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Date posted: February 13, 2013
By Mayse Jarbawi for MIFTAH

I was born in Jerusalem but spent my whole life in Ramallah, a city which is a mere 40 minutes away from Jerusalem. However, since my adult life began, I have only been able to enter it roughly 10 times.

Ever since I acquired my Palestinian ID card when I turned 16, Jerusalem became nothing more than a dream. The number of minutes it takes to reach Jerusalem was no longer relevant. Now, it was all about being Palestinian Ė apparently a threat to Israelís national security. People like me began looking for connections that would help to obtain a permit, with the hopes that you would be lucky enough to get one that allows you to be in Jerusalem for more than three hours. Then even after the permit was in hand, Qalandiya had to be crossed, with all the questioning and hassle passing through an Israeli checkpoint entails. I envied my classmates who had a Jerusalem ID, wishing I also had a home there, a reason to feel welcomed in and familiar with that special place. It was way out of reach though, and I learned that hope was my only fortune.

My freshman year of college I met three incredible Jewish people my age, who soon became my closest friends. I respected them because their perspective on Israel was not biased; they freely admitted that the occupation was illegal, wrong and defies the ethical construction of modern human civilization. They were not pro-Palestine per se, but were definitely not pro-Israel. However, despite their personal beliefs, I soon became aware of the fact that all three of them were going on a ďbirthrightĒ trip [designed for Jewish youths from around the world to get Ďintroducedí to Israel] the following summer. When I asked one of them why she wanted to be a part of such an opportunistic and fabricated program, her answer was limited to: ďbecause itís free!Ē

My friends continued to justify their decision by explaining that a Jewish American would find no reason to turn down an exclusive complimentary 10-day tourist trip in order to make a political statement. I could feel my heart constricting and my tears felt like fire on my face. Indignant whispers were roaring in my head; who are they to be able to enter Jerusalem and be treated like royalty? What do they know about Bab Al-ĎAmud [Damascus Gate]? Or Jerusalemís favored sesame bread? Have they heard the song ĎZahrat Al-Madaíiní [The Flower of all Cities] by Fairouz? The racial luxury Israel was granting them left me powerless and wondering where my birthright was in all of this.

After several failed attempts over the past five years and after waiting for hours in long lines in the settlement of Bet El [where permits for Palestinians are issued], I was finally allowed a permit to enter Jerusalem for one day last week, from 8am until 5pm. After such a long hiatus, I could not really complain. I was too happy.

In order to reach Jerusalem, Qalandiya checkpoint must be crossed. All the Palestinians are made to stand in a long passage made of metal bars with cameras at every corner. Once one reaches the end of the passage he or she must go through a big prison-like gate followed by a security booth. When I got to that point, I had to show my ID and permit along with other official documents to an 18-year old blonde Russian so-called Israeli soldier, who then nodded in approval, waving me through. I felt so humiliated and seriously thought of turning around and going back to Ramallah. At Qalandiya, you feel like a rat in a big corporate laboratory run by sadistic scientists.

Once I arrived, I could smell the holiness of Jerusalem in the air. I couldnít hide my smile. I felt so proud to be Palestinian and so grateful to all the Palestinians who persist and remain in Jerusalem despite their horrible living conditions.

However, the feeling of homecoming and euphoria did not last long. After about an hour I began to feel suffocated and stressed. Too much agitation and tension fill the streets of Jerusalem, probably because of how many Israeli soldiers prance around carrying bulky rifles at every corner. People are on edge and angry and there is no sign of peace anywhere.

I will always love Jerusalem, even if my ďhomecomingĒ was bittersweet. The conflicting feelings I felt towards this beautiful city were mixed with a heavy dosage of guilt. ďI miss Ramallah,Ē I caught myself thinking, and begged for that thought to vanish. Itís so sad what Jerusalem has become.

Mayse Jarbawi is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at mid@miftah.org.

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