My feet ached and my bad knee protested with indignation as I walked the streets of Jerusalem, going no place in particular, nineteen years after I left this city of my forefathers. The most obvious change was the ring of illegal settlement ring around the city. I became an unwitting player to my own pathetic game of “identify the ‘Jewish-only’ domain.” It was easy to distinguish Gentile from Jewish neighborhoods. Well-maintained stone walls delineated newly constructed settlement buildings inside Jerusalem. They were beautiful. Their streets were immaculate blackness bracketed by perfect sidewalks, lit with street lights and decorated with flowers of Palestine. The new homes are affordable, but only one kind of human-Jewish-is allowed to buy or lease them. Flowers seemed to grow wild around their homes. Roses stretched carelessly to the skies in abundance and vines crept along their fences to mingle with Jerusalem’s captive trees. Each of their developments had its own playground and their children seemed in full and rightful possession of their childhoods.
Flowers were one clue. Newness was another. Around Jerusalem, new construction was designated for Jews only. Draconian building laws, meant to limit new construction, apply only to non-Jews. My cousin, for example, who lives in the Mount of Olives, spent his life’s savings to build a house on a tiny plot of land between two other homes for his family of six. He had to pay $50,000 just to get a permit. It will be years now before he can actually lay the foundation. In our town, where my cousin lives, garbage dumpsters overflowed with trash and poured their spite into the street for having not been emptied. Roads that were lucky enough to be paved were riddled with potholes and discontinuity. Despite the high taxes residents must pay to Israeli authorities, their streets were not lit and their children had no playgrounds. The young played amidst rubble and trash. The old seemed immobilized in a distant daze that was both tired and bored. Adolescents seemed to roam aimlessly looking for action, trouble, work or each other to share a smoke.
Commiserating with the miserable state of our people, their homes and their streets I decided to put some of the blame on those selfish flowers that seemed to have no patience for our decrepit state of affairs and avoided us all together.
In the Old City I relished the small pleasure of wearing my kafiyeh with proud defiance in full view of settlers who walked the City of Peace with the arrogance of uzi-over-the shoulder colonizers. Sadly, there were few other pleasures for me in the city of my ancestors and my youth. I looked and looked to find one T-shirt that read “Palestine.” I didn’t dare search for one that read “Jerusalem, Palestine.” There were no Arabic prints. No maps of Palestine printed on shirts. But there were plenty of Israeli slogans, including “Jerusalem, Israel.” My heart wept as I searched and searched. I also wanted a particular necklace charm. After visiting at least six jewelry shops in the Old City, I finally found one merchant with a silver map of Palestine bearing our beloved flag.
True, as one merchant explained to me, that they need to make a living. And who the hell am I to judge knowing full well that in two weeks I’ll be on my way back to my comfortable suburban home in the US. Nonetheless, it didn’t sit well that little boys in Gaza and the West Bank are putting their lives at risk for Jerusalem, for Palestine, and the Palestinians in Jerusalem are selling T-shirts that read “Jerusalem, Israel.” It doesn’t sit well that Palestinians everywhere are offering their blood for the land and at the same time litter her streets with ‘made in Israel’ wrappers (or any other kind of wrapper, for that matter).
These are some of the things that make this Intifada seem reluctant. It is disjointed and seems haphazard and more dangerous than it is defiant. Sure we have the right to resist occupation by any means available to us. But in the real world, having the right is not enough for Palestinians. We need pragmatism and strategy.
Resistance need not only take the form of rock throwing. It can take the shape of refusing to allow our children to grow up amidst trash, no matter what. Resistance can also be found in the planting of flowers along our streets. It is in communities coming together to build simple play areas for our children. This Intifada can find victories in school children, men and women alike, picking up brooms and sweeping the alleys of our beloved land. In picking up musical instruments and making music the way only Arabs know how. This intifada can beat to the step of Dabkes in the streets. Our power is in our history and our culture. It is in our flowers and our trees. It is in our love for one another and for the land. It is in the loving determination we bequeath to our children. We do not have power with guns. They serve only to riddle our moral ground with holes. Guns are cold weapons of conquerors that can do nothing but murder and maim. Ours must be the fiery sword of defiance. Israel is prepared for our rocks and our guns. They know how to kill us and convince the world that they had no other choice. But they are not prepared to respond to masses that walk through checkpoints without throwing a single stone. They are not prepared for school children to gather at the checkpoints and perform dabkes, plant flowers or sing. Ours must be the high ground made of history and culture. Those are our treasures of the past. Our children are treasures of the future. Both must be nurtured and celebrated for they are our weapons capable of bringing injustice to its knees. And at the end of the day, we will have fought the enemy by tending to our wounds. We will have stood together, Jerusalemites, West Bankers and Gazans. We will have cultivated the substance of civil society that will liberate us, not just from zionism, but from our own demons.