Fatima Hanan Elreda takes us on an unconventional spiritual journey to the holy city of Jerusalem, Yerushalein, or as Arabs and Muslims prefer to call it: al-Quds under modern-day occupation.
The road from Beirut to Jerusalem is long. 235 kilometers of political hurdles, thorny detours, a highway of unbroken history, checkpoints, and an impossibility. But we travel anyway. The city of prayer awaits us with burning candles, incense, the sobs of a church and the lamentations of a mosque.
The shortest way from Beirut to al-Quds by car would take 4 hours and 44 minutes.
But we choose another route, a longer one that would start from Galilel, then traverse through Haifa and Yafa, through the evanescing hills and the wild flowers growing defiantly among the concrete settlements and along the barbed wire. We even take the time to steal a glance at the West Bank as we examine the 709-kilometer-long separation barrier, a canvas for resistance art, where we could pass our fingers across Banksy’s graffiti art to make sure they are as real as the suffering, and finally, press our ears against the wall to hear the grievances of Palestinians perpetually reverberating from the open prison.
Our transportation means is also unconventional. No one would risk taking us on this journey but Buraq, or Lightning, the carrier of prophets. The two-winged steed, for many a mythological creature, is for others the “thing with feathers.” Our humanity is our passport, though it will not be stamped upon entry.
We carry the keys to old doors that no longer open. In fact, they’ve been replaced, maybe even torn down. They still mean something and they can still unlock our memories and our truths although the doors may not exist anymore.
As the scene below us becomes greener it also becomes more tragic. Decapitated, amputated, burned and naked, broken like a mother whose children have just been taken away from her; olive trees, the long-time symbols of peace, wave to us with their broken branches.
We get there. We look down and pass over the restrictions imposed by the Israelis. We ask for no permission unlike the Makdessites who rotate along the cold iron bars, body-searched by uniform-clad Israeli soldiers, crucified with humiliation as they walk the Via Dolorosa.
Within the walls of the Old City, that have not fortified the place against a demographic invasion, the four quarters speak of history, religions, and ethnicities. The narrow alleys, the gates, the walls are the witnesses of the times that the city has been destroyed (two times), besieged (23 times), and attacked (52 times), as well as captured and recaptured.
Within the walls of the city, the Western Wall wails, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre rings its bells, and the Al-Aqsa mosque calls for prayer.
The Dome of the Rock glitters under the sun. It’s almost blinding.
But before we reached the city, a road sign reads Jerusalem in English. In Arabic it was written Urshalim while the name al-Quds was besieged between brackets. It makes us wonder whether Arabic was even legible in the city. Has it been lost in the archives of the long history of al-Quds? Has it been buried under stacks of volumes that have rewritten the past? Has Arabic in al-Quds become an empty dictionary, the covers of which are still shelved but the pages of which have been bleached out of words? The motivated forgetting of unwanted memories.
These questions and many others remain.
I’m here in Beirut dreaming of that journey; a pilgrimage that would take our souls to beloved al-Quds but more so to al-Aqsa where our foreheads will kiss the ground after we perform ablution with rose water. Indeed it is the farthest mosque, despite its nearness.
Any views expressed are the author’s own.