To visit Jerusalem is considered a pilgrimage no matter what your religion or ideology. Its mysticism is hard to miss. You feel it through your pores, into your bones and all the way deep into your soul. The outpour of faith and awe of its visitors reverberate at so many different levels of one’s being and its history touches you so deep that expression becomes impossible.
In the midst of the hustle and bustle of the historic city lies a population of original residents as well as newcomers who are changing its face with every heartbeat. The Jerusalem that lives in our memory, collective and individual, is very different from the real Jerusalem that this holy city has metamorphosed into over the years. It’s a changing face that is only felt by the original residents, who watch us flock to their city, each with a different intention and a unique perspective. The physical part might still look authentic but the spirit is fast changing with every sunset and with every minaret call to prayer, every church bell toll and every piece of paper prayer inserted into the Western Wall.
Jerusalemites are simply residents with their own daily routines and aspirations. They also have their version of what their home city represents. They watch us walk in as tourists, they engage us as such, they sell us products and give us the usual lines they have been repeating tirelessly over the years. Lines they have inherited from their fathers and grandfathers catering to people who are there for a day or a little longer. They watch us kneel in churches and mosques, they help us take pictures and momentums. Proof that we have visited the holy places that had lived in our dreams and populated our fantasy before. Then, they close their shops and go back home to their life, dinner with family and discussions about the real world and all its real problems and woes.
If you are lucky, you get to go into one of these beautiful homes whether in the old city amid the tight alleys and streets, next door to Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Church of Resurrection, or the Wailing Wall; or away perched on a hill in one of the more modern structures in a posh neighborhood. Life there is very much like any other place: Families with their own stories, celebrations, challenges, and responsibilities. A normal life only tucked in an air of sanctity that the place naturally bestows on them.
Jerusalemites are welcoming and hospitable. They are kind, smart and extremely plugged in. Most importantly, they are tolerant. Tolerant of each other, accepting of the diversity that is the staple of their city, open to the possibilities of what their Jerusalem could bring. Resistant, in their own way, to the various politics imposed on them, which they consume with their daily bread. They are resilient to the occupation and its many symbols and effects. They know they inherited a hefty burden, one that is debated and contested at the highest international levels. They understand too well all the various claims, religious and political, to their land’s history. It’s a reality they face on a daily basis and they never shy away from saying, “This is my home and I won’t leave it despite the mounting pressures, the ever expanding Jewish settlements and the repeated Israeli threats and demolitions.”
If you understand Jerusalem well and if you love it enough, you know that it’s more than a city and much more than a territory. It’s a place to be worshipped and cherished; it’s a symbol to be protected for all of us. It is mine, yours and it belongs to the generations to come. Jerusalem is for him, her and all others. To turn Jerusalem into a simple name on a map is a sin in any religion and a shameful, disrespectful act against humanity.
Jerusalem is for us, all of us!