Occupied Land, But Never Occupied Hearts

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I woke up to an unexpected text message earlier this week. It said, Don’t come into work today or tomorrow. Cancel all your classes. This is for security reasons, and to avoid clashes.

Well, I’d heard that the whole country was going under a brief strike, in protest to Trump’s announcement of recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and his plans to move the U.S. Embassy there. So the order to not come into work was not totally unexpected. But for security reasons? What was dangerous in the situation?

A lot more than I realized. Here is my hastily-written experience, as a Canadian Palestinian presently and recently been living in Hebron for the time being.
Hanging Icicles

I’ve stayed home from work in Canada before, during a dangerous ice storm situation. But this, this was different. It had never been because my life – and more so, my teenage students’ lives – depended on it. I’d never been told to skip a day of normality as a response to petty words said by a pompous, destructive man in charge of another country across the world.

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But this is Palestine we’re talking about. I am no longer in more-predictably-safer Canada.

If I were in Canada, hearing the announcement, and watching the news of the sudden surge of unrest that it created, I’d be raving in rage at such an absurd announcement from someone who mistakenly thinks his opinion represents reality and justice. This announcement is not unique of its kind; time and time again, former American presidents have said it also. (And frankly, I couldn’t care less where the U.S. Embassy is located, just so long as it doesn’t have to demolish Palestinian native land in order to do so. Like the occupiers of the illegal settlements do all the time.)

Why aren’t I bursting with anger at the riots and killings that have ensued after the announcement? Because I’m here… in Palestine. And as a result, I see things differently, or at least I understand things differently. I see how “normal” and ordinary colonial violence is to the people here. If anything, I feel more sadness than anger. Is this what the world (especially the cowardly Arab world leaders who turn a blind eye) has decided is a fit state that Palestinians deserve to live in? In a state of constant fear, so much so that from a young age,  deadly fear is merely replaced with just matter-of-fact apprehension?

Here’s a really simple example to illustrate what I mean.

Today I set a date with one of my classes, a date to go outside as part of the curriculum to advocate for a classroom project campaign (healthy living). The original venue was supposed to be downtown, until a group of my male students advised me otherwise.

  • Miss, maybe we should do our advocacy somewhere more quiet, less crowded. I don’t want you to end up feeling bad if we go downtown, and then the Israeli military rounds us boys up.

My heart broke inside, knowing that over here, intelligent, compassionate and responsible 14-year old boys have to factor in ridiculous things when they go out, even when it’s a simple outing to distribute brochures and fruits to pedestrians. Having to factor things like, getting captured for no reason by soldiers, attacked by loosed military dogs, getting tangled in clashes on the way home. How is this allowed to happen? And why is it a normal part of their lives?

To make matters heavier, the boys speaking to me didn’t even seem frightened at the possibility of being taken away by the occupying force; they were more concerned about the guilt I’d feel if I brought them to a location that posed a threat (aka crowded with normal people) for this to happen. No teenager should live a life in which anticipated pain, separation from families, child imprisonment and silencing of peaceful protests is as normal as breathing.

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Living through this with my homeland brothers and sisters, I would have thought my blood would be constantly boiling. Instead, I am just so tired of it all… and deeply saddened at the state of things that have been emptied of a once-bursting life.

Not too long ago, I visited the Old Town of Hebron. It is most well-known for the holy site called the Ibrahimi Mosque (Cave of the Patriarchs), which has the tombs of the Prophets Ibrahim, Isaac, and Sara, among others. The Old Town is known to be full of checkpoints and settler activity, so I spent a few weeks asking around if it was “now safe” to go before me and my sister quietly went without informing anyone (knowing we’d be discouraged and avoid the area). So, off we went.

I was shocked when I went to the Old Town. The streets were eerily empty. Shop after shop was closed down on entire deserted market streets. Streets that used to bustle with love and life. With the deafening silence, I was painfully self-conscious of the loud sounds my slightly heeled shoes made upon hitting the ancient stone floor. It felt like a ghost time.

However, thankfully, it was safe”. We went into the Ibrahimi Mosque (as I frantically ignored the memory of how a shooting massacre had literally taken place by a Zionist in this room), quickly walked past a market tunnel on our way to find a taxi, and arrived home in one piece.

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That safety didn’t last. The day after we went, we heard how unrest spiralled up around the Ibrahimi Mosque. Shootings often happen around the area. And now, due to the latest string of events, I imagine it’s that much riskier to go. We haven’t visited again (which is unfortunate, since it’s less than a 10-minute drive away from where we live).

The Old Town has often been a hot site for danger due to violence imposed by settlers and shady checkpoints. The difficult situation for Palestinians living there doesn’t make it any more acceptable, but predictable, at least.

Now, because of some gibberish made from an orange-faced man, the whole country is in an uproar. From Bethlehem to Ramallah to Jerusalem to Hebron – you name it.

Some areas are hotter than others, but there are flames burning in hearts all over.

I wrote this post because a friend asked how I was feeling. And honestly? I don’t think it matters how I feel. All I know is… no child deserves to be born in a world where they can’t even get to school safely. Where going through checkpoints like a criminal is a daily occurrence. Where praying in a sacred mosque of historical significance is deemed unsafe, unsafe to prostrate your head to the ground…

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Such are some impacts of living in an occupied world. Occupied land, but never occupied minds and souls.

I’ll leave you, dear reader, to some powerful words written by Omar Suleiman which perfectly summarise my opinion on the whole thoughtless announcements:

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And God knows Best.

A.S.

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Masjid al-Aqsa: the Old & the New

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The title of this album should actually be “masajid” (plural of ‘masjid’) al-Aqsa… because this looks at the interiors of not only the Masjid al-Aqsa building that everyone visits, but also the ORIGINAL, old building that was first masjid al-Aqsa. It is noticeably older and not as sparkly inside as the newer building… but it still feels upon entering as the sacred holy site. It’s not hidden or secret… but it’s not well-known, either! So here, we look at both. What a blessing!

Masjid Al-Aqsa – First Sight
Masjid al-Aqsa - First Sight

Deep Breath

Deep Breath

Light Upon Light
Light Upon Light

Heading to the Old, Original Masjid al-Aqsa

Heading to the Old, Original Masjid Al-Aqsa

Removing Shoes
Removing Shoes

A Place of Prayer

A Place of Prayer

Oh, Books
Oh, Books

The Library Inside the Old Masjid al-Aqsa

The Library Inside the Old Masjid Al-Aqsa

Calligraphy Everywhere
Calligraphy Everywhere

“Keep Following Me!”

Keep Following Me!

Walking in an Empty Masjid
Walking in an Empty Masjid

Our Kind & Spontaneous Tour Guide

Our Kind & Spontaneous Tour Guide

Workship in the Old Masjid al-Aqsa

Worshipping in the Old Masjid Al-Aqsa

Where the Heads Fall Upon in Prostration

Where the Heads Falls Upon in Prostration

To see the rest of the photos in this album, click here.

All praise is due to Allah.

-A.S.

Dome of the Rock

The Dome of the Rock is one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen. May you be granted the chance to visit it, and pray in it, one day.

There was no way that the photos of both masajid al-Alqsa’s (the old and new buildings), and the golden Dome of the Rock, could fit into one album. This is simply Part 2 of 3 photography taken in Jerusalem a couple of months ago.

Staying Gold
Staying Gold

Dome of the Rock – First Sight Dome of the Rock - First Sight

Overwhelming
Overwhelming

Sacred Geometry Sacred Geometry

The Bodyguard Trees
The Bodyguard Trees

Ceiling; Because God Loves Beauty Ceiling; Because God Loves Beauty

Beyond Beauty
Beyond Beauty

Al-Sakhra Al-Sakhra

Dome of the Rock Chandeliers
Dome of the Rock Chandeliers

Gold Details Gold Details

Majestic
Majestic

Behold the Dome Behold the Dome

Wandering Through Jerusalem

Jerusalem (al-Quds) is breathtaking.

There was no way that the photos of both masajid al-Alqsa’s (the old and new buildings), and the golden Dome of the Rock, could fit into one album. This is simply Part 1 of 3 photography taken in Jerusalem a couple of months ago.

These in particular were taken simply while walking and wandering around.

Center of Gold

Center of Gold

Glint of a Sight

Glint of a Sight

On the Way to Jerusalem

On the Way to Jerusalem

Palm Tree

Palm Tree

The Dome, Afar

The Dome, Afar

A White Sky with Blue

A White Sky with Blue

Sky High

Sky High

Art of a Mother’s Love

Art of a Mother's Love

Beige Umbrellas

Beige Umbrellas

Shops in Jerusalem

Shops in Jerusalem

Beige, Blue & Green

Beige, Blue & Green

Symmetry in Architecture

Symmetry in Architecture

Exploring

Exploring

Spray-Paintings of Holy Sites

Spray-Paintings of Holy Sites

Naming After History

Naming After History

Star Light, Star Bright

Star Light, Star Bright

Outside Markets

Outside Markets

Where Archs Are the Norm

Where Archs Are the Norm

Colors, Sights & Sound

Colors, Sights & Sound

Delicious Ka’k Qudsi

Delicious Ka'k Qudsi

Bird in Hiding

Bird in Hiding

Art for Tea

Art for Tea

el Zaatar

el Zaatar

School Established 784 H

School Established 784 H

Fading Color

Fading Color

Hustle & Bustle

Hustle & Bustle

In Old Jerusalem

In Old Jerusalem

Kuffiyahs Everywhere

Kuffiyahs Everywhere

Nets to Catch All that Garbage… (thrown by settlers onto Palestinians)

Nets To Catch All That Garbage...

Rectangular Spaces

Rectangular Spaces

Garbage Thrown by Israeli Settlers onto the Palestinians

Garbage Thrown by Israeli Settlers onto the Palestinians

Freedom Graffiti (الحرية = freedom)

Freedom Graffiti

Sisters

Sisters

Light Despite Dark

Light Despite Dark

 

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Daughter of the Land

Daughter of the Land

“The sight of it, from afar or inside the labyrinth of its walls, softens me. Every inch of it holds the confidence of ancient civilizations, their deaths and their birthmarks pressed deep into the city’s viscera and onto the rubble of its edges. The deified and the condemned have set their footprints in its sand. It has been conquered, razed, and rebuilt so many times that its stones seem to possess life, bestowed by the audit trail of prayer and blood. Yet somehow, it exhales humility. It sparks an inherent sense of familiarity in me– that doubtless, irrefutable Palestinian certainty that I belong to this land. It possesses me, no matter who conquers it, because its soil is the keeper of my roots, of the bones of my ancestors. […] I am a daughter of the land, and Jerusalem reassures me of this inalienable title, far more than the yellowed property deeds, the Ottoman land registries, the iron keys to our stolen homes, or UN resolutions and decrees of superpowers could ever do.”
-Mornings in Jenin, p.140