“You and Michelle are driving me nuts,” I keep saying as Hassan passes other cars on the one lane road from Eilat to Jerusalem. There is another car in front us with a like-minded driver, bobbing in and out of the opposite lane just to get around slow drivers. A sticker in the back window of his car reads “Michelle” and their daredevil style of driving has me putting my foot down on imaginary breaks. We are traveling back to our home in Nachlaot today and Hassan wants to make the four hour trip more like 3.5 hours. We are in a rush–we want to make asr at Al Aqsa.
Driving home was a beautiful sight. We got to tour the country from the south to the north, seeing some aesthetic treats for our eyes on the way such as the white coasts of salt of the Dead Sea, mountains with caves of varying hues, and lush oases painted with palm trees.
During our ride, we are trying to come up with an American city comparison of Eilat for you. Well, frankly, there is none. Hassan calls it “a beachtown on steroids”. He says, “It’s so much more than your average beach town. I’ve never seen so many hotels packed in such a tiny space.” Yeah, and there’s an airport right on the main strip next to the shops, malls, and marinas as if it was a grocery store. This city was built for tourism.
We did make it to the Old City in time for asr…and some drama. We should’ve recognized the signs. When we entered the gate, the guards were looking up to the sky talking rapidly on their walkie talkies. The Muslim checker (as I’ve dubbed any guard that checks whether an entrant is Muslim) tested us with a salaam which we brilliantly passed with a “waalaikum as-salaam wa rahmatulllahi wa barakatuh.” As the adhan was called, we hurried to the women’s bathroom, I really had to go. On the way, we saw an older man clutching his chest with two men supporting him and 10 paramedics running towards them. I thought he was having a heart attack. I hurried past, looking back, then went to the bathroom’s doors. They were bolted shut with a padlock. I saw women nearby and asked them where I could use the bathroom–they invited me into their school for the disabled which was right across the designated bathroom. I went to their bathroom to find that the door was made of glass. There was a man with a mental delay checking me out unceasingly from his wheelchair. That made wudu a little tough, but I am used to weird situations by now and let’s just say, he looked and wasn’t able to see one strand. I came out of the bathroom to find the doors I had just entered from Al Aqsa’s premises locked…bolted…with soldiers standing at the ready, and Hassan and Noora were on the other side.
I asked the soldiers if they could open the doors. They said “no”. I begged, I pleaded…why did they lock me out when I just came to make wudu? I went up to the doors, trying to open them myself. It was useless. These are heavy metal doors.
I found the lady who guided me to the bathroom and told her my situation. The soldiers didn’t speak English. But she did. She told me there was a shooting inside and that’s why the doors were locked. A shooting inside?! When?! Now?!! While my daughter and husband were on the other side?! I started to get choked up. Don’t cry, she said. Don’t cry? I said. How can I not? I’m separated from my family and they don’t know what has happened! They are on the other side! She had to help me get to them, she had to, I told her. She said she had to get her disabled son home. I told her she had to get me to my baby. So we walked briskly to another gate. The guards let on that there was the possibility that one gate was still open and I needed to go either right or left to find it. I had never been past the hammam (bathroom) before. I didn’t know where I was going. But to the right, light from Al Aqsa’s premises shone forth. And I ran.
“Go!” the woman said. And before that, she advised me to get my daughter and husband and leave. Women around these parts don’t run. They walk. They also more often than not are wearing jilbab or abayas. Today I wore pants into the sanctuary for the second time in my life, and I ran. A “Muslim checker” stopped me at the door. “You Muslim?,” he asked. I snapped…in Arabic. Of course I’m a Muslim! I’m from America! And that’s my husband and daughter over there standing alone in the courtyard for all eyes to see! I must get to them and I must pray asr!
So he let me through. He didn’t want to be one of the victims of a mad black woman. I told Hassan what happened…he was on the phone. He had told the guards that I was on the other side when they locked the doors. They told him I’d have to find another way through. I did, alhamdulillah. I told Hassan he had to pray in the Dome of the Rock with me. We couldn’t be separated again. We came in the masjid in the second rakah of prayer. Everything seemed fine. I asked some women after the prayer what happened. They said a Jewish man killed a 20-year-old Palestinian man in Silwan, the village touching Al Aqsa. There was an argument concerning demolishing a house…and it erupted. That’s all I know. InshAllah tomorrow I’ll find out more. “You know our story? The story of Palestinians?”, the women asked. “This happens to us all the time. There’s always an argument with Jewish settlers.” Yup, I know your story. Not the whole story, but enough to know that your story hit a little too close to home and now I’m ready to go
We walked out of the main gates (they were open again) to find the Old City swarming with cops and shops closing. I wanted to do some last minute shopping for folks. Oh well. Now was not the time, though to most Palestinians, life went on as usual. They strolled, they talked, they bought stuff last minute.
Before leaving Al Aqsa’s premises, we saw men running. Outside its gates, we saw boys picking up stones. Oh, Lord. I liked this city before today. Now I just want to return safely with my family to our home…right outside of DC. So we went to our home in Nachlaot. We started packing. And now we are waiting…for tomorrow when we visit Hebron inshallah…for Friday when we can leave. But for now…we are safe…we are together…one family. Alhamdulillah.