The tears of Jerusalem

Tear gas has an acrid, corrosive taste. Onions are the antidotes which are most commonly used here.  You hold the onion close to your nostrils and inhale.  If you’re lucky and there’s a grocery store nearby, the shopkeeper will pour a small amount of cologne in your hand which you can take up to your nostrils.

The Festival was to conclude in Silwan, a southern suburb of Jerusalem with a population of 55,000.  According to the Alternative Information Center, “since the Israeli military occupation in 1967, when the village was annexed to theJerusalem Municipality, the area has been a major target of the Israeli government and religious settler organizations. Residents of the Silwan have lived in a long-standing state of uncertainty since the late 1970s, when the Jerusalem Municipality approved a plan which labeled much of their Al Bustan neighbourhood as “green space.” Since 1991, says AIC, more than 40 Palestinian homes have been taken by force by Jewish settlers.

At Silwan, as we were getting ready to walk up the hill to the tent, tear gas being released in the air by the Israeli police on a nearby hilltop; there were reports of stone throwing settlers taunting the crowd.  The intention was to disperse the youths who were gathered around the Silwan solidarity tent to listen to poetry and music and to say goodbye to the participants in the festival. But tenacity and sheer will power is often apparent here, and after the soldiers and settlers’ stones dispersed the crowd, people began walking back to the tent.   We too.  And after a short program of testimonials and poems from the festival participants, the Palestinian hip hop group DAM peaked the evening with some terrific music mostly in  Arabic, except for one devil of a number about a Palestinian young man’s chance encounter with an Israeli woman (She was thinking 69; I was thinking 67). The piece was in three languages–Arabic, English, and Hebrew– with puns and refrains carrying the crowd into laughter and frenzy.

On this beautiful April night, and in time, the tear gas was a memory.  That’s how it is here, always: things flip on themselves, quickly take new forms, fear mixes with the moment’s other gifts, and life asserts itself against the forces of destruction.  The solidarity tent will stay, and absorb, I am sure, its share of visitors and attacks, its share of the sadness, anxiety but also vernacular joy, manufactured and real tears.

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About Taline Voskeritchian

Writing teacher at Boston University; translator (from Arabic and Armenian); prose writer; occasional editor; incurable wanderer.
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