Thursday, 13 June. 2024
Your Key to Palestine
The Palestinian Initiatives for The Promotoion of Global Dialogue and Democracy

Recently, I found myself in a mild altercation with a middle aged Israeli stranger about Jerusalem. I usually don't indulge in small talk with average Israelis, mostly because I hardly come into contact with them. The bulk of my interaction with Israelis is with their military establishment – policemen patrolling Jerusalem's Old City streets, soldiers manning the Qalandiya checkpoint, which I cross at least five days a week or border crossing personnel whenever I travel via the Allenby Bridge outside the country.

This day however, as my friend and I had taken our four children to a grassy area near New Gate to play football, a lone Israeli man with a beautiful Labrador came into view. The man was throwing a tennis ball up in the air and the dog would dutifully fetch it. It took almost no time at all before our kids became intrigued and the man cordially eased some of our younger kids' fears of the dog, telling them he does not bite and encouraging them to play ball with him.

While his accent was not typically Israeli, I figured he couldn’t be Palestinian or he would have addressed us in Arabic. Anyway, after some time, he asked us where we were from. "Palestine", I answered simply but looking him straight in the eye just to make sure he knew I was serious. "Oh, Palestine, that's good," he answered under his breath. Not long after that, I volleyed the question back at him. "What about you? Where are you from?" I said. "From here, from Jerusalem, from Israel," he answered, almost offended that I did not instinctively know.

That was my cue. I could not let this golden opportunity to speak my mind to an average Israeli pass me by. "But Jerusalem is Palestinian. This is Palestine," I said mischievously. Technically, we were in the eastern sector of the city, so I thought even by political standards, I was playing it safe. But our friendly-turned-hostile dog walker wouldn't have it. "No, this is Israel. This is all Israel."

Well, I thought, if it is a war of words you want, then it’s a war of words you will get my friend. "Um, I don't think so," I said calmly. "This is Palestine, it always has been and always will be," I said, throwing in a sly smile for good measure.

At this point, the man became clearly irate, especially when he refused to answer my question as to where his family originally came from. "I am Israeli and this is Israel," he kept repeating. In the end, I guess he couldn't take the heat from these awful Palestinians (who by the way were amused beyond description) and took his dog and left, muttering nasty Arabic cuss words under his breath as he fled the grassy hill.

While this minor episode hardly registers even as a blip across the bigger Palestinian-Israeli scene, it is indicative of the mindset of average Israelis. The friendly stranger who offered his dog as a plaything to four anonymous (English-speaking) children suddenly turned hostile and uncooperative once he knew we were Palestinians who believed in a Palestinian Jerusalem. This is not the first time, of course, that something like this has taken place. Jerusalem in particular is a sensitive subject both to Palestinians and Israelis. It invokes powerful emotions and since I consider myself to be an "average Palestinian" I know that nothing can push my buttons more than Israel's claim of Jerusalem being the eternal and unified capital of Israel.

No doubt there are Israelis who are willing to negotiate a solution to Jerusalem where Palestinians have some claim to it. But unfortunately, the majority of Israel's population is uncompromising, especially where Palestinian rights come into play. On our part, I believe the Palestinians have compromised just about as much as they can where their rights are concerned and east Jerusalem is a red line that cannot be crossed. We are willing to share – at least the overwhelming majority of us – we have said it time and again. If Jerusalem is not going to be an open capital for both peoples under international auspices, then it needs to be split along east-west lines. We can live with that. We will share. But, oh nameless and rude dog-owner, not with an attitude like that.

Joharah Baker 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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