by Adrainne Gray
Helpless, despair, shoulders shrug, all five fingers pinched together, and wrist flicked upward “Shu Hada?” “What, shall we do?”
Some keep on singing.
The trolley runs through Jerusalem, as usual. Flags of Israel and the U.S. fly side-by-side on light posts. “Trump is a Friend of Zion” signs accompany the flags. Children in uniforms going to school, secular and parochial.
We all live in Jerusalem.
Palestinian coworkers who faithfully commute to the church offices in the Old City, my American counterparts sent here like I, the Greek/Arab merchant who owns a store on the West Side of Jerusalem, Orthodox Jewish mothers who stay home with the children while their husbands walk to the Western Wall to pray…bobbing and reading Torah.
Nothing has changed, but everything is changing.
On the Eastside of Jerusalem, the sidewalks in front of the Arab markets around the Old City are dismantled and lay in bumpy, uneven rubble, with small machinery blocking the pedestrian traffic. I could easily twist my ankle in the mess; there is no designated space for customers to pass. It is rubble from a beautification project by the city. Preparing the corridor for the flux of tourists and Israelis who will come not to Arab Jerusalem but to the Jerusalem of Israel. It’s a project initiated by a quiet, ongoing war.
A war that looks completely different here than it does in Gaza.
It has been a bloodbath in Gaza; a slow asphyxiation in Jerusalem.
Skirmishes rise up in pockets around the outskirts of the city and in the West Bank; trying again and again to protest the takeover of Jerusalem; a takeover by the promise of an American president, with the force of a pen, enforced by a military brigade.
Twenty fluorescent green caps snug on top of heads conjoined in a cluster, on the trip of a lifetime, jovially waving small Israeli flags on sticks. Do they know that these are the last flags a Gazan sees flying high above the sniper that targets his head?
The immigrants move about in their native attire; they are here too. They have adopted the city, Ethiopians, Russians, Armenians, Domari Gypsies and Indians. Palestinians of African descent brought here and to Gaza during the worst atrocity of human trafficking in history – the slave trade. They quietly slip in and out of their enclaves accustom to racism and indifference by the government, yet Jerusalem is co-opted by Israel, endorsed by a U.S. Administration that hardly loves its own immigrants, people of Africa or anyone South of the Border.
Near the garbage dumpster, I find my Orthodox Jewish neighbor with her son, my favorite kid in the neighborhood. He is about 19 months old; a smile widens across his face at the sight of us. With each big smile, he manages to keep a pacifier dangling between his teeth like a truck driver with a toothpick balanced on his lips. His name in Natan (Nathan) but we have nicknamed him Asher, the happy one, son of Jacob and Zilpah. This time Asher is squat down on his chubby knees, focused on a cat that is devouring the meal of scraps that Asher and his mom have placed in a bowl just near the dumpster. Asher takes notice of us, and having no spoken language developed yet – not English nor Hebrew – he bounces up and down, grinning, pointing and gratified that he offered a creature food and it gladly ate. We love Asher.
“Yes, Natan, I see the cat. Very good boy, Natan, very good.” His mother smiles as she patiently waits for the cat to finish and Asher to fully experience the feeling of giving.
Does his mother know that an 8-month old Palestinian baby died that afternoon in Gaza from teargas inhalation? That baby died so that Asher could have a slow, lazy day of exploring the world around him, safely. At least that is what I am told.
We are in Jerusalem, one of the most sacred cities in the world, approximately one hour away from the deadly protest in Gaza. The distance is equivalent to a typical American’s round-trip commute from suburb to city. We don’t smell the smoke, we don’t hear the gunfire, we don’t hear the cries of the wounded from Gaza as we shuffle around the city that they want access to.
I wonder, if they were allowed access would they recognize Jerusalem?
I suspect it is not the same place of their dreams, the same place of their memories.
We are moving about in our routines, shrugging our shoulders, trying to carry on and when we are in safe spaces within the confines of an office, the sanctuary of our churches, or deep in a shop keeper’s store, we lament not only the loss of life in Gaza, but the slow loss of life lived in an ever-changing Jerusalem.