Jerusalem under snow

Jerusalem was covered with snow yesterday and the day before. Even today, we sloshed through the white stuff to get to work. It was cute really, like somebody had made a God-sized serving of merange mix and then decided to dump it over Jerusalem.

Opening our door, you’d think the house had vomited white all over the stairs, it was great. While the snow storms were still happening (we had a day off work of course), an international volunteer and I headed down to the Old City, to fulfill a wish of mine, to see the Old City under snow.

I didn’t recognize the place under all that white. The real miracle was seeing Damascus Gate, normally the busiest entrance to the Old City, totally deserted, except for a few shabab, but we’ll talk about them later.

One of my room mates was meant to be heading off for Paris, then Morocco for a conference. She didn’t feel the beauty of the snow so much, in tears of frustration and a near nervous breakdown after hearing that the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem road was closed and she couldn’t find anybody crazy enough to take her to the airport. She did manage to bribe a good friend of hours, Karim the taxi driver, also a former sociology MA lecturer (taxi driving makes him more money), to take her.

I heard about the story later from my other room mate, because by that time Patrick and I walked through the Old City, ducking snow balls, and some of those kids throw to kill. At one stage, after thinking how cute and funny it was that kids were throwing snowballs at us, I threw a few back, only to have large chunks of ice hurled at me, and even the rubber stopper of a squeegie.

At that stage, I collared one of the kids and told him that I’d kill his friends if they so much as threw a snowflake…Jerusalemites!

Even in jeans, three pairs of stockings, socks, plastic bags over my feet, knee-high boots (the heel of one shoe broke off after half an hour), my feet were wet, but it really didn’t matter for the views I saw. Patrick, being Austrian, took me to a German convent on Nablus street, adjacent to the Old City.

After greeting the old German nun on reception, we walked to the roof to see the golden dome of the al-Aqsa, dusted in snow. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

We walked, even to the wailing wall, where I had to explain to Patrick that the nice flat stone floor we were walking on used to be the al-Magharbeh neighborhood, now totally demolished, where Yasser Arafat once lived. I got told off in Hebrew for approaching the men-only section of the wall, and then decided I’d rather freeze my ass and my feet walking to the Haram.

We did, and I had to make a big fuss about getting in with a camera, suddenly there were rules against it, which is total bull, and the Druze soldiers made a fuss about my tight jeans. ‘How can you enter the mosque like that?’ As if occupation soldiers could be moral judges.

I did take photos on Patrick’s camera, and hopefully he’ll develop them soon. I hope to bribe him with money, ha ha ha.

It was a lovely day. We ended up in a resteruant nearby the al-Khalil (Hebron) Gate, drinking hot chocolate and warming our feet on the heater. Walking back to the taxis, we got pelted walking up the (isolated) stairs of the Damascus Gate, with not friendly looking snowballs, but things the size of soccer balls while trying to navigate the fifty or so slippery stairs to the top. In the end I actually screamed to them to fear God.

I was prepared to kill them by that stage…I don’t know where this violent streak comes from, but actually I perfected it in Jerusalem, dealing with little shits like these, not to mention the Israeli soldiers/police/etc.

The loveliest part was coming home and seeing snowmen line the streets, and actual honest to goodness kids lobbing snowballs at cars, parents, dogs and other moving objects.

The next day, after sleeping in until some ridiculous hour, constantly peeking out the window to see snow twinkling back at me, my room mate and I finally decided at sunset to walk in the snow again, smashing our way through the knee deep snow on our doorstep, slipping and laughing all the way down to the Arabic sweet shop, talking and eating and drinking Arabic coffee.

Even the soldiers went a little crazy. An Israeli army jeep kept doing these weird rounds, circling the road running by the checkpoint, singing in Arabic and Hebrew over their loudspeakers. As we walked down the street, they stopped. One of them slammed open the little window they use to speak to us unworthy subjects and said, Kol ‘Am wa Inti Bi Khair (“May you have blessings every year” – a traditional saying on major celebration days). They then sped off again, singing. We didn’t know whether to laugh or throw snowballs at them.

I practiced my aim on an electricity pole later on, just in case they returned.

I don’t know how to describe it, but two days of snow bought some happiness here. As if that huge dumping of Gods meringue had a happy hormone somewhere in it. It was a public holiday in the West Bank, and local TV filmed grinning, playing, white drizzled kids and adults going crazy in the snow. People laughing. Honestly, laughing for the hells-bells joy of seeing so much white powder to play with.

It’s dark now, and outside of my office, most of the snow has disappeared under gritty car tracks. But I think for the first time since I’ve been here, happiness came from the skies.

Diaa Hadid is public advocacy officer at a Palestinian human rights organization