Tuesday, September 27, 2011

9/27/11: What Happens When You Put Israelis and Palestinians In The Same Room?

Today was my first day truly exploring East Jerusalem, and to say that I fell madly in love would be putting it mildly. However, since I want to start this post from the beginning of my day, I'll have to keep you in suspense a bit longer. Last night I slept a little better so I didn't quite feel the need to drag myself out of bed too early. I took my time, had a nice morning shower, got ready for work, and made my way down to breakfast around 8:30. Breakfast this morning consisted of pita, humus, baba ganoush, cucumbers, tomatoes (which I obviously didn't eat), cheese, turkey, and tea. DELICIOUS! I had a very leisurely meal, caught up on my news, read my BBC Arabic headlines (which sparked interest among the waiters who felt that that meant they had the go ahead to speak to me in Arabic), and then headed off to work.

Leave it to me to be not only directionally challenged, but also an awful judge of time. I wanted to be at the office at 9:30, left my hotel around 9:15 to give myself enough time to get there, followed my good directions, and ended up arriving at the office at 9:18! Guess I'll get to sleep in a little longer tomorrow! Since no one was at the office I decided to wait outside for Najat to come. I could have waited inside the building but that's just lonely and no fun. As I was waiting, an older man from across the street came up to me and immediately started rambling in Arabic. Not only was he speaking very fast, but I had my ipod in, so I had to stop him and ask him to speak English. He introduced himself (his name is Jamal), we talked a bit in Arabic, and then he gave me his phone number and told me to call him to practice Arabic anytime; no cost! He was a very sweet man. After a few minutes Najat showed up and we made our way to the office. Since it was a slower day at the office, Najat decided to take me around East Jerusalem, show me where things are, and truly introduce me to the city.

Around 11 we set out and made our way down the street to one of the best bakeries in East Jerusalem. Immediately upon entering the bakery I was flooded with welcomes and greetings, and told to take a pastry free of charge. I later found out that it is custom to offer guests a taste of anything in the store even if they don't intent on buying anything. I tried a delicious chocolate pastry and decided to buy a whole bag full. Thinking that I was about to spend quite a bit of money (I really filled the bag up with pastries), you can imagine my surprise when I asked the final price and was told "chamsa shekel" (5 shekels)!!! I couldn't believe it! I am still stuck in the Tel Aviv mindset that everything is so damn expensive, I almost couldn't believe this was true. After buying pounds of pastries, Najat took me around all the main streets, helped me pick out some great long sleeve shirts (which were also very cheap), showed me where all the little markets are, took me into almost every store with anything interesting to see, and introduced me to shop owner friends of hers.

After walking around for a bit, Najat took me to shari3a Sala7-Addin (when you write Arabic in English letters you use numbers whenever there is an emphatic sound), Salah Addin street, which is comparable to Dizengoff street in Tel Aviv. It is just a street over from my hotel and as we were walking I looked up and saw the wall of the Old City! I had no idea I was only about 5 minutes away from bab-azzahra (Zion gate), which leads right into the Jewish quarter, maybe 6 minutes away from bab-Il3amud (Damascus gate), which leads to the Muslim quarter, and 10 minutes from bab-Ilchaleel (Jaffa gate), which is the main tourist entrance that leads to all quarters. On Sala7-Addin street there were wonderful sweet shops filled with candy and chocolates, shops with nuts, spices, and every kind of goody you could possibly want. It felt like I was in an indoor shuk, and the smells inside these stores were to die for!

Seeing as it was a work day we couldn't spend all day walking around, although I think both of us really wanted too. We made it back to the office just in time for us to leave for a roundtable conference on the Palestinian Israeli conflict. A perk of being an intern was that I was invited to witness the conference and take notes. I have never been to anything like this in my life. It was a group of influential and high powered Israelis and Palestinians all discussing the conflict, the UN vote, possible solutions, and so on. The most fantastic part about this conference was that it didn't feel Pro-Palestinian, or Pro-Israeli. I feel, more and more, that if you say you are one of these, you are against the other; Pro-Israelis don't want a Palestine, Pro-Palestinians don't want an Israel. Instead, this conference was very Pro-Peace and Pro-finding a solution for two states. Ideas were thrown around, arguments were had (some more heated than others, which is only natural when you have strong and passionate opinions), but it was a very respectful environment; everyone had a chance to speak and be heard. I won't go into the specifics of what was discussed, because that would take hours and consume about 100 pages, but it was extremely productive and gave me great material for my thesis!

It was so refreshing to see both sides sitting and talking with one another; being productive, throwing out amazing ideas, and really listening to and respecting one another. Now, if only the governments could follow suit. I so deeply wish that closed minded people on each side of the conflict could have been there to witness these discussions, and really hear educated opinions from both sides. I look forward to witnessing many more of these types of roundtables, and soon, hopefully, offering up my own opinions and ideas on the issues at had.

Aside from all of that I am looking to get an apartment here instead of staying in the hotel. It is a great hotel but very pricey, and there is a beautiful apartment across the street from my work for almost $1500 less. I was talking to my grandparents tonight and was telling them that if it is cheaper to do so I would rather live in East Jerusalem during the year and commute to Tel Aviv for school, than pay tooth and nail for an apartment in Tel Aviv when I really want to live in Jerusalem anyways. I don't have class until the afternoon and would love to permanently live in Jerusalem. It is something I am strongly considering!

Tomorrow night is the first night of Rosh Hashana and the official start to the Jewish high holidays! I am so happy and grateful to be able to spend the holidays in Jerusalem and can't wait to experience the chaggim (holidays) here. I think it will be an amazing experience!

With that said, I wish you all a Shana Tova U'metookah (happy and sweet year), and CHAG SAMEACH!!!!

Lilah Tov <3,
Jordana Simone 

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