling when, and concluding that currently the Temple Mount is entrusted by the Jewish People to the Muslims [where the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque form one of the key holy places for Muslims around the world]. He knows, indeed now the Temple will not be rebuild, only when the Messiah will return the Temple will arise again, but in the meantime he does his best to find out what the Temple was like when it was there. Therefore, he shows us a glass cage with a white garment in place. I had this made, it is like then, without any hems, it is one cloth that the priest wore. Next he points to a trumpet shaped instrument, it is a model of a horn. This one is the model, but I have ordered them in silver. It sounds really well. And he continues at a small glass cabinet, with different trinkets. ‘These are all kinds of measures they used at the time and also here’s a Dutch coin, which has a Hebrew inscription with the name of God. That was in fashion in the seventeenth Century. I’ve also got one from Denmark.’ Last he points out to a picture of eggs. These are eggs of Pompeii. They used these as a measure as well in the Temple. For what remains unclear to us, but we smile, somehow this man lets us dig deep into our rusty Biblical knowledge. My colleague asks one more question, ‘But what about the Ark of the Covenant?’ [According to both Jewish and Christian faith, the Ark contained the Stone Tablets with the Ten Commandments, the key reason for the construction of the Temple]. ‘Well there’s a group in Texas, who say they know where it is, but even if they do, I don’t think they will get permission to dig. However in case they do find it, I’m discussing with them a Protocol on how to share this news with the world.’ He lets us out on the other side of his house towards the Via Dolorosa. We thank him for his kind explanation and he shares ‘You are more than welcome to come back.’ I look at my scarf, not really sure what to think.