Since what’s on my mind today, or rather, on my heart, is a sensation quite a few of my fellow EAPPI accompaniers sooner or later will house, I will try to convey my morning reflections in English in order to reach out to them.
I have spent two days off on my own in Jerusalem. As usual my base in East Jerusalem has been the Capitol Hotel, far from providing five star luxury, but more importantly, a strong sense of being in the home of the EAPPI family. Buzzing Salah ad Din street full of contrast, both abundant amounts of litter and chatting teenage girls, using their mascara, slim-fit jeans and carefully set up scarves to transform into top models. Familiar sounds,
friendly people wishing me welcome, welcome!
Monday my main project was to visit the Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem. The museum is quite a distance from the Capitol and I started out walking along the walls of the old City, passing Damascus gate and up-hill along the Vatican buildings to the City Hall. All of a
sudden I was in West Jerusalem. No litter. Clean streets. I got a ticket for the light tram and started my voyage to Mount Hertzl and Yad Vashem. Ten stops. I had time to absorb the differences in sounds, looks and overall atmosphere. Most men wore kippa skullcaps and quite a few of them, even very young men wore the attire of the ultra orthodox with huge hats. The women presented a much wider variety of self-expression. Many in the run of the mill urban western sex-and-the-city-like clothes, but surprisingly many in the orthodox attires of long skirt and scarf. I noticed feeling like a stranger, a gazer.
Yad Vashem was totally overwhelming. Being born just two years after the allies liberated Majdanek, Aushwitz, Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen, Dachau, Ravensbrück, Mauthausen and Theresienstadt, I have grown up feeling a strong sense of shame over the evil streaks in our complex European culture. Hitler and Heine, Goebbels and Goethe side by side. It was also a painful but necessary reminder to discover the section placing Denmark among the righteous nations helping their Jewish population to escape the concentration camps while Norway was looking the other way. Norwegian policemen arrested the Jews to be deported to the death camps. While the Holocaust seems to be the most central part of the Israeli identity narrative, for me Yad Vashem was not about Israel, but about the racism and the evil in my own culture.
Going back on the tram, the generalized feeling of guilt suppressed my initial sense of being a stranger among the people sitting next to me. Walking along the walls close to Damascus gate I noticed a number of police cars arriving and policemen putting on field uniforms and helmets. I knew this was the day of burial for the young Palestinian boy who was killed in a demonstration the day before. Clearly something was brewing. A little later I heard the sound of shots and sirens and looking out of my window I saw swarms of youngsters fleeing from the police over the graveyard just behind the hotel.
Three of them hid behind a door to the hotel cellar just below my window. For a while the Yad Vashem experience vanished into the background.
Tuesday was day two on my own. I had decided to spend another day in West Jerusalem and visit the Israel Museum, close to the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament.
Seeing the Knesset, all I could think of was the decisions made in that building making Palestinian life a continued suffering for nearly 50 years without any protection from the ordinary civil legislation, nor from International Humaitarian Law, International Human Rights Conventions or the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Museum is probably a great one for people triggered by old coins, oil lamps, ancient masks andremnants from Roman age synagogues and churches, but must confess that I found myself not to be among them. Back in my room at the Capitol I was looking back on yet another day on trams and buses and streets in West Jerusalem when I realized with a bit of a shock that I did not like West Jerusalem. I did not like the look of it, the people in the streets, the sounds of their language, nor had I been in the least tempted to go and have lunch in any of the numerous cafés and kosher restaurants. I had hurried back to my favorite falafel-maker inside Damascus gate. This feeling of alienation was perhaps more confusing than overwhelming, and I had to do a bit of processing with my Jericho teammates on Facebook messenger in order to get my feet back on the ground. I see myself as a liberal, open-minded person with a deep respect for a great many Israeli peace ‘activists’. I have always been adamant on distinguishing between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israeli politics. All of a sudden I was trapped in a surge of dislike for people I knew nothing about. It was pretty confusing. My teammates had experienced similar confusing feelings, and I felt grateful to have someone to share with. I have been able to acknowledge my hostile feelings as a reality, hoping for some truth in the Gestalt Therapy axiom: Accept what is, and what is, changes. In this case, what is, is a feeling. Aid workers and NGO expats are very much aware of the phenomenon of ‘going native’. Going native used to mean acquiring the looks and manners of the people you work for/try to help. EAPPI accompaniers are exposed to witnessing degradation of Palestinians on a daily basis. I have come to realize that even old, seasoned men like myself risk going native, with the danger of harboring hostile feelings towards others just because they are citizens of a country with a government I detest. The only sensible thing I can do is to talk with my friends and teammates about my feelings and perhaps sit down and exchange experiences with other accompaniers of the great Team 53. Going native is an occupational hazard. Remaining native is just stupid.