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In Jerusalem: Surviving the haze of fear

Acting in Faith  |  By Ilona Kassissieh, Nov 11, 2015
Shooter at Damascus Gate

Damascus Gate

Photo: AFSC / Damascus Gate Facebook page

I asked several staff members to write reflections on what it's like to live in Jerusalem right now. Ilona offered this reflection to add to those of her co-workers Sahar Vardi, Saida Khader, and Mati Gomis-Perez. - Lucy

Our sugar container at home breaks. I decide to purchase a new one. I go to the store in Jerusalem during my office break. I see a good pair of scissors on display and on sale. It is an opportunity for me to buy them since mine are not functioning properly. I take this item to the counter so that the salesman adds it onto the purchase. When he starts putting it in a shopping bag, I ask him to stop. I fear of being accused of carrying a sharp weapon with the intent to kill. If any suspicions arise, I am shot dead. I return the scissors on the display counter.

My twelve-year old daughter’s eye is swollen. It really becomes as big as an elephant’s eye. I need to take her to the Israeli Hospital in West Jerusalem. The ophthalmologist examines her. We return home. We have a long list of medications for her. It is evening, and the pharmacies in the Arab side are closed now. The only choice is to go to an Israeli one in the mall near my house. My husband and I debate on whether it can wait until the following day, where I can buy it from the pharmacy next to the AFSC office. It is urgent. I look less Arab then he does. I go to the mall.

Young Palestinian asked to stand on the side for ID check and body search in front of Damascus Gate, Old City of Jerusalem.(Photo by facebook.com/alquds.alhadath)

It is raining. I take a huge IKEA umbrella with me and walk to work. I love the rain, and I enjoy this walk. My work day comes to an end. I grab my personal items and head home. To my surprise, it is no longer raining. I carry my umbrella and notice the 3-inch sharp metal edge it has on the top. I debate on whether I should carry it with me in the street. I could be accused of wanting to stab an Israeli. I return to the office. I leave my umbrella behind.

There has been another stabbing in the city. We are all very edgy since this occurred not far from our AFSC office. This means very tightened security measures and passing next to Israeli soldiers who seem to have orders to shoot and kill for any slight suspicion. I wonder whether I should walk home or just call a cab for a ten minute walk. I could walk with my hands out of my pockets, not answer the cellular phone in case it rings, and avoid any jerky movements, then it might be okay to be walking out there in the open. I call the taxi cab.

Young Palestinian asked to stand on the side for ID check and body search in front of Damascus Gate, Old City of Jerusalem (Photo by facebook.com/alquds.alhadath)

These are small instances of the fear we experience in this holy city. It has grown into ridiculous behaviors from some and more vigilant patterns for others. Everybody is afraid. We are afraid for our children, who are instructed to no longer walk alone in the streets. We are afraid for ourselves, for being profiled and put against a wall for a humiliating body and bag check. We are afraid for our husbands and family members, who might be mistaken for someone from the other side. But I also feel the tension from others. People are very vigilant when they walk in the street. You see people “checking out each other” on the pavement to ensure all is safe. I think of all the mothers whose kids were killed, detained for trivial reasons, banned from going to school, and the list goes on.

They talk about a unified Jerusalem, yet the division has never been so obvious. This is ironic! Despite my fears, I wake up every morning longing to see another sunset in this beautiful city: A city that everybody wants yet nobody is willing to share. Going as far back as the early Bronze Age, it is one of the most ancient cities in the world, where many civilizations crossed paths and perished. I get a refreshing feeling when I cross the bridge to return from a three day retreat in Jordan. We are in 2015 and the city is still standing. I miss the city! I love the city, despite all its madness! I envision a future where peace and justice are restored, and we all live free on this land.

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About the Author

Ilona Kassissieh is AFSC’s advocacy and communications coordinator working in the Jerusalem office. She was raised in the town of Bethlehem and left the country to pursue her graduate studies from the University of Grenoble III in France. She has extensive experience working with the civil society sector in Palestine, an experience she gained through her work with the Palestinian NGO Project, funded by the World Bank, to empower civil society. She also served as the spokeswoman and head of the Public Information Office at UNRWA.

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Lucy Duncan works with other AFSC staff to foster strong relationships between AFSC and Quakers.

Lucy is AFSC’s Director of Friends Relations. She has been a storyteller for 20 years and has worked with Quaker meetings on telling stories for racial justice and of spiritual experience. She attends Green Street Friends Meeting (PhYM) and lives with her son and partner in a Quaker cemetery.

Sophia is the Friends Relations Fellow this year who works closely with Lucy. She is a recent graduate of Guilford College where she majored in Sustainable Food Systems and Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies.