Archive for the ‘Jerusalem’ Category

Ognjen writes:

May 7, 2010



I missed two days of my stay in Jerusalem, along with a visit to Ramallah and a barbeque with Palestinian artist colleagues. Volcanic ash from Iceland is to blame. I believe that volcanic ash from Iceland contain traces of swine flu as well as the hair from Yeti’s fur. Something called Eyjafjallajokull cannot simply pour out plain dull ash and particles of volcanic glass. As if it weren’t enough, Eyjafjallajokull is exactly 1.666 meters high. The Number of the Beast! Do not try to stop planes with something exactly 1.666 meters high and named Eyjafjallajokull ! All traffic on land should be stopped as well, visits to Jim Morrison’s grave should be prohibited and three or four nuclear bombs dropped on Eyjafjallajokull as a measure of precaution. Alternative solution: Chuck Norris should be invited to piss into the crater. I cannot be the only one to have a solid opinion on this matter. Is there a man on this planet who has suffered H1N1, whose flights have been delayed due to the eruption of an Eyjafjallajokull and who has seen the Yeti? If so, I would love to meet him.  (21st April 2010.)



The taxi driver who took me from the Ben Gurion airport to the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem knew everything about the world and the cosmos we belong to. He had the stance of a street erudite, and didn’t hesitate to talk every step of the way about genesis, molecular biology, climate change and the art of seduction. He talked incessantly and a lot, burying the small car under piles of words. “Where are you from, my friend?” he asked. “Montenegro” I answered. “Well, of course! Hasta siempre comandante! Ecuador, Columbia, Venezuela, Montenegro!” he said . “I’ve been there!”, he said “You live in the most beautiful country in the world! And your women…! You are a lucky man!” he continued. “Thank you! You are right!” I said, deciding this time to not be proclaiming my Mediterranean pride. When I asked when he visited Montenegro he explained that he toured “the most beautiful country in the world” in 1979, while sailing on a British merchant ship named Aurora. I asked him what specifically he was he doing on the ship and he spoke proudly, self-confidently and quietly: “I was the captain”.  (21st April 2010)



On my return from Casablanca I spent three hours at Istanbul’s airport, drinking the good and expensive Efes beer. A boy in the national costume was selling ice cream. A lady from England was explaining how she should have gotten more ice cream for her 4 Euros. Waving her hands, she kept pointing her finger at the white cream, folded in abundantly decorated circles. As she was passionately explaining how much she appreciates her money, the boy persisted in pointing at the notice board, repeating one sentence: ‘Your last call madam!” Four Euros and an ice cream were enough for the lady in Adidas sneakers to forget reality. I thought that I wouldn’t be sorry if she missed her flight, and moved on. A group of yellow hats overwhelmed the airport hall, holding British flags in their hands smiling dissent enough of any stupidity. The guide’s hat was the biggest and the yellowest. The ugliest. The writing on their hats said: Let’s forget. Oblivion as an assignment and a desirable state. I wondered what it was they wanted to forget, and I wondered where they are going to forget what it is they were wanting to forget. “Where are you traveling to, madame?” and beneath a brink of her yellow hat the mouth spoke: “Jerusalem, Palestine, Ramallah”. I imagined an ad in the Sunday Times: Come visit where blood shedding conflict happens! Forget the stress of your work place, the subway jams, your pet’s indigestion! I wished the ice cream would be 400 Euros.  (24 th April 2010)



Azdi works for 250 Euros a month. Azdi is the guardian angel of my four room/five star/beautiful roof terrace hotel. Azdi’s three-year old daughter’s name is Mersiha, Azdie’s young wife is Farah. The hotel is located in the heart of the Fes medina, and is their only home as well as their job. Three hundred sixty five days, twenty four hours a day. While beautiful black-eyed Mersiha sits at the door step, Azdi and Farah manage the jobs necessary to make guests feel at home. Toilet cleaners, handymen, breakfast makers, polishers of beautiful ceramics, bag carriers, stealthy walkers-along of the half-business smile. They sleep in a small room in the attic. Azdi says that the French owner comes once in three months, looks around, yells a bit, signs some papers and disappears.

At the Istanbul airport I bought a bottle of my favorite whiskey Cutty Shark. Somebody had misinformed me that alcohol is unavailable in Morocco and I believed him. Some time later, the fine local reds convinced me I was wrong. As I sat on the roof terrace with my Slovenian friend and photographer Jaka, I decided to ask for some ice. Azdi was happy he could please me. He took a nicely decorated metal bowl and led me to a dark room at the first floor. A neon-lit bowl saw his pleased smile. He slipped on a rubber glove and slowly pushed his hand into bowels of a Sharp refrigerator. He acted like surgeon, carefully and with passion. I was expecting a handful of diamonds. However he pulled out ice and then, while it was smoking under the neon light, he said passionately, kissing the tips of his fingers: c’est bon! c’est du bon glace! He said it as it was the finest wine, the loveliest treat, some rare spice. Little Mersiha and Farah stood at the door. I asked them to come closer. Mersiha walked over, reached for the ice cube from her father’s hand and put it delightedly in her mouth. She mingled that coldness, smiling, with her parents. I thought: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father brought him along to discover ice.” I also couldn’t help but think how wrong our dear Tolstoy was. He should have said, „All unhappy families are alike; every happy family is happy in its own way”.  (25th April 2010)



It always feels good to think that there is a person on the other side of planet reading, for example,  Hugo von Hofmannsthal, at the same time as I do.  On my way to Casablanca, after I mentioned that brilliant Austrian, my Malaysian friend Eddin placed Hugo’s photograph in the New York Times Book Review in front of my face. I believe we were the first people ever, on the planet Earth, to stare at Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s photo on the road between Fes and Casablanca.  (26th April 2010)


some moments in Jerusalem . . .

May 7, 2010

From James Fenton’s poem “Jerusalem”

Who packed your bag?

I packed my bag.

Where was your uncle’s mother’s sister born?

Have you ever met an Arab?

Yes I am a scarab.

I am a worm. I am a thing of scorn.

I cry Impure from street to street

And see my degradation in the eyes I meet . . . .

You are in error.

This is terror.

This is your banishment. This land is mine.

This is what you earn.

This is the Law of No Return.

This is the sour dough, this the sweet wine.

This is my history, this my race

And this unhappy man threw acid in my face.

Stone cries to stone

Heart to heart, heart to stone.

These are the warrior archaeologists.

This is us and that is them.

This is Jerusalem.

These are the dying men with tattooed wrists.

Do this and I’ll destroy your home.

I have destroyed your home. You have destroyed my home


Another way of thinking about Jerusalem; Uri Dromi, and us, at the Mishkenot writers and culture centre . . .

katerina horevei . . . exo ap teen Ellada

Our Ognen and Israeli poet Shai Dotan being thoughtful and literary in the accepted/recognizable/cross border gesture . . .

sarah saffian and the poet ariel zinder in jerusalem: tortured artists.


by Shai Dotan (seen above w/ Ognen)

“Love I sing, I say love”

Meir Wieseltier

Let’s pretend that the war here was made of love

An oppressed enemy swept away by love

A mutual, one-sided occupation of love

Bustling settlements swarming with love

The eyes of preachers in mosques bellowing love

In refugee camps, walls stained with slogans of love

The news every hour, sugared announcements dripping love

Roadblocks with barbed wires in the name of love

Terrorists infiltrating shopping malls buckled with love

Coexistence, a hollow word, an abandoned tank made of love.


May 2, 2010

Thoughts upon returning home (for this writer, home = Brooklyn, New York, United States):

As I did my damndest to leave all expectation at the border, I was surprised to discover the difference between Jerusalem and Fes for me: while both cities were impactful and fascinating, I experienced Jerusalem intellectually and Fes emotionally. Jerusalem ignited my mind, while Fes moved me to tears. Cerebral versus sensual. Head versus heart.

Re. the beginner’s mind:
Kaz: “finding ease in the chaos”
Gary: “finding joy in the humility”
Ognjen: “decolonizing our idea of a strange place”
Eddin: “how are we different from tourists, if at all?”
Carol: “If I hosted someone from Morocco in Illinois, what would I show her?”

Borrowing again from Susan Orlean:
“To be honest, I view all stories as journeys. Journeys are the essential text of the human experience—the journey from birth to death, from innocence to wisdom, from ignorance to knowledge, from where we start to where we end. There is almost no piece of important writing…that isn’t explicitly or implicitly the story of a journey.”

My first stop back in Brooklyn was to our local independent bookstore, seeking a Moroccan cookbook. I chose a lovely little volume with colorful photos, simply called Tagine, by Ghillie Basan. I then headed to the best Middle Eastern grocery store in town, Sahadi’s, on Atlantic Avenue, to purchase ingredients like fresh ginger, saffron, cracked green olives, preserved lemons (for which I thanked the salesperson in Arabic: shokran). But my favorite ingredient: the recipe called for the “freshly squeezed juice of one lemon,” and I realized that I had one from Aziz Bousfiha’s organic garden still in my suitcase (don’t tell the folks at JFK customs). Plucked from a tree in Fes, and, perhaps 30 hours later, squeezed into a chicken tagine in Brooklyn.

We’ll get back to Jerusalem and Fes, and reunite with our new, far-flung friends, one day—insha’Allah, g-d willing. Meantime, some storytelling of the non-verbal variety (click on the photo to access the whole album). Salaam!


Variations on captivity: cages, walls, and seams

April 21, 2010

Issa Feij, Said Murad

In a conversation with musician Said Murad and his dear friend Issa Feij, a photographer and documentary filmmaker, it was suggested that the Israeli/Palestinian divide was akin to looking at each other like animals in the zoo. “Yes,” Said responded, “but we’re animals outside the zoo.” So the bars are up, but it’s being outside of them that’s captivity. Or is it? Do the barriers keep others out or trap those within?

Issa, a Palestinian who grew up in the Old City back when there were no settlements there (now there are three in his parents’ neighborhood), has a different kind of wall, an emotional one that he erects himself, a wall of deflection, in order to preserve his spirit. “I don’t want to think about what I lost. I try to avoid the bad things happening in Jerusalem,” he said cheerfully, but with a weary sadness around his eyes, one lanky leg entwined around the other. “I look somewhere else—it could be music, it could be writing.” When asked if he has Jewish friends, he said, “of course,” and mentioned that he once had an Israeli girlfriend. “It wasn’t about politics,” he stressed, “it was about us.”

Amal Alqasem

Contrastingly, Amal Alqasem, president of the Women’s Forum of Sheikh Jarrah, activist for Palestinian rights, Bulgarian-educated economics professor, mother of four who walks tall in her pointy-toed, high-heeled shoes, has no such wall of avoidance—unable to look somewhere else, because the wall of conflict is too concrete. She meets it head-on daily in her fractured neighborhood, where Israelis claiming that the land is rightfully theirs evict Palestinian families, who then live in tents directly outside their former homes—in their adversaries’ faces, no actual wall separating them while the metaphorical wall looms large—as “a symbol of residence, refusing the decision of the Israeli government.” Her organization offers Palestinian women legal advice, courses in administrative planning and current politics, media training—to “support the personality of the woman.”

Amal’s house, where she was born in 1960, where a bomb exploded seven years later, where both her parents died, and where eviction could come at any moment, is, simply and crucially, “my home.” And Jerusalem is her home. But since the second Intifada of 2000-2001, it hasn’t been the home of her husband, a Ramallah native who is therefore forbidden to reside in Jerusalem. They could live as a family in Ramallah, but for reasons both practical (schools, health care, identification card) and of principle, Amal makes the personal sacrifice of living apart, with weekend visits, in order to maintain her claim to Jerusalem. “I was born here. I played here,” she insists, her voice accelerating angrily, the embroidered Palestinian flag pendant around her neck bouncing. “But now, we are under occupation, from head to leg. It is not a life.”

Walking distance but a world away from Sheikh Jarrah is the Museum on the Seam. The “socio-political contemporary art museum” is currently featuring “HomeLess Home,” showcasing the work of artists—photographers, sculptors, videographers—from all over the world, including Israel and Palestine. The piece that most struck me was Israeli videographer Guli Silberstein’s “Excerpt,” a clip from a news segment, slowed down and magnified, of a Palestinian family just evicted from their home, seeking shelter behind a wall—this time an actual rather than a metaphysical wall, to protect not just the spirit, but the body, as well—in their street-turned-battlefield. Hauntingly, and to the distorted tune of gunfire, we see a young boy running toward the camera and first smiling as he’s swept up into his father’s arms, then beginning to scream—slowly, silently—as his father tenderly covers his mouth.

Museum on the Seam

Curator Raphie Etgar invited 20 Palestinian artists to participate in the exhibition but just five are, and on the condition that the museum obtain their work through indirect means—local work was sold and shipped to European collectors, only to be bought and transported back, in a sort of art laundering maneuver—for fear of being ostracized by their Palestinian artist communities. But I wonder if the artists who declined the invitation shared that with their communities, to point out both the prestige of the invitation and their sense of honor in declining it? What does Issa, for instance, think of the Museum on the Seam, and would he have participated? (I’ve asked, and will post an update.) The museum got its name from sitting right on the dividing line between the two Jerusalems. But doesn’t a seam, unlike bars of a cage or a wall, connect disparate pieces—as with fabric—rather than dividing them?

Postscript: At a dinner party in Ramallah—a word, I’ve noticed, said always with a strong, lingering emphasis on the second syllable, the “L” suspended as the tip of the tongue caresses the palate—I looked around and realized that everyone present, except for three of us visiting from the U.S. and Canada, was a man. Where are the women? I wondered. I thought of Amal, her fortitude and courage, her desire for her younger daughter, ten-year-old Aliza—named after the determined queen of Tunis—to be a doctor. I thought of Amal’s fire. After dinner, stopped at the checkpoint back into Jerusalem, we encountered a different sort of woman: a girl, really, still in her teens, pretty and fresh. Her high ponytail of sleek brown hair swayed as she strolled up to our car, her eyes bright, her air casual, even playful. She glanced over our passports, passed them back through the window, smirked, and sauntered away, permitting us entry into the Holy City. A normal girl, except for the fatigues sitting low on slim hips and the M-16 diagonally strapped across her narrow frame. Nazmi Ju’beh’s checkpoint story came to mind, him pitying the soldier standing in the rain outside his car. Was this pretty, gun-slinging teenager in power? Keeping others out, or keeping herself captive? “When you feel safe,” Said had observed, “you’re open. When you feel threatened, you’re closed.”

Amal's daughter Aliza in front of a Palestinian house post-eviction

amal and her daughter, who gave me the lemon

April 21, 2010

the lemon

April 21, 2010

from the lemon tree of a house whose owners have been served an eviction notice


April 20, 2010

Yesterday in Jerusalem, with artist Sary Zananiri’s words “tabula rasa of the external” as my guide—beginner’s mind, fly on the wall—I watched and I listened. But is observing without expectation possible? And is it possible not to impact what you’re observing?

During our walking tour of the Old City with Dr. Nazmi Ju’beh, a delightful and astute professor, archeologist, and director of the architectural conservationist organization Riwaq, we talked a lot about identity. Nazmi, a 55-year-old Jerusalem native, has no passport. Though he was born here, because he is Palestinian he is a resident, not a citizen. “We’re equal in taxation, but not in rights,” he explained as he walked and smoked, keen brown eyes gentle but flashing. “I’m many identities: Palestinian, Mediterranean, Muslim. Don’t force me into just one.”

Israeli soldier (left) and Hassidim (right) at the Dome of the Rock

Evidence of the mosaic often used as a metaphor to describe Jerusalem, and its people, was everywhere. During a stop for coffee at hospice run by Austrian nuns, the midday Muslim prayer was blast over loudspeakers from mosques all over the city. Nazmi, the sixth of 11 children and himself the father of two grown daughters and a son, is a product of his hybrid environment. “I was born in the middle of Jerusalem to a Muslim family, growing up with Armenian and Christian neighbors,” he said by way of illustrating how the so-called Quarters of the Old City—Muslim, Jewish, Armenian, and Christian—are in fact not as segregated as all that.

But regarding the emotional and psychological “line” between Israelis and Palestinians, Nazmi said, smiling and nodding, “you can’t see it, but you can feel it.” He told a story of approaching a checkpoint from Ramallah into Jerusalem one recent rainy night. “There I was, comfortable in my car, listening to classical music and smoking a cigarette, and through the window I saw an Israeli soldier: eighteen years old, carrying an M-16, rain streaking down his face, shaking—from the cold? from fear?—and, I thought, crying. I was the ‘occupied’ and he was the ‘occupier,’ and yet. I couldn’t help but see my son in him. And after I drove through the checkpoint, I pulled over, and I cried, too.”

Nazmi referred to what he called “the problem of my belonging.” But in stories like this and throughout the day, greeting friends around every cobblestoned corner, strolling into his brother’s spice shop,

Nazmi and his brother at the spice shop

he was firmly and confidently planted in a personal, social, and cultural identity—despite his hybridity, his lack of country. Same with the Palestinians gathered last night at the home of musician Said Murad, director of the Sabreen Association for Artistic Development. A barbecue seemed strangely fitting on Israeli Independence Day to this American—strangely because, as one Palestinian young woman said archly, “the Palestinians have a different name for the day—the word is Arabic for ‘catastrophe.’” Nonetheless, the mood at Said’s was lively and festive. Over succulent lamb burgers, salad garnished with fragrant basil, and plenty of Tzora red wine, and as Said and his friends played their ouds and drums and sang in the backyard,

Said (far right) and friends

the identity of this community was vibrantly intact. There was no problem of their belonging. And with “Ahlan!” that all-purpose phrase of welcome warmly ringing through the air, we outsiders were invited to belong, for an evening, too. But unlike the Old City—tainted by the self-conscious awareness of being watched, with its countless stalls hawking cheap commemorative wares (the world is clearly divided into people who want their leather satchel to be stamped with “Jerusalem” and people who don’t) paving the teeming tourists’ way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre—here, in a backyard in an East Jerusalem home, life went on, easily and honestly, just as it would have if we hadn’t been there.

At the Damascus Gate

April 20, 2010

Nazmi Jumeh (of Center for Architectural Conservation) dispensing a ground rule to Sarah, Hugh and the photographer as we are about to plunge into the Old City for a tour: in Jerusalem, all history is metahistory. Here narratives proliferate, criss-cross and collide like in few other cities.